Buying locally grown and raised food is a great way for an individual to make a real impact on their own environmental and food footprints. This is why so many people are doing so and why it is attractive to a lot of people who care about the footprint they create. There are many different benefits to buying local and organic products. Other than health benefits, there are environmental, economic, and social benefits as well.
For thousands of years now, humans have been growing their own food. Only within the last century or so has someone from one side of the world been able to buy food from the other side of the world on a large scale. Today we live in the most connected, yet disconnected age that this world has ever seen. There is communication and social interaction tied to every inch of our lives thanks to technology. Yet, there is a huge disconnect to the simple things in life like knowing where our food comes from, how it was grown, and how it got here. These are questions that I personally strive to know the answer to.
Buying and eating local, organic food products has several health benefits. One of these is that the food, whether plant products or animal products, is pesticide and hormone free as well as preservative free. Small farmers that cater to local shoppers usually produce organic goods as an extra step towards being more natural and environmentally friendly. When you aren’t shipping your product half way around the world, or storing it to be sold 6 months down the road, you don’t need to treat your product with preservatives. Buying local also supports healthy living and well-balanced diets by offering whole food proteins, fruits, vegetables, and grains rather than processed and packaged options.
There are also economic and social benefits to buying local. The biggest of these is that doing so supports local farmers and keeps money in the community. When you buy a tomato from the farmers market rather than the supermarket, you’re supporting the farmer that grew that tomato and his/ her family. You also grow a relationship with the farmers/ producers that you buy from that is an important part to knowing where your food comes from.
The biggest benefit to buying local is perhaps the positive effect that it has on the environment. Buying local decreases or eliminates the amount of “food miles” that is the number of miles your food was shipped from where it was grown to where it was processed/ packaged to where you bought it. This large amount of transportation causes a large amount of fossil fuel use and CO2 emissions. These can be avoided if you choose to buy food that is locally grown and raised. Another environmental benefit to buying local is that is preserves small farms and farmland and it promotes genetic diversity. Keeping small farms alive, prevents big farms from moving in and planting a monoculture of corn, wheat, or soybeans.
Nearly everybody in the world has access to buy local food. Even in unlikely places, like the desert in Arizona, there are still farms within 100 miles that grow local, organic food. The big problem, however, is that not everything is available to people wherever they live. In fact, no matter where you live, if you tried to switch to a local-only diet, you would have to cut out many foods that you commonly eat. Most regions of the world aren’t suited to grow every type of food. On top of that, any processed or packaged food and pretty much any restaurant would have to be cut out of your diet, because the food that those companies use is most likely not local. There are some special restaurants that have popped up (mostly in places like California), where they serve only local food, however, these aren’t very uncommon. The big benefit to buying local is that it cuts down on travel time, and therefore, carbon emissions. If you buy tomatoes grown 50 miles away at a farmer’s market, they obviously only have to travel 50 miles, as opposed to the hundreds or thousands of miles that non-local tomatoes travel to get to the local grocery store. Therefore, if everybody bought local food, it could potentially cut down quite a bit of carbon emissions, however not everybody would have access to every kind of food that they have access to now.
If buying local only food was possible, the world would look similar in most respects, but very different in others. Carbon emissions would be cut quite a bit just from reducing the travel time of food. However, in order to produce certain kinds of food in areas where that food is not available and the local environment doesn’t support the growth of that food, people may turn to using greenhouses or indoor farms. This could be a big problem because both require more electricity, and therefore produce more emissions. Much research would have to be done on how much greenhouse gas emissions come from these, as opposed to just transporting the food from other areas. On top of that, most people who own greenhouses and indoor farms are individuals who are less experienced at farming than the professional farmers that grow our food today. Therefore, they could be less efficient with water usage and pest management (assuming they don’t use pesticides). Another big problem would be that these foods that are not commonly grown in a certain area would be extremely expensive there; due to the fact that there would be a very limited supply. If everybody bought only locally grown food, the cost and greenhouse emissions could be cut by eliminating transportation, packaging, and processing, however, that cost and emissions could still be worse by trying to grow foods that are not commonly grown in that area.
More or less sustainable?
Local products have countless benefits ranging from consuming fresh produce to health benefits but one of its biggest advantages is its environmental sustainability. There are multiple reasons for more sustainability of local produce over other sources which we will discuss below.
To begin, local produce reduces our food miles. When we buy local the produce is grown within few miles of our location so there is no need for a lot of packaging, shipping and refrigeration whereas when we buy from grocery and big-name chain stores we are creating a huge carbon footprint as the produce is shipped thousands of miles, requires packaging and refrigeration for long hours. 1 billion metric tons of CO2 is generated by the US each year for International shipping , in contrast by using local produce we are not only reducing our carbon footprint by up to 10% we are also reducing deforestation and thus increasing sustainability. The infographic below clearly shows the dire effects on sustainability of not buying local.
Buying local also protects farmland and Wildlife and thus increases the products sustainability. When we buy local we are improving the financial position of the local farmer. This money is spent by the farmer to operate and protect the farmland along with the biodiversity which grows on farms. Buying local is more sustainable as local producers are more likely to reuse resources and thus reduce the use of coal and other minerals. It is also more sustainable as more forests can be preserved which leads to increased absorption of CO2 from the atmosphere.15% of wood waste is also recycled by using local products . The Infographic below clearly shows how more sustainable local food is as compared to other sources.
West Lafayette is a great example of growing sustainable food as farmers have access to the world class research being done by Purdue in this field. In West Lafayette you can find local products which include vegetables - corn, tomatoes, carrots, kale etc. Fruits -strawberries, watermelons etc. Dairy-Eggs, butter, milk and cheese. Meats- pork, chicken, lamb, etc. There is a wide variety of local produce available and if we try living on it, we would be able to balance a healthy lifestyle while living sustainably and improving the economic conditions of the community.
The downside is that we would have no access to goods from other states and countries. Also, the cost of buying local produce is generally more. However, recent trends suggest that 95% of American households are willing to pay more for local produce for its positive effects on the economy and the environment . If Buying local is a feasible option for you then I would recommend you look into local farms/ farmers markets. The benefits of doing so are worth it.
 Go Green. (2017). The Environmental Benefits of Buying Locally. Referenced From http://www.gogreen.org/blog/the-environmental-benefits-of-buying-locally
 Arrowquip. (2018). Top Benefits of Buying Locally Grown Food. Referenced From https://arrowquip.com/blog/animal-science/top-benefits-buying-locally-grown-food
 HuffPost. (2017). Why Buying Local is Worth Every Cent. Referenced From
 Statista. (2015). Local Food- Statistics and Facts. Referenced From
 West Lafayette Farmers Market. (2017). Referenced From http://wlfarmersmarket.com/404.html