By Megan McCullough, R.D., L.D.N.
Brigham and Women's Hospital
It seems that everyone is trying to become more environmentally friendly by recycling, taking public transportation, or even trying to "green" their grocery shopping and dinner plates.
In 2007, the Oxford American Dictionary even declared locavore — a person who tries to eat only food grown or produced within a 100-mile radius of home — the word of the year. The movement even prompted the President and First Lady Michelle Obama to plant a vegetable garden at the White House.
You, too, can enjoy tastier, fresher ingredients at your kitchen table with food that is grown locally. Here's how.
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What Are the Benefits of Locally Grown Food?
Local produce has a shorter distance to travel from the farm to your kitchen table. So when it is picked at its peak, it's fresher and has much more flavor than produce picked before it's ripe and then shipped across the country or the world to grocery stores.
Local farmers also tend to grow more varieties of produce from heirloom seeds (seeds that are passed down from one generation to the next and generally shared among individuals rather than sold in catalogs), giving each variety its own distinct flavors.
Local produce can be sustainable if it supports local farmers and communities and does not harm the environment during production. However, local or sustainable does not necessarily mean that the food is organic. Organic food is produced with fewer or no fertilizers and pesticides than non-organic food. Look for produce that is locally grown, sustainable and organic.
Purchase local grass-fed or free-range meat and poultry that are raised without antibiotics or added hormones. The proteins from these sources tend to be leaner (lower in saturated fat and higher in omega-3 fats) and have more flavor.
Discover local food around your home and on your travels. For example, indulge in tart blueberries in Maine and prosciutto ham cured in Parma, Italy. Take pleasure in the food you eat as well as where it comes from. Appreciate its heritage and tradition, and experience the culture from the region where the food was grown.
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Where Can You Find Locally Grown Food?
- Farmers' Markets
Spaces where farmers sell their produce in a local community park or parking lot are called farmers' markets. They are a great way to meet the food producer, ask questions about the food's production, and get tips for preparing great meals. You can also find specialty jams, spreads, breads, baked goods, herbs, eggs and cheese at many farmers' markets.
- Community Supported Agriculture (CSA)
A CSA is a farm that depends on the financial support of an individual or family in exchange for a weekly basket of seasonal produce. Occasionally, the farm will also enlist your help during harvest.
A U-Pick is a farm that opens its fields to the public during harvest so you can pick your own produce. Common examples are strawberry patches in the summer and apple orchards in the fall.
- Farm Stands
A farm stand is a place, like a roadside stand, near the farm where a farm sells its produce.
- Food Co-ops
Food co-ops are worker- or customer-owned stores or buying clubs that are committed to consumer education, product quality and member control. They usually support the local community by selling locally grown, raised or prepared food.
Look for restaurants that support local farmers by preparing locally grown food and by basing the menus on seasonally available produce.
- Home Gardens
Grow your own fresh herbs or produce in your backyard, in a windowsill pot or in a community garden.
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How To Enjoy Locally Grown Food
Here are ways you can take advantage of eating foods that are grown locally:
- Join a CSA
- Take your reusable bag to visit a farmers' market
- Plant your own herb garden
- Plan meals around seasonally available produce
- Freeze produce when it's in season to enjoy it all year long
- Dine at restaurants that serve locally-produced food.
Find locally grown food in your area through these websites:
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Megan McCullough, R.D., L.D.N., is a registered dietitian at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston. She is a graduate of Michigan State University and completed her dietetic internship at Brigham and Women's Hospital.