The Value of Locally Produced Food

By Matt Saunders

With the advent of the factory farm and the onset of globalization, buying locally produced food has been somewhat of a trade-off for the modern consumer. Sure, we all know that local food is fresh food, but with an always open mega-chain supermarket right down the road, who has the time, or money, to shop local? All of us, that’s who.

It’s human nature for us to want to make the easy choice. This is one of the reasons why there is a big chain supermarket on almost every block; its smart business. Sooner or later, most of us will march through those electric doors and spend our money in one of these air conditioned temples of commerce. Convenience, no matter how enjoyable, isn’t the only determiner of value.

Food produced locally gets to you sooner than food produced on the other side of the country or world. The faster food gets to your table, the better it tastes and the healthier it is for you. Local food lasts longer on your shelf too, and that’s because it hasn’t been sitting on the grocery shelf for who knows how long, like the food you find in the big chain stores.

The ubiquity of the big chain supermarkets can make it seem like there isn’t any convenient nearby place to buy locally produced food. This is most certainly not the case. Most urban areas have a number of farmers markets where locally produced food can be purchased with the same ease as anything in the supermarket. In addition co-op stores and organic grocery stores also feature locally produced food. Even the dreaded mega chain supermarket may have a local item or two on the shelves if the buyer takes the time to look.

One of the most pernicious slanders of locally produced food is that it is somehow more expensive than the food brought in from other places. While this may be true in some cases, it is certainly not always true. Study after study shows that local food producers, when given the chance, can compete on price with even the biggest supermarket chains. While it’s true that specific products may cost more when purchased locally, it helps to take into account the quality of these products as well.

Even those among us who unabashedly revel in the convenience that non-local food offers should support locally produced food. Local food producers are only as strong as the customers who support them. Supporting the local producer ensures that they’ll be there for the long haul.

Local, fresh food often lacks the chemical adulterants and preservatives of the store-bought kind. When this is taken into account, pure, locally produced food is a bargain indeed. The idea that locally produced food is more expensive is largely based on a comparison of organic apples and factory farmed oranges.

A true measure of the value of locally produced food is the continued existence of the local food community. Locally produced food is made possible by means of a delicately interwoven ecology with each part depending on the other. The organic bread maker can’t survive without the organic farmer to buy her ingredients from. It’s this way with many of the locally produced food that we take for granted. If they go, a good deal of what makes a community unique goes with them.

One thing that all of us can do to support locally produced food is to ask our grocers to carry it. If the manager of your local chain knows that you’ll buy locally produced food there, they’ll make an effort to sell it to you. This is something we all can do to expand local food production.

Just as the convenience of food from far afield can’t be argued against, neither can the quality of locally produced food. Without enough support, local food producers simply can’t exist. The value of locally produced food is measured in much more than money. While time is precious in our modern lives, local food contributes to our health and the health of our communities, allowing us all to better enjoy the time we spend. It’s easy to make the simple choice when buying food, but part of the value of choosing locally produced food lies in making the smartest choice.

Contributed by Farm to Table