For the most part this is a good thing for our own health, the health and prosperity of our communities, and the health of our planet. Here’s why.
Locally grown produce is fresher
As soon as you pick a lettuce, the vitamin C levels begin to fall. The same is true for many vegies and fruits, with some vitamins and phytochemicals (think antioxidants and other plant compounds) being more susceptible than others to degradation.
"As soon as you pick a lettuce, the vitamin C levels begin to fall."
This is why many fruits are harvested before they are ripe, so that the producers and distributers have longer to get them onto shelves and be purchased by consumers.
Perhaps this doesn’t matter for some produce and indeed it can be convenient to have some fruits ripening in your fruit bowl. But for many it affects the taste. Tomatoes are a great example. Try buying good quality vine-ripened tomatoes and you’ll notice the difference with your nose before you even bite into the fruit. That unmistakeable fresh tomato smell is glorious.
It’s not just fruit and vegies where degree of freshness is king. The same is true of extra virgin olive oil. The olives are harvested only once a year and ideally each year’s production of extra virgin olive oil should be consumed by the time the next year’s harvest is available. That ensures we are getting the best quality oil with the highest levels of antioxidants and other phytochemicals.
How do you know if your extra virgin olive oil is fresh? Many brands will include the year of harvest on the bottle and look for the little triangle below. This is your stamp of approval that the oil has passed the high Aussie standards for extra virgin olive oil.
Even grain foods are better fresh. Although they can be stored for relatively long periods of time, if stored in the right environment, micro-organisms can grow and damage the crop and there can be nutritional changes over time.
In contrast, buy food that has been transported many thousands of kilometres around the world, it is impossible to achieve the same level of freshness. It may sometimes be necessary, but since here in Australia we are lucky enough to have a broad range of climates and growing conditions, we can farm and produce a vast array of both animal and plant foods.
"Here in Australia we are lucky enough to have a broad range of climates and growing conditions, we can farm and produce a vast array of both animal and plant foods."
Buying local provides an income and way of life to many in our communities
Buying food produced within Australia by Australian businesses invests money into our economy as well as supporting the families and employees directly involved.
Buying imported goods usually involves many more steps in the chain from the farmer to the end buyer, and unfortunately this almost always means less money to the farmer as everyone along the pipeline takes their slice of the pie.
Farmer’s markets and home delivered produce boxes direct from market or the producers themselves have become increasingly popular for this reason. But sadly, they often struggle to compete on price with the major supermarkets.
"Farmer’s markets and home delivered produce boxes direct from market or the producers themselves have become increasingly popular for this reason. But sadly, they often struggle to compete on price with the major supermarkets."
Aussie Farmers Direct was the first independent home delivery service but after 13 years of business had to go into voluntary administration earlier this year, citing the battle with the major supermarkets as the reason.
The good news is that they have been picked up by Melbourne based business YourGrocer, an initiative that allows you to buy from your local grocer, baker, butcher, fishmonger and so on, and have your products delivered together to your home. The service is not yet available to those outside of Melbourne but look out for similar businesses in your area.
That doesn’t necessarily mean we have to completely eschew the supermarkets. They too provide local employment and often support the community in other ways, for example by fund raising for the local schools. They too have felt the pressure for supporting local and you may have noticed there is better labelling of local and imported produce. They also provide what consumers are buying. So, if we vote with our wallets we encourage a move in the right direction.
Buying local is generally greener
Generally speaking buying food that has been produced locally and transported a smaller distance is going to leave a smaller environmental footprint than food freighted half way around the world.
There are as always exceptions to the rule. We have to take into account the ideal environment for that particular crop. It has been argued for example that parts of Asia have the most ideal growing conditions for rice and Australia does not – rice is a water intensive crop. For this reason, it might well be more environmentally friendly to import our rice from Asia than to grow it ourselves here.
"There are as always exceptions to the rule. We also have to take into account the ideal environment for that particular crop."
We are lucky enough to live in a country that produces some of the best food in the world. Buying local is a win on so many levels from taste and quality, to nutrition and the health of both ourselves and our planet. Whether you are shopping in the supermarket, a local independent shop or online, we can support our farmers and food producers to all our benefit.
"Buying local is a win on so many levels from taste and quality, to nutrition and the health of both ourselves and our planet."
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