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Why Local Food?

By Chuck Wellborn

A lot has been said lately, both in the news and in books by Michael Pollan (The Omnivore's Dilemma) and Alice Waters (The Art of Simple Food) about the joys and rewards of eating locally-produced food. At the same time, the Mid Region Council of Governments has been hosting meetings of the Agribusiness Collaborative, an assemblage of local food producers, nutritionists, extension agents, restauranteurs and foodies for a couple of years. The Agribusiness Collaborative is all about support for the increased production of local food. So what's so great about local food?

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Eli Burg of Chispas Farm

First, there's the fact that locally grown food is fresher, often offered for sale the same day it was picked. For example, two local growers who sell regularly at growers markets in the area, Jesse Daves and Eli Burg, typically pick produce in the morning before weekday afternoon markets. For weekend markets, they pick the produce the day before.

Better taste

Another commonly cited reason to buy local is that local produce tastes better and it's better for you. Fresh produce loses nutrients quickly. Shipping it from the West Coast often means a delay from harvest to dinner table of a week or more. In that time, sugars turn to starches, plant cells shrink, and produce loses some of its vitality. In addition, what consumers buy locally is often quite different from its supermarket counterparts.

In industrial agriculture, produce varieties are commonly chosen for their ability to ripen at the same time. They also have to withstand harvesting equipment and shipment. That means tougher skins than those on the traditional varieties consumers see from local growers

Know Your Grower

Buying locally also enables buyers to get their produce from growers they know or get to know at a grower's market. That allows the buyers to know how the product was raised, including whether pesticides or other chemicals have been used.

Helps the Economy

Farming has started to become a vanishing lifestyle, especially near cities. In Bernalillo County, only a small number of full-time farmers grow fruit and vegetables for sale to restaurants and grower's markets. The other sellers are largely part-time growers. Buying produce from these local growers keeps them in business and their products available. This is especially true for growers who sell directly to consumers, cutting out the costs of a middleman.

Preserves Open Space and Water

Open space areas being used for food production are valued by the community and are less likely to be urbanized. In addition, fruit and vegetable farmers typically utilize drip irrigation, rather than flooding, which means that scarce water resources are used efficiently.

Helps the Environment

Local food production improves the local environment by absorbing carbon in the atmosphere. Urbanizing the South Valley would be detrimental to local air quality. And hauling food from the South Valley to local consumers emits a heckuva lot less carbon.

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