July 22, 2017 marks the start of the Southern Maryland Agricultural Development Commission’s “Buy Local Challenge.” For the 10th summer in a row, Marylanders will take the pledge to eat at least one thing from a Maryland farm every day, for seven days.
The purpose of the challenge is to give consumers like us an extra push towards the plethora of farmers markets Maryland has to offer, while reminding residents that eating local food provides many benefits to the consumer, the community, and the environment.
Locavores (people who eat local food) receive many nutritional benefits. Produce that has traveled shorter distances than conventional foods has less spoilage, so more nutrients are retained. Additionally, the fresh, seasonal flavors that are unique to the region can inspire Marylanders to include a variety of fruits and vegetables in their diet, and encourage them to cook new, healthful dishes that they aren’t accustomed to eating.
Partaking in the tradition of the farmers market also serves the community. With handmade crafts, pastries, and live music, shopping at the farmers market is an event that gathers together familiar friends and provides the opportunity to meet new ones. Consumers can also form a relationship with the people growing their food, which can be particularly rewarding for young people just learning about how food reaches their plates. Aside from connecting the community, a thriving farmers market has the potential to boost agri-tourism and supports local jobs, as it brings in business for nearby shops and restaurants as well as the market itself. The New Economics Foundation reported that purchasing food at a market or through a community supported agriculture (CSA) program as opposed to the supermarket resulted in the circulation of twice the money spent at market through the local economy. Keeping funds flowing through the local economy also helped prevent the invasion of chain restaurants and stores, preserving the area’s distinct identity.
The environmental benefits of purchasing food outside of the supermarket are immense. The average American meal travels 1500 miles from farm to plate, and conventional food distribution is reported to have a 5-17 times greater carbon footprint than regionally produced food. While much of the gasoline creating this impact is from refrigeration or driving, the Argonne National Laboratory estimates that more than 6 billion gallons of gas and diesel are lost due to idling in traffic or at required rest stops every year.
Local markets can also better avoid the food waste that occurs in conventional markets. Only about 55-75% of fruits and veggies produced make it to the grocery store, as a farmer will not get paid for “ugly fruits and vegetables” that are rejected by supermarkets’ strict produce appearance policies. Once at the store, it is common for another 10% to be left off the shelves for being misshapen or scarred. Farms that distribute locally are typically smaller-scale and more likely to bring to market everything they produce, minimizing food waste.
Shopping at farmers markets instead of larger chain grocery stores also conserves the precious natural resources that would be devoted to creating, recycling, or managing the waste of plastic packaging, as local fruits and veggies typically go right from the farmstand to the reusable shopping bag.
After reviewing the benefits of supporting your farming neighbors, Fair Farms hopes you feel inspired to take the Buy Local Challenge. Remember that purchasing local food from our farm partners provides additional environmental benefits, as our partners farm without chemicals and employ practices that conserve our natural resources. Take the pledge to not just buy local, but to be a Fair Farms consumer. Then, find your local market, and don’t forget your shopping list!