10 reasons to buy your food from regional family farms
A Tilth Producers of Washington publication (2006)
Everyone needs to eat. Eating good food gives us pleasure and keeps us healthy. But how do we know what is good food?
Flavor is one measure. Fruits and vegetables grown for regional consumption are allowed to mature before harvest, so they taste better. In addition, studies show that foods produced organically can be nutritionally superior to those grown conventionally. Fruits and vegetables consumed shortly after harvest retain more nutrition that those stored for days or weeks before reaching grocery store shelves.
Just what do you know about the food you and your family eat? Do you know: Where it was grown? How it was grown? Who grew it? When it was harvested?
When you shop in supermarkets, are you able to find out where the food was grown? Can you learn about what pesticides or fertilizers were used? Are you able to find out who the people are that grow and produce your family’s food?
- Locally grown food is fresher and tastes better. There’s nothing like biting into a juicy, garden-ripe tomato. However, most tomatoes sold in America aren’t especially juicy or flavorful. Bred for durability not flavor, they are picked while still green and often shipped thousands of miles. To make them appear ripe when offered for sale, they are treated with ethylene gas to help them turn red quickly. It’s impossible for fruit and vegetables that are picked, boxed, stored, and shipped long distances to taste as good as those just harvested on local farms.
- Small family farms help protect the environment. In most cases, farm families live where they farm. They see themselves as stewards of the land and are more likely to use environmentally sound methods to manage pests and fertility. Large agribusiness concerns have limited ties to the land and communities where they operate. These large corporations invest in agriculture solely as a means to satisfy shareholder demands for profitability.
- Buying local conserves precious resources. Buying your food direct from local farms helps conserve natural resources. American industrialized agriculture is the least efficient on the planet, often consuming up to ten times more energy for production and transport than it yields. Local food doesn’t have to travel far. This reduces carbon dioxide emissions and the need for costly packing materials. Buying local food also helps to make farming more profitable and selling farmland for development less attractive.
- Thriving family farms build rural economies. Dollars generated in local communities change hands three or four times before they leave. When agribusiness corporations come to town, most dollars leave the community by close of the business day. In rural communities, economic well-being and social vitality are inextricably linked to the type of farms in the region. Family farmers buy from merchants in their own communities, helping support diverse local jobs and small businesses.
- Buying local helps you learn how your food was grown. When you visit local farms, farmers markets, roadside stands, and food co-ops, you gain the opportunity to talk with the farmers growing your food. Farmers supplying nearby markets are more accountable to their buyers. Since consumers can learn who these farmers are and what practices they use, they have more confidence in the safety of the foods being grown.
- Family farms help children learn healthy values. Like other family-owned businesses, family farms are models for children to learn values such as cooperation and responsibility. Many elementary schools arrange field trips to nearby family farms to help students learn about their food. They’ve discovered that introducing children to fresh, wholesome food helps improve children’s health and educational performance.
- Local food protects genetic diversity. Diverse family farms around the world, growing for nearby markets, raise thousands of unique varieties and heritage breeds—varieties and breeds selected for their flavor and ability to thrive in unique environments. Agribusiness shippers demand today’s produce items have a tough skin that can survive harvest, packing, and transport as well as have a long shelf life in the store. Only a handful of developed varieties meet these global marketing requirements, so there is little genetic diversity among the key food plants and animals grown for mainstream markets.
- Many family farms grow a feast for the senses. Nearby family farmers provide consumers with a broad variety of produce throughout the season. When you buy food from local farms, you have the opportunity to try foods that aren’t available in grocery stores. This is especially true when you buy directly through on-farm sales, farmers markets, or Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs. One Tilth Producers member grows and astonishing 82 different varieties of peppers to share with farmers market patrons on both sides of the Cascades.
- Local farms help keep your taxes in check. Local farms contribute more in taxes than they require in services. According to several studies, for ever $1 in revenue raised by residential development, governments must spend $1.17 on services, thus requiring higher taxes of all taxpayers. However, for each $1 in revenue raised by farms, forest, and open space, governments only spend about 34 cents on services, a net gain to the government of about 66 cents on every dollar collected.
- Diverse family farms means food security. Supporting local family farms helps protect our ability to feed ourselves. Without thousands of thriving farms around the region, we lose the land security needed to ensure each foodshed maintains the ability to feed itself. Food from far-off places is now the norm. International food trade has tripled since 1961, and corporate agribusiness profits have nearly doubled since 1990. However, we need to think about what happens if something disrupts that constant flow of food products across continents and oceans. We must act now to guarantee the survival of divers family farms. If we don’t the inevitable disruption of global agribusiness networks will become a serious hardship to our communities.