Sunday, April 14, 2013

Where does your produce come from?

"Most produce in the US is picked 4 to 7 days before being placed on supermarket shelves, and is shipped for an average of 1500 miles before being sold. And this is when taking into account only US grown products! Those distances are substantially longer when we take into consideration produce imported from Mexico, Asia, Canada, South America, and other places."
- LocalHarvest

Now that we know loading up on fruits & veggies is extremely healthy for you, let's focus on the grocery store produce section.  The apples are shiny, the lettuce is firm, and the large variety is hard to resist.  Did you know that your produce travels, on average, 1,500 miles from where it's picked to your plate, when you buy from a grocery store?  Why is this something we should be cautious of?

  • Shelf life: The type of preservatives loaded on your fruit & veggies to give it a longer shelf life is something to be concerned about.  Is it really normal for a tomato to be able to travel across the country (and yes, sometimes around the world), sit in the store for a few days, and still be able to look as fresh as it does a week or more after it has sat in your refrigerator? I don't think so.  When I grew up, we had a beautiful, large garden on the side of our house and the moment we picked a ripe tomato, I gave it about 5 days before it started to look iffy.  That shouldn't be any different from the produce you buy.  It's not normal for produce to not go bad 2 weeks after it's been picked.
  • The further produce travels, the less nutritious (and yummy) it is. Most produce picked to be shipped across the country, to be sold in your grocery store, is picked prior to being ripe, which gives them less time to develop all of their vitamins & minerals.  And if you think produce is yummy from the grocery store, try a bite of a freshly picked fruit or vegetable.  You'll taste a world of a difference.
  • To travel as far as produce does, we are wasting an absurd amount of natural resources that are only more harmful to the environment. "By adding transportation, processing and packaging to the food system equation, the fossil fuel and energy use of our current food system puts tremendous stress on the environment. For example, between production and transportation, growing 10% more produce for local consumption in Iowa would result in an annual savings ranging from 280,000 to 346,000 gallons of fuel, and an annual reduction in CO2 emissions ranging from 6.7 to 7.9 million pounds." (sustainabletable.org) How incredible just 10% makes!
  • Buying within season: Something just doesn't seem right when you're able to buy a large batch of shiny, red strawberries mid January when you're dealing with 15" of snow on the roads.

What can you do to make sure you're getting the most fresh, and more importantly, nutritious produce you can? BUY LOCAL.  If you do your research, you can find some type of local farmer's market or Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) (for a yearly fee) where you can get the most recently picked, most nutritious, and, often times, organic produce.  Produce travels far  less to get to your local market (usually less than 90 miles) and you'll be getting the most nutritious, ripe, and in season produce you can find.  The benefits of supporting a local business is quite obvious as well.  If you do decide to join a CSA, you may even have the chance to meet your farmer and get to know exactly where your food is coming from, the process they use, and whether or not they are utilizing sustainable methods for production.

If you're not sure where your closest market is, check out Local Harvest & on the right side of the page, type in your zip code to find markets close to you.

I regulary go to our Saturday morning market to pick up produce. And the greatest thing is that it's so much cheaper! I bought the same amount of produce that I do each week at the grocery store and I spent $20.  That's about $20-30 less than what I normally spend. Not only am I eating more nutritious produce, I am also supporting local businesses & farmers, lowering the amount of natural resources used to transport & package these items, but I am also saving a ridiculous amount of money.

One of the best ways to also get the most nutritious produce is to plant your own garden, but for the items you can't grow yourself, support your local farmers!

-Lacey

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