Columnist Claire Morenon: Many reasons why consumers should ‘buy local’

The Daily Hampshire Gazette, July 25, 2017, by Claire Morenon

We made it through the dark winter and a long, cold spring: peak harvest season is beginning in New England! The fruit and vegetables in season now are pretty exciting: corn, tomatoes, fresh herbs, peaches, cucumbers, blueberries … better stop before the list takes over this whole column.

This is the easiest time of year to choose local. From now through the fall, you’ll find the widest variety of locally grown food everywhere, from your CSA share and the farmers markets all around the Valley to the vibrant farm stands that dot the roadsides and the Local Hero groceries and restaurants that are bringing tons of locally grown food to city centers.

Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture has been beating the drum for local agriculture for nearly 25 years and during that time interest in local food has skyrocketed, both locally and as part of a national trend. In our region, we’ve seen a clear expansion in the number of local farms selling their products directly to shoppers, and even the largest local grocery chains and institutions make a real effort to work directly with local farms. By now, the average person would probably say that they believe that it’s important to buy locally. But … why?

What I mean is: Why does it matter to you? There are plenty of good reasons to buy locally — let’s consider some of them.

Forest Park Farmers’ Market
Elizabeth Solaka photo

The first is just straight-up deliciousness. We live in an era of unprecedented choice and variety when it comes to our food choices, but still there’s nothing better than picked-that-very-day corn on the cob, or local peaches and tomatoes that are so juicy and ripe they would never survive a transcontinental journey. Not to mention all the other world-class foods that are grown and made locally, like meats and cheeses, and pickles and hard cider and jam, and suddenly I’m getting carried away with another list!

Maybe this reason for buying locally is more your speed: it makes a real difference economically, in several ways. Putting your dollars in local farmers’ pockets keeps local farms in business, and it also keeps your dollars circulating in the local economy. CISA’s local food impact calculator (visit buylocalfood.org to see your own purchasing impact), shows that if every household in Hampden, Hampshire, and Franklin counties shifted just $5 per week to purchasing local produce, that change would generate over $8.1 million in local income, and 234 local jobs.

Or maybe you’re an environmental advocate, and you know that local farmers are stewards of their land. Supporting farms keeps agricultural land in our communities open and green, protects habitats in fields, forests, and waterways, and helps maintain biodiversity.

The final reason is connection and community. Farmers and farmworkers are our neighbors and friends, and they’re invested in the same communities as you. Being a regular at your local farm stand or farmers market or letting your favorite restaurant know that you love seeing local farms on their menu are ways to build connections to people and land, our neighbors and the place where we live.

It doesn’t matter whether you live in a city or a small village. Even in the most densely populated parts of the Valley, people are carving out space to grow food (see Nuestras Raíces in Holyoke or Gardening the Community in Springfield) and establishing new markets to bring local food to the cities. And if you prioritize particular growing practices, like organic or grass-fed, getting to know local farmers is a great way to learn more about how your food was grown.

This summer, when you’re planning meals or grocery shopping, give some thought to what drives your choices. Saving time and money are always top priorities for many households, and we know that there are too many households with absolutely no flexibility on either front, but many of us can and do weigh additional factors too. What are the values and priorities that drive you?

This is an invitation to pull the “buy local” drumbeat out of the background and into your daily decision-making. There’s no right reason to choose local, and you might have motivations that aren’t on my list at all.

Harvest season is a bountiful, delicious time to act on your values — often several of them at once. Enjoy it!

Claire Morenon is the communications manager at Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture in South Deerfield.

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