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Food from your Community

Food from your Community

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By Abby Gold, Ph.D., M.P.H., R.D., Extension Nutrition and Wellness Specialist
 and Assistant Professor, Department of Health, Nutrition and Exercise Sciences, NDSU

At last year’s Thanksgiving meal, I could tell you the farm or backyard where the turkey, pumpkin, potatoes, green beans and tomatoes were raised. The turkey was a special heritage breed, juicy and delicious.

In the past few years, you may have noticed a surge in the availability of local foods and people talking about where their food comes from. Nationally, farms selling directly to consumers have grown from an estimated 86,000 in the early 1990s to about 136,000 now, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Farmers markets have almost doubled, from 2,756 in 1998 to 5,274 in 2009 (latest statistics available).

The definition of local food still is under construction. The 2008 Farm Bill defines local food as “food grown less than 400 miles from its origin, or within the state in which it is produced.” Other people use the 100-mile limit. In northern climates, that would mean a lot of work to “put food up for the winter,” as well as not drinking coffee or eating bananas. Also, many people lack the necessary storage facilities, such as root cellars or deep freezers.

To deal with some of the challenges, many communities are taking collective steps to build local food systems from the ground up because evidence exists that local foods:

  • Retain food dollars in the community because $1 spent locally can circulate up to seven times around the community
  • Help support local farms
  • Preserve unique food choices, local varieties and food heritage
  • Promote area tourism (agritourism is a booming business)
  • Help sustain the environment if foods can be centrally stored, aggregated and sold

A diverse food system helps assure access to healthful foods. We are at the whim of ever-rising fuel prices and difficult weather patterns from around the globe because almost all of our food comes from distant places. Locally produced food brings us access to some much needed fresh, healthful foods while simultaneously contributing economically to healthy communities.

You can find many more ideas in the book “Eat Local: Simple Steps to Enjoy Real, Healthy & Affordable Food” by Jasia Steinmetz.

Here are some ways to find and promote local food in your community:

  • Read labels and ask your grocer to label or promote the local foods.
  • Eat seasonally as much as possible by becoming knowledgeable about the foods grown abundantly in your area and checking out seasonal cookbooks from the library.
  • Support food education in your school and explore the origins of food with your children.
  • Visit the farmers market regularly, get to know the local farmers and go to U-pick farms on family adventures.
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