Did you know that fruits and vegetables pack the most nutrition when they are ripe? Studies show that many nutrients are formed as the food ripens. But the moment they are picked, their sugars begin to convert to starch, their plant cells begin to shrink and their nutrients begin to diminish.
When we buy foods that have been grown across the country or across the world, it can take weeks or longer for that food to travel from the farm to your table. As a result, these fruits and veggies must be harvested prematurely, which prevents some of their nutrients from ever forming.
To compound the issue, foods are also treated with special gasses, which further delays their ripening — and, in turn, their ability to form nutrients — in order to ensure they survive their long journey.
And since it takes so much time for the fruits and veggies to travel from the farm to your table, much of the nutritional value it did have before it was harvested has been lost by the time it reaches your plate.
Local foods pack higher nutritional value
Local food doesn’t travel long distances. That means it can be ripened as nature intended and picked when its nutritional value is highest.
Plus, local foods usually arrive at the supermarket or restaurant within 24 to 48 hours after harvest, so they retain most of their nutritional value and do not require gasses to keep them “fresh”.
You can find local food at the farmer’s market or by subscribing to a weekly food box from a CSA. Your local grocer or health food store may also stock locally grown foods.
Some of the large supermarket chains have also begun carrying local foods. Check the labeling on the produce bins to see where the food was grown or ask the grocer, if you’re not sure.
3 quick tips on buying local food
- Buy fruits and vegetables that are in season, as they are more likely to be local. Why? When it’s winter in the northern hemisphere, it’s summer in the southern hemisphere. As a result, fruits and vegetables that grow during the summer can be found in supermarkets during the winter… only when they are shipped from the opposite side of the world. That’s a really long distance for food to travel!
- If you like to eat summer foods in the winter, then buy from the freezer section. The fruits and vegetables are frozen soon after harvest and the cold helps to retain their nutritional value.
- Or buy fresh produce when it is in season and freeze it yourself for the winter — or for the summer, if we’re talking about winter squash or other cold-weather produce. Simply clean and pit the fruits and vegetables before freezing them. Then cut them up so they are easier to use later on. Store the foods in airtight freezer containers and defrost as needed.
Resources to help you find local food
Good To Know
- Farmer’s Markets offer a wide variety of local foods that you won’t typically find in supermarket and restaurant chains. And most farmers offer samples, so you can taste foods or varieties that are new to you before committing to buy them.
- Most Farmers Market produce is picked within a day of the market and sometimes the same morning. Not only is the food fresher, healthier and more sustainably produced, but since it is sold directly to the consumer without any middlemen, it is often less expensive too.
- The Farmers Market is a great place to teach children about healthy eating habits and have them participate in tasting and choosing their food. Studies show that when children (and adults) are more involved with their food, they are more likely to eat their veggies and try something new.
- A CSA membership is essentially a local food subscription for weekly or biweekly produce boxes. Most CSA programs deliver to a central location in town (often a school or community center), where members pick up their produce.
- Depending on the CSA, members can sometimes add meat, eggs, dairy, flowers, bread, cheese, baked goods, artisanal soaps, or other items to individual orders or as part of their ongoing subscription.