Column: Eat local to help the earth

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Commentary by Meredith McCutcheon

Travel and food are often inseparable. Many people plan their trips across the nation and around the world specifically to experience local culture and cuisine. How many of us, however, are consciously aware of the fact that food also travels to us? In fact, the number of miles that most food travels is astonishing. On average, processed foods travel 1,300 miles before landing on your plate, and produce travels even further – 1,500 miles on average.

The further food travels, the more fossil fuels are burned to transport it. The Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University determined that sourcing food nationally requires four to 17 times more fuel and, by extension, causes the release of five to 17 times more CO2 than sourcing food locally. As a result, choosing to eat locally sourced food is an easy method to lower your personal carbon footprint and help the environment.

There are other environmental benefits to eating local food. Besides reducing your carbon footprint, local food frequently requires less packaging than food that is transported long distances. It is also possible to source food from local farmers who are committed to reducing pesticide use and promoting biodiversity by growing a wider variety of foods.

Local food can also be healthier and tastier. Many foods at farmers markets are harvested only a day or two before peak ripeness. In contrast, many imported fruits and vegetables are picked before they fully ripen to maintain freshness long enough for transport or are treated with gasses to prevent ripening. Then, they typically lose some of their nutrients during transport or while they are sitting on the shelves.

If you are interested in finding local foods and supporting local farmers and the environment, Carmel hosts a farmers market every Saturday from 8 to 11:30 a.m. at 2 Carter Green. From October to March, there is a winter farmer’s market at the Wire Factory at 510 3rd Ave.

Another option is to find a community-supported agriculture program, which is where a local farmer will deliver a box of produce directly to you or to a local pick-up point on a weekly or biweekly basis during the growing season. CSAs are growing in popularity in the United States, and the USDA estimated in 2015 that 7,309 farms in the United States offered CSAs. They allow farmers to have a reliable revenue source to pay for equipment and other costs, while the consumer gets the benefit of fresh, local produce. You can find a local CSA at localharvest.org/csa.

So, the next time you plan your shopping, keep in mind that you may have options that are healthier, tastier and much better for the environment than what you find in the supermarket.

Meredith McCutcheon is a member of the Carmel Green Initiative. Contact the group at carmelgreen.org.

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