Here is the full article, written by Alan Simmerman.
The concept of buying local is simply to buy food (or any good or service) produced, grown, or raised as close to your home as possible. With industrialization, our food is now grown and processed in fewer locations, meaning it has to travel further to reach the average consumer's kitchen. Although this method of production is considered efficient and economically profitable for large agribusiness corporations, it is truly harmful to the environment, consumers, and rural communities.
Food Miles, Resources, and the Environment
"Food miles" refer to the distance a food item travels from the farm to your home. The food miles for items you buy in the grocery store average 27 times higher than the food miles for goods bought from local sources. In the U.S., the average grocery store's produce travels nearly 1500 miles between the farm where it was grown to your refrigerator. About 40% of the fruit we purchase is produced overseas and even though apples are grown within 20 miles of Bloomington, the apples you buy typically buy at a grocery store travel 1,726 miles between the orchard and your house. That is further than driving from Portland, Maine to Miami, Florida. Notably, 37% of our meat comes from foreign countries, including locations as far away as Australia and New Zealand.
So how does our food travel from farm field to grocery store?
A tremendous amount of fossil fuel is used to transport foods such long distances. Combustion of these fuels releases carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, particulate matter, and other pollutants into the atmosphere, contributing to global climate change, acid rain, smog, and air pollution. Even the refrigeration required to kepp your fruits, vegetables, dairy products, and meats from spoiling to soon burns up energy. Food processors also use a large amount of paper and plastic packaging to keep food fresh (or at least looking fresh) for a longer period of time. This packaging eventually becomes waste that is difficult, if not impossible to recycle.
Aside from the environmental harm that can result from processing, packaging, and transporting long distance foods, the industrial farms on which these foods are produced are often major sources of air and water pollution. Small, local farms are often run by farmers who live on their land and work hard to preserve it. Buying local means you can talk directly to the farmer growing your food to find out what they do and how they do it. Do they grow their food organically? If they are not certified organic, ask them why. Many small farms, even if they have not taken the certification step, still use sustainable or organic farming methods that help protect the air, soil, and water.
Health and Nutrition
Buying food from local farms means getting food when it is at it's prime. Fresh food from local farms is healthier than industrially farmed products because the food doesn't spend days in shipping containers and on store shelves losing nutrients. Food transported short distances is fresher and safer than food that travels long distances. Local food has less of an opportunity to wilt and rot whereas large-scale food manufacturersmust go to extreme lengths to extend shelf life since there is such a delay between harvest and consumption. Preservatives are commonly used to keep foods stable longer, and are potentially hazardous to human health. Industrially produced foods (plant and animal) are also difficult to grow without pesticides, chemical fertilizers, antibiotics, and growth hormones, all of which can be damaging to both the environment and human health.
Local foods from small farms usually undergo minimal processing, are produced in relatively small quantities, and are distributed within a few dozen miles of where they originate. Food produced on industrial farms however, is distributed throughout the country and the world, creating the potential for disease carrying food from a single factory farm to spread rapidly throughout the entire country. Recent outbreaks of E coli and salmonella are excellent examples of the dangerous potential for illness to be carried by our food.
Products such as ground beef, which is pooled from hundreds of different animals, are of particular concern. The meat from a single diseased cow could contaminate hundreds of pounds of food distributed to thousands of people. Again, recent recalls on massive amounts of beef where this is the case illustrates how difficult it is to prevent and control disease outbreaks in an industrialized food system as massive as the one we have created.
Family Farms and Community
According to the USDA, the U.S. has lost over five million family farms since 1935. Family farms are going out of business at breakneck speed, causing rural communities to deteriorate. The U.S. loses two acres of farmland each minute as cities and suburbs spread into the surrounding communities. By supporting local farms near suburban areas and around cities, you help keep farmers on the land while at the same time preserve open spaces and counteract urban sprawl.
What You Can Do
Once you start eating fresh, local food, there's no going back. Join the growing movement of consumers around the world who are making a little extra effort to find food grown nearby.
Did You Know?
The majority of dollars spent on grocery store food go to suppliers, processors, middlemen and marketing. Only 3.5 cents of each dollar actually goes to the farmer. If you buy food directly from farmers you can be sure that most, if not all, of your money goes directly to the farmer. When you purchase local at your co-op, over half your purchase goes to the farmer.
Communities reap more economic benefits from the presence of small farms than they do from large ones. Studies have shown that small farmers reinvest more money in to local economies by purchasing feed, seed, and other materials from local businesses. Large farms often order in bulk from distant companies. Large factory livestock farms also bring down property values with the intense odors they emit.
A typical carrot travels 1,838 miles to reach your dinner table.
In the U.S. a wheat farmer can expect to receive about six cents of each dollar spent on a loaf of bread, approximately the cost of the wrapping.
Farmers markets enable farmers to keep 80 to 90 cents of each dollar spent by the consumer.
About 1/3 of all U.S. farms are located within metropolitan areas, comprising 18% of the total U.S. farmland.