Guest Post: Improve Your Health, Your Community, and the Environment – Eat Local!

The following guest post is by Sarah of Healthwise Home. She’s a fellow PWC blogger who blogs about health, food and family and has some great tips to share about farmers markets and eating local!

Improve Your Health, Your Community, and the Environment: Eat Local! 
by Sarah Young

Knowing where your food comes from is an important step in improving your overall health.  When you know the origin of your food, whether buying from the produce section of your grocery store or at your local farmers’ market, you will have greater insight on whether it is local or shipped in from thousands of miles away, if it is genetically modified, and whether or not it has been treated with potentially harmful pesticides and fertilizers. In general, the more local and in-season your food is, the better it is for your health, your local economy/community, and the environment.

Did you know that on average, produce travels more than 1,500 miles from its source — the industrial farm — to your dinner table (National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service)?

And who knows how old it is. At best, grocery store produce is at least a few days old, although the average “age” of many items is closer to a few weeks and beyond.  Yes, that’s right, I said “and beyond”. Take apples, for example. In the U.S., apples generally ripen between August and September. Industrial farmers harvest apples when they are slightly unripe, treat them with a chemical called 1-methylcyclopropene (also known as “SmartFresh”), wax them, box them, stack them on pallets, and keep them in cold storage warehouses for an average of 9-12 months. Nine to 12 months!

Now, if you want to enjoy apples all year, regardless of the season, then you may be glad to hear that modern science has mastered the art of keeping our produce “fresh” for up to a year. But at what cost? Numerous studies have shown that the overall nutrient quality and antioxidant activity of the fruits and vegetables that we are eating today are declining due to modern agriculture methods, a decrease in soil quality, and the extended “shelf life” of our food.  While this certainly does not mean that fruits and vegetables from your local grocer should be avoided, those in search of the most nutritious and freshest produce are better off buying from a local organic farmer.

Luckily for Prince William County residents, there are many local farmers’ markets and resources in our area. Local Harvest and Eat Local Grown are two of my favorite online resources for locating farmers’ markets, CSA’s, co-ops, and farms in your area.

I hope that I have inspired you to improve your health, your community, and the environment and eat local!

Here are a few tips to help make your next trip to the farmers’ market more successful:

  • Come Prepared – Bring your own canvas tote bags, baskets, or boxes to carry your purchases in and to reduce the use of plastic bags. Also, bring cash! Many vendors are cash only.  
  • Arrive Early and Shop Around – The early bird gets the goods! Get to the market early to avoid having to choose from picked-over produce. Also, take a stroll around the entire market to scope things out before you buy anything. Prices, types, and quality can vary among vendors.  
  • Talk to the Farmers – Go straight to the experts. No one knows the food better than those who grew it.  Ask the important questions, like where their farm is located and whether or not they use chemical pesticides. Farmers can also often share tips on how to properly store and prepare produce. And who knows, you may even get a recipe or two out of them!  
  • Bring Your Kids! – There is no better way to introduce and connect kids to REAL FOOD than letting them have a part in the process. Make this a family experience by bringing your kids along and allowing them to explore, ask questions, sample new items (when offered) and pick out some of the week’s purchases on their own.  

Good luck, have fun, and healthy (local) eating!

Sarah Young resides in Prince William County with her husband and three young children. Sarah is a full-time mother, Certified Health Education Specialist, healthy living advocate, and the creator of Health Wise Home, an online resource that focuses on educating, empowering, and inspiring others to help build a healthier future. In her spare time, she enjoys running, hiking, gardening, being outside, and spending time with her family.

For healthy recipes, information, and inspiration you can follow Sarah and Health Wise Home on Facebook and at her Blog.