Local food benefits the local economy. According to a study by the New Economics Foundation, every pound spent locally generates twice as much income for the local economy. If a business is not owned locally, money leaves the community at every transaction. Buying local food also gives local farms an economic incentive to stay open, rather than selling up and losing their land to redevelopment. The Campaign to Protect Rural England has more information on the value of local food webs.
Local food is fresher and riper. If you shop at a supermarket, your fruit and vegetables are likely to have been harvested before they were ripe and in transit or cold storage for days or even weeks. In contrast, if you buy fruit and vegetables at your local farmer’s market or retailer, they will often have been picked within the previous 24 hours. This will improve not only the taste of your food, but also its nutritional value, which declines over time. Local produce is more likely to be sold loose instead of in single-use plastic packaging, fresh from the farm, ripe and ready to eat. If you shop at a market, you may even be able to find out more about how your food was grown direct from the producer.
Local food is better for the environment. Locally produced food will have far fewer ‘food miles’ – the distance from the producer to the consumer – which means less air pollution and lower carbon emissions. Supermarket food travels an average of 1000 miles, compared with just 30 miles in the case of a farmers’ market. Without pressure from supermarkets for large-scale cultivation over a long period of time, crops can be rotated, which involves planting different crops in different fields in sequence to maintain the soil nutrient contents. Industrial agriculture tends to plant huge expanses of land with one crop, which is then treated with pesticides and fertilisers. Buying local food reduces the input of chemicals, which means that farms can support a broader range of wildlife.
Local food is more diverse and often gives you the chance to discover new varieties not stocked in supermarkets. Without the constraints imposed by large-scale production of food that has to have a reasonable shelf life after travelling a long distance, a farmer is free to experiment with fruit and vegetables on a small scale. Supermarket buyers focus on varieties with name recognition – think Elsanta strawberries, Red Delicious apples or Rooster potatoes – but local producers are able to switch around from year to year. You might find a new favourite among the many hundreds of varieties you’d never see in the big stores.
This article by the Campaign to Protect Rural England gives ten reasons why you should buy and eat local food.