When you support your local farmers' market or join a CSA, you're doing so much more than just eating healthy, delicious, sustainably grown fresh foods.
Here are 7 ways that supporting local farmers is a big win for everyone.
1) When you support local farmers, you eat healthy, organic food that's free of pesticides, synthetic chemicals, growth hormones, and antibiotics. Recent research found that children who switched from conventional to organic produce lowered the levels of pesticides in their bodies. Meanwhile, TIME magazine reports that of 15 scientific reviews that focus on nutrition, "12 studies have found evidence that organic is more nutritious than conventional by having more vitamin C, antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids."
2) Supporting local farmers means you're eating with the seasons. Shop at a farmers' market or join a CSA (discover more about CSAs below) and you're eating what farmers pulled out of the ground earlier in the week -- maybe even the same day. In the winter, that could be cabbage and hardy greens. In the summer, it could be any number of fresh seasonal fruits and vegetables. Grown in their proper season and bred for best flavor (rather than for uniformity of size and color and increased yield), fresh seasonal food just tastes better.
Read More: Why Eating Ugly Food Is A Beautiful Thing
3) Supporting local farmers helps rural economies. Agricultural consolidation put a big hurt on rural communities. Buying from local farmers reverses the trend and puts money back into the local economies, helping to build more vibrant communities.
4) Supporting local farmers promotes agricultural diversity. The shift away from family farms to large industrial farms led to a focus on monoculture and a reduction in biological diversity. Small farms shift the focus back to variety and to sustainable farming practices.
5) Small-scale, organic farming practices build healthy soils. Organic farmers fertilize their crops with compost, animal manure, and/or other organic material, which breaks down slowly, and in the process, helps build up the soil. The result is healthy, nutrient-rich soil, which allows sustainable farming.
6) Local farmers' markets often feature pasture-raised, grass-fed beef. Corn feeds conventionally-raised cattle. But grass, a cow's natural food source, contains valuable nutrients that corn lacks, including vitamin E, beta-carotene, and folic acid. Meats from grass-fed animals also have more of these valuable nutrients. Grass-fed beef also includes higher levels of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids and less saturated fat and cholesterol than grain-fed cattle. What's more, because cattle's complex digestive systems did not evolve to eat corn, many corn-fed cattle develop digestive problems that require treatment with antibiotics.
What's more, the pasture-raised, grass-fed method of raising livestock reflects a measure of respect for the animals' natural instincts and well-being that is missing from large-scale factory farms.
7) Shopping at your local farmers' market lets you meet and talk with the people who grow your food. It's a community out there. Many farmers are eager to discuss their philosophies and farming practices with you.
Related: 12 Foods To Always Buy Organic.
What Is Community Supported Agriculture (CSA)?
Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is a way for people to buy seasonal food directly from a local farmer. Each week, the farmer sends a CSA box filled with various seasonal goodies -- usually veggies and fruits, and sometimes other foods that the farmer specializes in. With every delivery, you'll get what's freshest right then. It's a great way to support local farmers, and the super-fresh food comes right to you. It's also a fun way to expand your cooking horizons, designing menus around whatever seasonal goodies arrive in the CSA box. Here's more on CSA programs, including info on how to find CSAs near you, tips for subscribers, and more.
To find small local farms near you or sign up for a CSA subscription, check out Local Harvest.