Eating Local for the Environment

Wondering what all the fuss on eating local is about? It is a topic that has been receiving a great deal of media coverage and for good reason. Eating local is not only healthier and better tasting; it also benefits the environment. By choosing foods that are produced near you, you are decreasing your ecological impact in several ways.

Perhaps the most obvious benefit of eating local is that it dramatically reduces the amount of transportation required to deliver a food product from farm to fork. A recent study conducted by the Region of Waterloo Public Health found that it takes an average of 4,497 km for 58 commonly eaten food items to reach our plates[i]. Compare this to the distance to your nearest farm-gate stand, farmers’ market, or grocery store that carries local produce and the environmental impact is obvious. Buying local means less ‘food miles’ and thus, cuts down on the greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change.

Buying local also means supporting the local farms that grow the items on your grocery list. Smaller farms are ideal for selling directly to consumers and through the local market because they are well suited to grow a variety of crops. While large-scale farming operations employ the use of monocultures, smaller farms grow a diversity of crops in order to provide their customers with a variety of products. Varying and rotating crops causes less soil degradation and thus requires less pesticides and herbicides to yield a successful crop. Farmers of small to mid-sized farms are generally more likely to be responsible stewards and protect the ecological health of the land[ii]. With the number of farms dramatically decreasing in Ontario, it is important to support the smaller-scale farms that remain and operate with the integrity of the environment in mind.

Unfortunately, farming is becoming an increasingly difficult occupation. The farmers’ share of the food dollar spent by consumers has decreased from over 40 cents in 1910 to less than 7 cents per dollar in 1997[iii]. Supporting local farmers and ensuring farming is a viable occupation allows them to remain on their farm. Otherwise, many farmers are forced to sell their land to developers eager to build large-scale housing projects on fertile agricultural land. Therefore, buying local and supporting farmers helps combat the trend towards urban sprawl.

The environmental impact of where your food comes from is just one reason for the increased popularity of eating local. A recent poll conducted by the Friends of the Greenbelt found that 8 in 10 of respondents prefer to buy locally grown produce[iv]. After considering the environmental impact of our food choices, it is not hard to see why!
[i] Food Miles: Environmental Implication of Food Imports to Waterloo Region, Region of Waterloo Public Health, 2005.
[ii] Gurin, David, “Farmers’ Markets: Opportunities for Preserving Greenbelt Agriculture.”
[iii] Halweil, Brian. Eat Here: Reclaiming Homegrown Pleasures in a Global Supermarket. W.W. Norton and Co. New York. 2004.
[iv] Greenbelt Foundation 2007 Awareness Research.

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