Did you know that some of your produce travels thousands of miles to get to your plate? The numbers are alarming. In one study, it was found that apples traveled 1,555 miles, peaches 1,674 miles, grapes 2,143 miles and lettuce 2,055 miles to get to Chicago (1)!
Obviously the long distances food travels has detrimental effects on our environment, but it also means significantly less nutritious food. Here are some things to consider:
Probably the most important factor influencing nutrient content is how much time has passed from when the produce is picked until it’s eaten. If a head of lettuce travels 2,055 miles to get to your plate, think of all the time it spent traveling. It has to get from the farm to the store and will likely sit on the shelf for several days before purchased. Meaning it could have been severals days to even weeks from the time it was picked to end up on your dinner table.
From the time produce is picked, the nutritional value starts to decline. For example, it's consistently found that the longer a fruit or vegetable is stored, the the lower it’s vitamin C content becomes (2).
Temperature is also important. Another study found that the rate at which folic acid and carotenoids in spinach decreased depended on the temperature. The study looked at how long it took for nutrients to drop by 47 percent. Nutrients decreased by 47 percent in six days when stored at 50 degrees, and four days when stored at 68 degrees. The good news is refrigeration can slow the decline, spinach at 39 degrees (the average refrigerator is 40 degrees) lost 47 percent of it’s nutrients after eight day (3). The issue is that you don’t know the conditions of the shipping container to which the produce was exposed. Who knows how old the bagged spinach in your fridge is! It still looks good and green even after eight days.
Food picked in a unripe state:
In order for produce to be harvested and transported long distance, it is often picked when it is unripe and hasn’t reached it’s full nutrition potential. It’s then treated with gases to ripen it after transport.
Where to buy local?
Find a local farmers market:
Farmers markets are so fun. I truly look forward to the Saturday morning ritual of waking up and going to the farmers market with my husband. We have our mushroom person, our pasture raised bacon person, our favorite apple vendor. It’s really amazing to have a connection with the farmers and it feels good to support them. It’s such a different experience than walking through the grocery stores and buying produce from Mexico and not having a clue about how it got there. If you’ve never been, I highly recommend it. Whenever we have visitors in town, we take them with us. All of our friends and family love it too.
The good news is the number of famers market’s has been on the rise. When the USDA started tracking them in 1994, there were 1,755 across the US. That number had grown to 8,144 in 2013. They also report that farmers are responding to the increased demand for organic produce (4)
If you don’t know of one in your area, this is a handy tool to find a locals farmers market. Just type in your city under 'where' and farmers market under 'what': Eatwell.org
Join a local CSA (community support agriculture) program:
A CSA is a membership program where you essentially buy a share of produce from a local farm. There is typically a delivery or pick up 1-2 times per week depending on the farm. The fun thing about a CSA is that you don’t choose the produce - they bring you whatever is in harvest. This encourages you to try different types of produce and eat with the season.
Do some digging at the grocery store:
Depending on where you grocery shop, they might have some produce that is local. Whole foods, for example, will have a sign in front of produce that is from a local area. It takes a little more effort to investigate if signs aren’t present, but all produce will have a sticker that will tell you the place of origin.
Do some digging in the garden:
It doesn’t get any fresher than eating produce from your own garden. If you have the time and resources, gardening can be an awesome hobby.