As a growing movement across North America, locally grown food has countless benefits to offer. More and more families are making the choice to buy food from local food producers, even if it's just a portion of their weekly grocery supply.

There are many benefits to buying locally grown food, and each person makes their choice for different reasons. Locally grown food creates important economic opportunities, provides health benefits and helps to reduce environmental impact. It also helps bring the community together and gives people the opportunity to make a difference.

Additionally, many people feel local food tastes better and lasts longer. They also find peace of mind knowing exactly where their food came from and how it was grown. For others, supporting community economics and building relationships with local food producers is incredibly important, as is protecting the environment.

Whatever the reason, buying locally grown food is an important movement to support within your community, especially as it becomes increasingly popular.

What Is Locally Grown Food?

Locally grown food is a broad term that describes food that was grown within a geographical region that could be considered local to your particular area. Whether it's within your county, city, neighborhood or even your own backyard, locally grown food can take many forms.

When buying locally, you may choose to buy food that was grown as locally as possible. Locally grown food can often be found in your regular grocery store, at farmers' markets, within community-supported agriculture programs, or even on certain websites and groups on social media platforms. Some ranchers even offer direct farm-to-table purchasing from their own websites.

What Kinds of Food Can You Buy Locally?

Locally grown food can include produce like fruits and vegetables, or dairy products and eggs, or even locally raised meats.

Most often, the food you'll purchase from local producers will be food that's in season such as seasonal fruits and vegetables. Other local food producers can grow certain types of foods year-round within greenhouses or orchards. This will often depend on your local climate and your community.

Other popular foods to purchase locally include dairy products, like milk and cheese from cows or goats. Local, organic and farm-fresh eggs are another popular food that families pick up at the weekend farmers' market. Even specialty foods like honey, nut butters or canned foods can often be purchased from local producers.

As concerns grow over the sustainability of meat production and the growing demand for ethically sourced meat, many families are choosing to purchase their meats from local producers. Whether it's chicken, pork, beef or lamb, locally raised meat is often hormone and preservative-free, which is appealing to many health-conscious individuals.

Health Benefits of Locally Grown Food

When we look at the countless benefits of buying locally grown food, it's easy to see why individuals and families are making it a staple part of their diet.

Locally grown food provides several benefits:

  • It's Often Pesticide Free: Many local food producers choose to use organic and natural pest repellants to preserve the health of the food they distribute. Foods produced by large-scale agricultural operations are often mass sprayed with pesticides.
  • It's Preservative Free: Locally grown food doesn't require long trips to be transported across the country until they reach their final destination. For this reason, food doesn't need to have any preservatives and other chemicals added to it in order to keep it fresh during transit.
  • It Offers Improved Nutrition: Eating locally grown food can help deliver high-nutrient content. This is for several reasons, including the lack of chemicals and greater freshness. Local food is also a better way to ensure you eat seasonally. When you eat food that is grown within its natural season, the flavors are much fuller, and it tastes better.
  • It Supports Diet-Related Conditions: For people with food sensitivities to preservatives, hormones or other food chemicals, locally grown food is a great option. Locally grown food can help support any digestion issues that people with food allergies may experience with other types of food.
  • It Encourages Eating a Well-Balanced Diet: When you choose to buy locally grown food, you can incorporate healthier proteins, fruits, vegetables and whole grains into your diet, as opposed to choosing processed and packaged foods that don't provide a balanced diet.
  • It Improves Food Safety: Food safety is another growing concern, especially for families with young children and seniors. Food safety refers to a food's level of contamination risk. With imported food, it can pass through several different hands before it reaches your kitchen, increasing the chance of contamination.

The more steps between you and your food supply, the greater the risk of food contamination. Buying directly from local producers reduces the risk of eating unsafe food.

Environmental Benefits of Locally Grown Food

Purchasing more local food provides environmental benefits, as well:

  • It Preserves Small Farmland: When local farms are established, eating local protects farmland. Without small-scale farms, the land might otherwise be developed for industrial or commercial use. Additionally, farmland attracts other types of biodiversity and gives animals, insects, and birds a place to live and thrive.
  • It Reduces Food Miles: When we compare local farm grown food to imported food, the differences can be numerous. Imported food is shipped sometimes hundreds or thousands of miles to arrive at the supermarket. "Food miles" is a term used to describe the distance that food has traveled, from the place it was produced to the place where it will be sold to the consumer. The more food miles accumulated during food transportation, the more fossil fuels that are consumed. This transportation causes greater carbon emissions. Reducing food miles helps alleviate our dependence on fossil fuels, reduce air pollution and cut back on greenhouse gas emissions.
  • It Promotes Accountability: When food is raised and grown locally, the consumer better understands how and where their food is being produced. This awareness encourages local farmers to use sustainable agriculture practices and be more accountable to safe ecological practices, which may include not using pesticides or implementing systems that are less resource intensive than commercial agriculture. Many local food producers will actively pursue an organic certification to further improve the nutritional value of their food and reduce their environmental impact.
  • It Preserves Genetic Diversity: Many types of farmed produce use modern commercial technologies from certain genetic strands. In small-scale farming, farmers can use a variety of produce types with lots of different colors, helping to preserve the genetic diversity of produce. Similarly, a variety of animals can be raised on a small-scale farm, which helps to enhance biodiversity and provide more options to the consumer.

Economic Benefits of Locally Grown Food

Buying locally grown food can help support your local economy in the following ways:

  • It Keeps Money in Your Community: When you choose to spend money on locally grown food, it keeps your money in your community. Instead of supporting large supermarket chains, you can support individuals in your own community and help them prosper.
  • Local Farmers Keep More Profit: Because local farmers don't have the same transportation and distribution costs as large agricultural businesses, they can retain more of the profits from their sales. This helps small farming businesses become more successful as more people purchase from them.
  • It Creates Jobs: Small local farms are also excellent for the economy because they create jobs. By supporting local food producers, you directly contribute to helping your friends, neighbors and other community members find sustainable employment.
  • It Supplies Other Local Businesses: Local food producers can supply their meat and produce to other local businesses, such as restaurants, schools and hospitals. Many people today choose to eat at particular restaurants because they use local food. In turn, restaurants become more successful and further grow the local farming economy.
  • It Keeps Taxes Down: Local farm operations can typically contribute more to the economy in tax revenue than they will ever use in services. Most local farm businesses aren't dependent on social services like schools and emergency services.

Social Benefits of Buying Locally Grown Food

There are also important social and community benefits of supporting your local food producers:

  • It Supports Local Families: Farming is often a family-run business. For many families, farming is more than a business, it's a way of life that they are trying to preserve for future generations. By purchasing locally grown food, you can help your local food producers carry on their family traditions and support family development.
  • It Brings the Community Together: Local farmers often develop a close network between themselves, as well as among their local buyers. As a consumer, you can purchase directly from the farmer through farmers' markets or directly on the farm. This builds relationships among community members, which fosters a sense of belonging and togetherness within your area.
  • It Empowers the Consumer: Consumers are growing increasingly concerned with where and how their food is being produced. They now have the choice to purchase food locally and learn more about food production directly from the farmers themselves, it's a great learning experience for children who can develop their knowledge about food systems and agriculture.
  • It Encourages Cultural Diversity: Many local farmers are beginning to specialize in producing culturally diverse foods that support a wide variety of diets and cultural food customs. Producing a diverse range of food types from different heritages helps create inclusion within the community. It also encourages consumers to try and enjoy new foods.
  • It Improves Overall Well-being: One of the most satisfying parts of buying local farm-grown food is knowing that you're contributing to your community, economy and the environment. The combined benefits lead to an improved sense of wellbeing and fulfillment knowing your purchases make a difference.

Where to Buy Locally Grown Food

There are a number of places to find and purchase locally grown food within your community:

  • Farmers' markets. Farmers' markets are one of the most popular places for consumers to find and purchase locally grown foods. Depending on your community, your farmers' markets may take place one to two times per week. It may also depend on the season and your climate, as some markets are open year-round. At farmers' markets, you can find local meats, produce and even preserved and canned foods.
  • Community Supported Agriculture programs (CSAs): You can join these programs as a community member by paying for a share of the harvested produce, eggs and meats. Usually, you will be asked to pay for your share up front, then your food will be available after harvest. When you participate in a CSA, you pick up your share of harvested foods from a communal location with other CSA participants.
  • Events, Stands and Gleaning: There are other ways to purchase locally grown food as a consumer. Some communities host pick-your-own events where families can pay a fee to enter a farm and pick their own produce. There are also roadside stands and on-site shops for consumers to visit. Gleaning programs are also becoming more popular, whereby participants can pick leftover crops after harvesting.
  • Local Grocers: More and more local grocers are opting to carry produce, dairy and meats supplied by local producers. You will often see these items labeled in the store to indicate that they're local foods. Many grocery businesses today are attempting to prioritize local food.
  • Local Food Delivery Programs: Some businesses today specialize in working directly with local farmers to deliver their food directly to consumers. You can pay a subscription fee to have fresh local food delivered to you on a regular basis. The food usually arrives in a box and can be delivered to your home or work.
  • Grow Your Own: Of course, you can always start growing your own food in your yard or on your balcony. Some municipalities allow chickens and other small animals to be raised on residential properties.

Supporting Your Local Food System

Choosing to purchase locally grown food is an important way to support your local economy, contribute to your community, improve your health and do your part to protect the environment. Getting involved in the local food system helps us to gain back the separation we created between humans and food production.

Many of us today, including children, don't have the same awareness about food that we did before modern agriculture practices. Because of this, people are looking to repair their detachment from food production and actively learn more about their local food economy. If you make small weekly purchases from local food producers, your money and support can go a long way toward strengthening your local food system.