Local produce is often picked right before it's consumed, whereas supermarket fare may have traveled days before finding its way to your plate. "When something is picked at its peak of ripeness, it's also picked at its peak of nutritional value," explains Gidus.
In a 2004 study in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition, researchers examined possible reasons why levels of several nutrients--vitamin C, calcium and iron--have declined in American crops from 1950 through 1999. They speculate that producers have started to focus on creating plants that can yield more and are more pest resistant, not those that are the most nutritious.
Other nutritional perks? If your local farm practices sustainable farming methods and shuns pesticides, you can win big.
A four-year study conducted by United Kingdom's Newcastle University suggests that organic fruits and veggies contain extra iron, zinc, copper and up to 40 percent more antioxidants than their non-organic counterparts. But it pays to ask. Don't assume that small-scale farmers use more sustainable methods than behemoth farms; that is not always the case.
Surprisingly, limiting your food miles may actually increase the variety of edibles in your diet. Local farmers are more likely to experiment with different crops in small yields and supply things you can't find at many grocery stores.
A diverse diet is often a healthier diet. A 2006 Journal of Nutrition study reported that a diet made up of many different fruits and vegetables did a better job at fending off oxidative DNA damage in women than did a diet made up of only a few standard choices.
But, eating a strictly local diet may not be preferable because you could end up shunning runner-friendly foods like bananas, kiwis and mangos. To feel better about purchasing these well-traveled consumables, consider opting for the most sustainable options of organic or fair trade.
Local Eating On The Web
Without question, finding locally grown food and figuring out how to cook with new ingredients can be a challenge. "It may not be as convenient as a grocery store that has everything in one place," Gidus says. But many online resources are available to make it a little easier.
- Visit localharvest.org to find a close-to-home farmers market, or to sign up for a Community Supported Agricultural (CSA) program. For an agreed upon fee (share), you'll sponsor a local farmer throughout a growing season. In exchange, he or she will deliver a weekly or monthly basket of the farm's top-notch bounty.
- The Rodale Institute provides a list of farmers willing to open their barn doors to individuals at rodaleinstitute.org/farm_locator.
- For tasty cooking tips and to locate seasonal ingredients in your area, turn to the seasonal cooking section of the food-lovers' favorite epicurious.com.
- Join in the discussion with like-minded local foodies: Visit the eatlocalchallenge.com blog.
- The FruitGuys work closely with farmers all over the country to deliver seasonal, local fruit in post-consumer recycled cardboard crates to your office cubicle. Order at fruitguys.com.
Matthew Kadey is a Canada-based dietitian and writer. Find him at wellfedman.com or mattkadey.ca.