In the Adirondacks, we are lucky to have an ample supply of high quality, local food providers that strive to grow and raise local produce, meat, dairy, grains and more for our communities. Many people in the North Country choose to buy locally produced goods for a variety of different reasons. Buying and eating locally grown foods has many benefits for the community, economy, environment, and your own personal health.
To start, local food is usually sold at farmer’s markets or through community-supported agriculture programs. By visiting local farms or farmer’s markets each week, you build relationships and learn directly from the source, where your food is coming from. Sometimes you can even tour the farms and learn more about the methods used to grow your food. How cool! Just this act of talking with farmers can teach you a lot about the people in your community and fosters a sense of togetherness and belonging.
Additionally, investing your money in local farmers drives the economy by supporting people in your community. By choosing to eat locally, you reinvest in your area and instead of supporting large commercial supermarket chains, you help your fellow neighbors prosper. Typically, local farmers can retain more of their profits because they don’t have to absorb the large costs of transporting their goods. By keeping business local, you help your farmer’s profit margins increase and reduce the time/money it takes to distribute their food. This investment helps these farmers cover costs, create jobs in your community, and continue to provide quality food to families and businesses in the region.
Beyond the economic impacts, eating locally reduces your impact on the environment. There are huge hidden costs behind the groceries that are convenient and accessible at the grocery store. Often times, we don’t take into account the resources and energy that it takes to get food to our stores. By shopping local, we eliminate a major portion of the transportation costs of getting our food and therefore reduce the amount of fossil fuels required to produce our food. Additionally, local food is often grown organically or by using best management practices which are practical, cost-effective actions that producers can take to help conserve water and reduce the total amount of pesticides, fertilizers, animal waste and other pollutants entering our water resources. When small farms are established in your community, they often protect the land from otherwise being developed for industrial or commercial use. Small-scale farmland attracts biodiversity and gives animals, insects, and birds a place to live and thrive!
When it comes to your health, eating local can offer a much healthier alternative than the highly processed foods found at most convenient stores. By choosing locally produced goods, you avoid preservatives and chemicals that are typically added to keep your food fresh during transit. Additionally, many local growers choose to go their food organically or without pesticides and insecticides. This is beneficial for your health and the health of the environment around you because it reduces the number of chemicals contaminating the land, air, and soil around you. Finally, eating locally grown food can offer higher nutrient content in your food. This is because the food is much fresher than what you would typically find in the grocery store and there are often fewer chemicals or no chemicals used to produce your food. Local food also encourages the consumer to eat seasonally which is better for your health because these seasonal vegetables and fruits are at their peak freshness and are most nutrient-dense when they get to you. When produce is picked before its ripe for transportation purposes, the nutrients do not fully develop in the fruit. Also, eating seasonally encourages you to eat a larger variety of vegetables, which will assist you in eating a balanced diet.
Over time, the act of eating local on a regular basis can have a huge impact on your community, your regional economy, and the environment as a whole. Eating locally often leads to a consumer who is more aware of how their choices are impacting the community, economy, environment, and their own personal health.
Learning About Local Food with KZ Farm in Westport
When we look at the importance of eating local, it can be difficult to truly visualize how this plays out in your community. Recently, we had the chance to ask questions and talk with Sarah Kingzak, co-owner of KZ Farm in Westport. During this conversation, we focused specifically on grass-fed beef and how choosing to eat their local meat can make a big difference in the community, local economy, environment and for your health.
Sarah shared that people often ask why local or organically raised beef is more expensive than what they can find at the supermarket. This sparked a discussion about industrialized beef operations and predominantly grain-fed cows. These grain-fed cows are raised in feedlots where they are kept in close confinement and fed mostly corn and soy products that they did not evolve to eat but can fatten them up quickly. The general price of this beef is as cheap as it is because grain prices are subsidized by the federal government. This means that many more animals can be finished at a time when fed such an inexpensive diet, and it takes less time for them to gain weight this way.
The downsides to these types of conventional, large scale beef operations are increased methane emissions, environmental hazards created by manure pits, and increased use of antibiotics and steroids due to the fact that cows fed an unnatural diet and kept in close confinement often experience many health problems. Grass-fed and finished beef cows, on the other hand, eat what cows have evolved to eat and are healthier animals in general. It takes longer to finish them on grass, and the more time anything takes, the more labor that goes into it which equates to higher expenses on the farmer’s end. It also takes more land to raise grass-fed beef.
From a sustainability aspect, lower stocking rates are generally better for the environment, especially on farms that utilize rotational grazing (like they do at KZ Farm) in order to maintain and improve their pasture ecosystems instead of depleting them. Lower stocking rates can also drive prices higher since overall producers are limited to an environmentally appropriate stocking rate. On the upside, there are now studies showing that the carbon sequestration of properly managed pastures offsets the methane emissions of raising beef on those pastures. This is a huge step in combatting climate change since agriculture has been shown to contribute at least one-third of all greenhouse gases.
Apart from animal welfare or the environmental issues of commercially produced beef, the other big difference between grain-fed and grass-fed beef is the nutrient content of the beef itself. Grass-fed beef is leaner, with less overall fat than grain-fed and much less mono-saturated fats (linked to heart disease). It is known to be higher in omega-3s and CLA, which are both linked to health benefits such as a lower risk of heart disease. Grass-fed beef also contains higher amounts of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Many people share that it has more flavor too.