In 2008, 43 states reported cases of salmonella food poisoning in the largest outbreak of the infection since 1985. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration investigated and believes that the outbreak came from the consumption of raw tomatoes and peppers imported to the United States from Mexico.
The number of imported foods in the United States has been growing exponentially. While not all of these foods come into the country contaminated, and indeed foods grown in the United States may become contaminated, buying locally from small farms and farmers markets reduce the risks. Food that must travel longer distances or that is mass produced in large factory farms have increased exposure to contaminants. Then, when one small batch of contaminated produce is ready for packaging in a mass-producing plant, it has the opportunity to infect tons of other foods, as was the case in 2006 when 23 states experienced an outbreak of E. coli from mass-produced spinach.
Shopping in a farmers market. Photo courtesy of nguyenduong
When you buy your fruits, vegetables, jams and jellies, homemade pastas and a variety of other foods from local farms, you know where your products are coming from. You can ask questions about the way the food is raised and treated, like whether pesticides were used. Since these fruits and vegetables aren't expected to last for long distances, they don't need preservatives. They're naturally bright, fresh, and colorful, no tricks to give the illusion of a greater freshness than is actually there. You can be more confident that all of the nutritional benefits of your foods are still in full force.
Along with the increased knowledge you have about the food you buy from farmers markets, you can also help your community by giving money back locally. Thousands of small farms are run out of business, families forced off of their land every year because they can't compete against the massive factory farm corporations that control the majority of food sales in the country. When you buy locally, you help small businesses and family farms continue to provide fresher fruits, cleaner vegetables and healthier meats.
Here are just some of the delicious, fresh foods you can buy from local farms. Photo courtesy of Edsel Little
Buying locally is also better for the environment. Small farms produce less waste and often use fewer, if any, chemicals in treating their plants and animals. Large factory farms produce in such massive quantities that they do not have the staff necessary to individually tend to products the way most small farms do. The result is over-crowded pens and cages, requiring animals to be pumped with hormones and antibiotics to stave off infections, and crop fields regularly coated with poisons to kill insects. This can also lead to die offs of important insects, like bees. Buying locally also requires less resources to get your products to you, which also helps the environment.
So this summer, focus on local fruits and vegetables that are in season. Stock up for the winter by preserving fresh fruits and vegetables or build your own root cellar to keep produce fresh longer. Doing so can positively impact your health, your community and your planet.
Summer is here and so is delicious in-season fruit that you can purchase from your local farmers market! Both your body and the environment will thank you. Jalelah Ahmed reporting.