March 23 • 01:06 AM

Ten good reasons to shop local

October 31, 2007
There are many reasons to eat locally-grown food, and much of the research I've done usually features a standard "10 Reasons to Buy Local." The list is characteristically simple, straightforward, generally not arguable. For instance, "locally-grown produce is fresher." Who would debate that? Here in the United States, food typically travels between 1,500 and 2,000 miles from farm to plate, and can spend as many as seven to 14 days in transit before it arrives in the supermarket. Often, shopping locally, I've enjoyed one-day turn-around from farm to plate. Now, that's farm fresh!

Another popular admonishment on the top-ten list is "buying local strengthens your local economy." Web sites often refer to a British study which concluded that every dollar spent at a locally-grown foods retailer generated twice as much income for the local economy than dollars spent at a supermarket chain. The belief is that local growers, producers, and retailers tend to spend their money with local merchants. The money then circulates close to home where it has the opportunity to build a vital community. When locally-owned merchants are not supported, money leaves the community with every transaction.

While I know this premise is plausible, I also know that it doesn't happen naturally, or without some urging. Have you ever tried to tell a man how and where he should spend his money? I have. His horns grew, and I ran. Free-enterprise can't dictate where to spend, or earn, for that matter. I happened to make a voluntary, intentional commitment to spend my money on locally-grown food, but that doesn't mean I support a producer simply because they are local. With their own individual brand of knowledge, service and product, they must also nourish me as a consumer, just like Vince and Joe, Nino Salvaggio, and Mr. Randazzo did for all those years.

These days, I have an aversion to any place that uses hot-white spots to illuminate those perfectly-ordered, gingham-skirted vegetable displays. (Does Bree Vandekamp work here?) I'm a little leery of those engineered tomato pyramids lest I pluck the wrong one, and they all come rolling down to engulf me. It's happened to me before. Pushing my cart away from the crime scene at breakneck speed, I oversteered in the split-second that I looked back to evaluate the bloody mess. My handbag grazed something, and I instantly accomplished the collapse of yet another pyramidal monument, this one painstakingly built to honor the naval orange. Needless to say, I don't shop there anymore. Not because I'm permanently embedded in security videos, but because they don't, for the most part, stock locally-grown.

As my food requirements have changed, so have my shopping habits, but I still find myself magnetized to the vendor or business that reliably demonstrates a concern for my customer satisfaction. This is most exhibited by a willingness and ability to answer questions. Like a growing number of Americans, I'm increasingly curious about my food sources, and appreciate someone who is patient with my inquiries.

It's an opportunity to get to know the farmers who grow my food, and develop the trust and understanding necessary to the relationship. Without these assurances, the temptation to shop at supermarket chains or outside the community increases exponentially.

A flourishing local economy then depends on the recipient of my dollars to be a deliberate benefactor to other local businesses and merchants, and in this way monies continue to be reinvested. The campaign to buy and eat local can indeed jump start the cycle that keeps dollars abounding within our communities. But without serious efforts to court customers, this local challenge could find itself on the back-to-basics periphery, instead of in the mainstream, where it fairly belongs.

Just as Thanksgiving dinner at Grandma's has that precious, mystical ability to draw all the loose cannons together for a bona fide familial cease-fire, the local food movement perhaps stands to unite Americans like no other progressive social or cultural development in recent history. Whether your grounds are health, politics, economy, or environment, there's something in it for everybody. Any reason is valid if it can provide the supportive rationale to inspire you to adopt new purchasing habits.

In this column over the next few months, we'll try and examine a few more of the customary incentives to buying and eating locally-grown food. I'll also share with you why a busy, thoroughly modern woman like myself would choose this often time-consuming, kitchen-intensive advocacy over Lean Cuisine and the produce department at Meijer's. (I'll give you a hint: my very personal motivation has to do with a particular emerald green suit.)

My hope is that is that we'll ignite your own personal "Eureka!" moment, and that next spring you find yourself in a friendly contest for parking space at any one of our many farms, farmer's markets, and u-pick's. And don't fret that you have to wait until spring to satisfy your new passion. We'll use the slumberous months ahead to plan and prepare you for the sometimes bumpy road that leads to local.

Are you a local food grower or producer with ideas to share? Have your own experiences buying and eating locally-grown? Let me know. I'd love to hear from you.

Contact Cynthia by email at

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