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Buying local good for community and earth - October 13, 2011

What are you going to eat this week? Most of us make that decision every day, several times a day. And the decision we make has a lot of consequences. Have you considered, recently, the impacts your dining decisions make?

There are so many things that factor into our food decisions. Think about all the things you might consider when choosing your next meal -- What do I want? Where will I buy it? How much should I buy? How much does it cost? Is it healthy? Is it fresh? Does it have preservatives, hormones, or additives that I may not want to ingest? How was it grown or made? Is it low-fat, low-sodium, low in sugar? How many carbs is it? Is it organic? How is it packaged? How will I prepare it? Will the rest of my family want to eat it?

And, yes, now I'm asking that you consider one more thing: is it local?

According to the Oxford American Dictionary, a locavore is "a person who endeavors to eat only locally produced food." The word was only added to the lexicon four years ago.

So, why would someone specifically "endeavor to eat only locally produced food"?

Dea Keen is a board member for the Lower Eastern Shore Sustainable Organic Network, also known as L.E.S.S.O.N. "What first attracted me to eating local was the flavor and the variety of produce available," said Keen, "and then I began to learn more about the implications of eating food that is grown thousands of miles away."

Eating local food cuts down on the distance the food travels, reducing oil consumption and carbon emissions. It's one more way to reduce your carbon footprint.

There are economic reasons to eat local food, too. According to the Southern Maryland Agricultural Development Commission, "In Maryland, if every household purchased just $12 worth of farm products for eight weeks (basically the summer season), over $200 million would be put back into the pockets of our farmers." Buying local keeps your dollars circulating in your own community. Up to 90 cents of every dollar spent on local, sustainably-produced food stays in the local economy. It pays farmers and farm labor, and gets then spent right here on Delmarva. Buying local food makes good economic sense.

As Keen points out, "you are supporting your community with every delicious bite."

Historically, Delmarva was an agricultural Eden, producing so much variety and excess that it could feed itself, Philadelphia and New York. Around harvest time, communities would pull together to help local farmers. Children would even get off of school early to help pick strawberries. Our summertime crab feasts serve as a living relic of the times. You either crab for yourself, or buy from your favorite local waterman. Many of us eat Maryland crabs. So, why not commit to eating more local food?

Local food is fresher and retains more nutrients. Eating local may require some adjustment in your buying and cooking habits, though. In some cases, consumers need to relearn how to handle and prepare fresh produce.

All over Delmarva there are options for any kind of diet. You can buy your bread, honey, milk, cheese, yogurt, meats and veggies locally, year-round. And now, we have local brewers and wineries that can provide the perfect pairings for a locally-grown meal.

"Have pride in your local farmer or baker. Boast that they're the best on the Shore. Revel in the flavor and the joy of bringing your favorite local food dish to a potluck," says Keen, enthusiastically.

Make a pledge to buy local this week. Visit a farmers' market or local farm stand. Take time to learn more about where your food comes from and the farmers who grow it. Eating local is better for you, better for our community, and better for the earth. And the taste is exceptional.

It's also enjoyable. This week, I'm visiting a local farm with my daughter. We'll carefully choose a pumpkin from the pumpkin patch, and buy some locally-made apple cider to drink together. I'm certain we'll find other tasty local treasures, too. Maybe we'll see you there.

Carrie Samis is the education coordinator for the Maryland Coastal Bays Program. 

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