Monday, May 5, 2014

Mindful Monday: Shopping Local Produce Stands

Let's talk local.  And I mean your local produce stands, farmers'  markets, farms, and even neighbors.  The season for fresh produce is upon us, and other than growing it yourself, there is no better way to get fresh produce than buying local.  Obviously, there are your highly frequented stands, and then there are your little "ma & pa" stands.

I grow as much as I can, which is why my garden expanded each planting season since we moved in.  This year will be the second year at it's current size, and I think I've finally reached the point where more would be too much.  (That really means that it would take up too much space in my yard.)

But I digress.  Those foods I can't or won't venture to grow, I buy from my local stands as long as I can.  It's important to keep in mind, however, that even your favorite local stands may not be selling produce that they have grown themselves.  They are limited by Mother Nature as much as the rest of us.  If your local stand is selling something that is out of season in your area, they are probably shipping it in from somewhere.  (Unless, of course, they have hothouses where they grow things before they come into season.  Ah, what a dream.)  So, the tomatoes I bought from my favorite stand are coming from Florida right now.  As Summer stretches north, they will get that sort of produce from areas closer and closer to our area, until they are finally able to harvest and sell their own.

K.P. Huber's Produce

I always ask where the produce is coming from.  I'm sure there are places, even "ma & pa" stands, that purchase some produce from wholesalers that may get it outside of the country.  Of course, there are those fruits and vegetables that "can't" be grown inside our borders.  But I believe that even those tropical flavors can be grown in areas like Florida, Southern California, and Hawaii.  You just have to be willing to pay a little more for those.  Even still, they are more than likely coming from larger wholesale companies. 

Now, the plants my stand is selling they start themselves.  So I know that all the annual herbs and vegetables I get from them are locally grown.  I cannot vouch for where the seeds come from, but it's enough for me to know where they were started.  For now.

Flowers at K.P. Huber's Produce

Besides knowing where your food is coming from, the biggest reason to buy local is to support your local economy.  When you shop at a farmers' market or roadside stand, you are supporting a local family operation, no matter the size.  So your money, earned in your area, goes to another person from your area who will hopefully use it to support yet another local company, association, or cause.  It's an economic cycle that keeps communities thriving, thwarting big business in the simplest way.  (Personally, I have found that buying locally is also less expensive.)

I found an article about Small Business Saturday that gives a rundown of the economic impact of buying locally:
Studies show that for every $100 spent in a locally owned independent store, $68 returns to the community through taxes, payroll & other expenditures.  Your purchases at local stores keep businesses going & keep jobs in your community.  Local businesses are the ones who contribute to Chamber of Commerce festivals, fund local fundraisers & sponsor neighborhood community centers.  Buying local creates an economic cycle that helps everyone.
There is also a good article from Alabama's Farmers' Market Authority listing six great reasons to buy local produce.  

But you don't have to buy local to get local.  You can join a co-op where you donate your time and energy to help with the planting, care, and harvesting of the produce grown.  In return, you get a portion of the harvest.  Most co-ops have a fee to join in order to offset the cost of seeds, plants, tools, and other materials and equipment needed to maintain the "farm."  Each also has it's own rules for how things work, so be sure to do your research and pick the right one for you before joining.

You can also set something up with friends, family, and neighbors to trade produce.  I give tomatoes and squash to my friends each year. 

If all that isn't enough to convince you--or someone you know--most of the fruits sold in grocery stores are not ripened naturally.  (And remember, tomatoes are fruit.)  Big companies harvest the fruits before they are ripe and then--in the US--use ethylene gas in the warehouse to ripen them.  This make the fruit fresher when it arrives in the store.  The FDA has approved this gas for ripening of fruit, but it's not a natural way to ripen and can detract from the flavor.

However, some countries use acetylene gas to ripen fruit.  Being a welder's wife, I know this gas for it's use in welding.  That alone deems it unfit for consumption in my eyes.  But to further convince you, this gas can contain phosphine and arsine when generated from calcium carbide.  (Like it sounds, think phosphorus and arsenic.)  Both of these gases are highly toxic.  While acetylene is not used in US warehouses, if the food you are buying comes from another country, it's possible they use it in theirs.

It's always better to know where your food comes from, so. . . 

Buy fresh.  Buy local.

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