By Katie Novak, Green Top Grocery
Eating local” is considered pretty hip in today’s society, but the economic and health benefits make it a smart choice as well. One of the most important reasons to eat locally is that you get the most nutritional value from food that’s fresh from the farm or garden. The best way is to grow the food yourself, but if you don’t have time, space, or a green thumb, there are some other alternatives. Most products in a traditional grocery store take about 13 days to arrive at its destination and travel about 1500 miles, according to Rich Pirog in the publication, Food, Fuel and Freeways. When you purchase fruits and vegetables straight from a farmer at a farm stand or at a farmer’s market, the products were harvested less than 24 hours before selling it, allowing the fruit or vegetable to stay on the plant longer and retaining the most nutritional value. If you can’t buy it directly from the farmer, try to make your purchases from locally-owned grocery stores that source a variety of products directly from area farmers — helping to reduce the food miles traveled and retain the nutritional value of the food. Fresh food tends to lose up to 45 percent of their nutritional value within a week of harvesting.
Eating local has many economic benefits as well. When you purchase produce from a traditional grocery store, only 15.8 cents of every dollar goes to the farmer, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service. When you purchase direct from a farmer, he/she reaps 100 percent of the food dollar. If Central Illinois shoppers bought 15 percent of their food directly from local farmers, it would generate $639 million in new income for the region, according to Ken Meter’s 2011 study of the local food potential in Central Illinois. With this incentive in mind, the Illinois Department of Agriculture (IDOA) is challenging all Illinois residents to dedicate $10 of their weekly grocery budget to Illinois products. You can participate in this challenge by visiting the IDOA’s website at www.agr.state.il.us/marketing/ilprod. The IDOA has also made identifying Illinois products easier with two logos to look for when you shop.
One of the challenges of living in Central Illinois is that not all products can be grown year round. The Land Connection, a non-profit organization that works to establish successful farmers on healthy farmland, has developed a calendar to help you find your favorite produce at its peak flavor and nutritional value. Visit their website at www.thelandconnection.org and click on the “Farm Fresh Now” button. And if you want to keep the taste of summer throughout the year, check out area classes on food preservation techniques such as canning and freezing.
In partnership with Green Top Grocery, a local cooperative grocery store, Community Education at Heartland Community College will be offering a series of cooking classes to promote using locally sourced foods. Learn to prepare a memorable Thanksgiving feast using the bounty of the fall harvest from local farmers. Know & Grow with Green Top: Local Thanksgiving will be held on Saturday, Nov. 1. To register, contact Community Education at 309-268-8160 or visit their website at www.heartland.edu/communityEd. For more information about Green Top Grocery, contact outreach coordinator, Katie Novak at Katie@greentopgrocery.com.
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