The buy-local food movement has been growing by leaps and bounds, motivated by consumer interest in fresher, healthier, and safer foods. The Food Marketing Institute estimates that 68 percent of consumers now purchase locally grown food at least some of the time. The proliferation of farmer’s markets and food co-ops is testament to a renewed commitment to eating local. Most of the research following the local food movement focuses on the relationship between local farms and individual consumers. Far less often does one hear about collaboration between local farms and local restaurants. But there are plenty of reasons that we at Mother’s Juice prioritize quality local ingredients in crafting our menus.
It begins at the source
Good food begins with fertile, unpolluted land – a shrinking commodity in the world of commercial farming, where synthetic pesticides and fertilizers stress the land into overproducing mass crops. A local farm is far more likely to use organic means of fertilizing their crops, and use sustainable farming practices such as crop rotation, using cover crops in the off-season, and relying on organic fertilizers. Like the old saying, “you are what you eat,” the plants and animals you consume are as well. Plants and animals fed natural sources of nutrition translate into healthier ingredients on our menu.
Looks better, tastes better
In the US, the average distance a fruit or vegetable travels between farm and grocery store is 1500 miles. In order to for produce to withstand the time and distance, they are generally bioengineered to keep their shape and standard color – not to knock you out with their bright juiciness and fresh taste. In contrast, visit your local farmer’s market and you’ll see that the strawberries are pure crimson, the peaches are sun-kissed and sweet, and the tomatoes are so luscious, you’ll want to eat them like apples. It’s been said that people eat with their eyes first, so incorporating a rainbow of fresh local ingredients into our menu pleases the eye as well as the taste buds.
Low environmental impact
Local farms have a much smaller carbon footprint than large agribusiness farms, and it’s not just about the “food-miles” of long-distance distribution. According to a 2008 study, the production phase of agriculture accounts for 83% of the average household’s carbon footprint for food consumption. The type of food grown or raised has the biggest impact, red meat and dairy production being the highest emitters of greenhouse gases. However, practices such as manure management and composting, organic pesticides, and strategic grazing can lower the impact of even the largest CO2 producers. These practices are far more likely to be followed by local farmers than large agribusinesses.
Giant Red Celery, Gold Rush Zucchini, Sweet Chocolate Peppers, Rainbow Chard. Is your mouth watering yet? These are heirloom varietals that you won’t necessarily find at a grocery store or food distributor. Besides being healthier and tastier, these varieties serve a necessary purpose: genetic biodiversity. When plants and animals are bred over time to become more genetically similar, they become much less capable of withstanding disease and environmental change. The Millennium Seed Bank Partnership estimates that some “60,000 to 100,000 plant varieties are currently under threat of extinction.” Local farms have the flexibility to grow unique varietals, continuing the diverse genetic heritage that the world needs. We love the challenge of incorporating new and unique foods into our menus!
One study showed that for every $100 you spend at a local business, $68 of that will stay in the local community. This is likely because local businesses and farms are far more accountable to their neighbors than large national chains or agribusinesses. They are also more likely to use other local businesses such as credit unions, restaurants and service providers. By strengthening the business to-business-connections in your own community, your purchases are injecting life into the local economy. This translates into more jobs and a higher standard of living overall.
Loving your community
Food – the producing, the cooking, and the eating – has always been at the foundation of community. The age-old connection between the farm and table is powerful. Buying local ingredients is just one step in the food chain – where it and every other step builds reciprocity and trust, bringing a community closer together.
Most holidays and celebrations involve coming together at the table. Much of what matters in life happens around the table. Meals are about far more than food, but the meal is what brings us together. Using quality local ingredients in your meals is about taste, health, and the environment, but it is also about community. At Mother’s Juice Café, it all starts with community.