To eat local or not to eat local

By: Alison Dunn Jun 22, 2010
  Editorial

About a year ago, I was introduced to the whole idea of community-shared agriculture, or CSA.

In case you haven't heard of it, CSA lets you purchase "shares" of the year's harvest from a local organic farm. CSA "shareholders" pay for their produce at the beginning of the growing season, providing the necessary start-up capital for farmers to purchase seeds, supplies and soil amendments, eliminating their reliance on expensive bank loans and helping to pay for the real cost of food. It's a great way to help out local farmers, as well as an excellent source of fresh, organic food. And the prices are often far lower than what you would pay for produce at a farmer's market or a grocery store.

I eagerly signed up for a local CSA, opting to pick up my order at a local "depot" (which is really just the driveway of someone in the neighbourhood) once a week. I've been thrilled with the results so far – it's getting the whole family to eat more vegetables as well as try some new produce that we would never have otherwise tried.

But, as you can imagine, it's pretty hard to get fresh, local produce in the middle of the winter in Southern Ontario. So almost every week (and even in the summer too), the farm does send me some imported organic items. For instance, we had bananas almost every week this winter (and I've yet to see an banana tree in Ontario), as well as plenty of fresh oranges and grapefruits (again, no citrus trees here!)

I couldn't help but feel a little guilty every time I opened the box to find imported fruits and veggies. After all, I'd heard about the 100 mile diet and the push to eat local. Wasn't it bad for the environment to have all these fruits and veggies imported? And in trying to be a good local citizen and eat healthy, was I actually doing more harm than good?

I (guiltily) sent contributor Sydney Loney to find out more about local versus imported food. The results of her research might surprise you quite a bit – you can read all about them in "The ins and outs of eating locally" this week on Primacy Life. It turns out that when we all jumped on the eat local bandwagon, we may have overlooked a few very important things, like sustainability of local plants and produce.

That doesn't mean we should stop eating local foods! In the midst of summer, there's nothing better than biting into a juicy, homegrown strawberry, heading up to a local farm to pick raspberries, or grabbing corn from a roadside stand in late August. By eating local foods, we support local farms and give the environment a break at the same time.

Just don't be fooled into assuming local is always better. It's okay that my CSA farm sends me some imported bananas in the winter from time to time. I'm still supporting my local farmers, allowing them to do what works best to keep their business running.

Like everything else when it comes to our health, it's all about balance. Don't go overboard one way or the other, and you should be fine. Eat locally when you can and when it makes the most sense, look for other ways to reduce your environmental impact.

In the meantime, I'm off to make strawberry-banana muffins – with local strawberries. Admittedly I still can't seem to find those local bananas though!

A journalist with more than 10 years experience, Alison’s work has appeared in a number of top Canadian publications, including glow, Oxygen, Canadian Running and more. She is the former editor of a number of well-respected Canadian and American trade journals and recipient of a Kenneth R. Wilson Gold Award of Excellence in feature article writing. She is a part-time faculty member at Sheridan College’s journalism department, as well as an avid runner and fitness enthusiast.