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Earth Friendly: Are you a locavore?

June 23, 2011 at 1:23 a.m.

Meridith Byrd

By Meredith Byrd

Avocados from Mexico. Bananas from Costa Rica. Tomatoes and peppers from Canada. Grapes from Chile. Apples from New Zealand.

According to the USDA, most of the fresh produce we eat is produced here in the United States; however, each year more and more of the fruits and vegetables we see in grocery stores are imported. Studies show that much of our food travels an average of 1,500 miles from the farm to your plate. That dinner of yours might have an awfully large carbon footprint.

In recent years, more people have become committed to seeking out locally grown meats and produce. In 2005, the phenomenon was given a name: the "locavore" movement, coined by a small group of women in San Francisco who had the idea to eat only food that was grown or produced within 100 miles of their home.

We are fortunate to have area farmers markets that allow us to buy locally grown food, including the Victoria Farmers Market that is held every Tuesday and Thursday in the parking lot of the Pattie Dodson Public Health Center. But what are the benefits of eating local?

Locally grown produce only has to travel a small distance before it reaches your table, so it is likely picked at its peak after being allowed to ripen naturally, resulting in better tasting, more nutritious fruits and vegetables. Eating local also means that we eat seasonal fruits and vegetables, allowing farmers to rotate crops throughout the year and keep the soil packed with nutrients.

Have you ever compared an heirloom tomato to a typical tomato found at the grocery store? The first thing you will notice is that the heirloom tomatoes are much softer. This is because much of the produce you find at the grocery store has been specifically bred to endure the shipping process: being loaded into crates and handled many times over before traveling hundreds of miles or more to their final destination. All of this adds up to tougher skins on your favorite produce.

Realistically, there is no way to find a local source for everything we like to eat. However, we can start small and choose a handful of goods to buy from local producers. For instance, my eggs come from a co-worker who keeps chickens, or "Chicken Girls," as she calls them. Check out a local farmers market and figure out what you can buy from our area farmers. Tomatoes, peppers, watermelons, onions and homemade jellies are just a few of the things I have seen for sale.

Supporting local businesses, including local farmers, is always beneficial to our local economy by keeping those dollars spent close to home. I would love to hear of area restaurants and other businesses that support local farmers and ranchers.

Meridith Byrd is a marine biologist and invites readers to contact her at meridith.byrd@gmail.com.

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