Western New York is a unique place to live when it comes to food. Tucked in the northeastern edge of Lake Erie and southern shores of Lake Ontario, its soil is classified as Type 1 by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), meaning that over 58% of its land is prime farmland; a resource that few other states can equal. The majority of the prime soil falls in five counties, Erie, Genesee, Wyoming, Chautauqua, and Monroe, and it is here that we are so blessed with opportunities to participate in the sustainable, organic, local and ethical (SOLE) food movement.
Local food is fresher and tastes better than food that has been shipped in from thousands of miles away. The difference between lettuce picked yesterday and lettuce picked last week, factory-washed, and sealed in plastic is profound. Eating locally also means eating seasonally, with all the pleasure that accompanies not having it out-of-season. Fresh corn in season tastes best when you haven't eaten it in months.
Food grown on small, local farms often means it was picked at its peak, sometimes the day you purchase it. Not only does it taste better, but it is also still packed full of nutrients that haven't degraded by the time it arrives after traveling as much as 1,500 miles from it's source. That's a large carbon footprint for a head of romaine. Farmers, Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs) programs, or cooperative grocery stores that support organic and sustainable growing practices and renewable energy minimize your food's environmental impact.
The fewer steps there are between your food's source and your table, the less chance there is of contamination. When you know where your food comes from and who grows it, you know a lot more about food safety. Transparency in the line of distribution provides fewer opportunities for food contamination to occur and leads to a healthier food community.
By purchasing food grown and raised closer to where you live, you also help maintain the vivacity of farmland in your area, particularly land cared for by small farmers; custodians of your green space.
Locally grown food also leads to greater variety of food available. Farmers who run community-supported agriculture programs, sell at farmers' markets and provide local restaurants creating a demand and providing support for raising more types of produce and livestock. Small local farms generally practice crop rotation, which creates a more nutrient dense soil. Those same small, local growers generally follow more organic farming practices than larger corporate farms. That means less herbicides, pesticides and fertilizers in our soil, in our water, and in our bodies.
Money spent with local farmers, food artisans and restaurants all stays close to home, working to build your local economy instead of being handed over to a corporation in another city, state, or country. To make the biggest local economic impact with your food budget, look for producers who pay their workers a fair wage and practice social justice in their business.
By purchasing your foods seasonally, locally, organically, and ethically you are supporting your community, reducing energy usage, maintaining a healthier way of living, lowering your food costs, and insuring the health of your environment.
For more information about accessing food grown locally, visit NOFA-NY where the Northeast Organic Farming Association can connect you to local resources.