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Carrots on a wooden tableWhen you buy from a local farmer, you’re making a direct investment in your community. Author Anna Lappé, sustainable food advocate Anim Steel, and chef Bryant Terry discuss the many benefits of eating local.

What does it mean to eat locally?

Anna Lappé: “Buy local” campaigns are popping up all across the country. The principle is pretty simple, which is that there is great value in supporting local businesses, including local farmers. Studies have shown that for every dollar that you spend at a megastore that’s owned by a corporation far away from your town, just a tiny fraction of that dollar actually goes back to your own community.

Anim Steel: In many states, 85 to 90 percent of the food comes from outside of the state. It’s interesting to think about states that have a long agricultural history and capacity. Most regions can produce much more food locally. They’re missing the opportunity to support their local farmers and grow food-related industries.

Basket of peppersWhat are some benefits of buying local food?

Anna Lappé: Local food is about getting the freshest and best tasting food. It’s also also about connecting to and strengthening your community. The more that you buy locally, the more you contribute to the health of your local economy. There are multiple benefits. It may mean that your community has more resources for public works like roads or schools. And you preserve farmland in your area, preventing sprawl and allowing natural habitats to thrive.

How can people help support their local food system?

Anna Lappe quoteAnim Steel: I’ll give you an example. At the University of Massachusetts, the dining hall is now looking to source about 20 percent of their fruits and vegetables from the surrounding area. A lot of people think that in a colder climate, like Massachusetts, that would not be possible. But schools that commit to it are finding that if they work with farmers and nonprofit agencies, they are able increase local procurement. People appreciate it—both the farmers who have a new market and the people who are eating the food.

Bryant Terry: I think when we talk about eating locally it’s going to mean something different in whatever geographic locale you’re living in. In parts of the country that have a shorter growing season, it’s about doing as much as you can. We want to help create local food systems in which more farmers can participate in regional economies. When there isn’t the opportunity to do that, it’s about creating your own local food system. Even if you don’t have many farmers in the area, you can start by growing fresh produce in a small garden box, or being part of a community or school garden.

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