Eating local and in season

Food from the farm. (Photo provided — Adirondack Harvest)

When it comes to food, the definition of “local” is somewhat vague. Some people consider food from the Albany and Syracuse regions or from nearby New England local. To others, buying local means supporting neighbors and friends from within their town or from nearby, by shopping at farmers’ markets and roadside stands, or by joining their neighbors’ CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture).

In recent weeks, area markets have offered locally-grown sweet, delicious asparagus; beautiful, tangy rhubarb; tender, young green; tasty radishes, delicious alfalfa sprouts and gorgeous bedding plants; appealing grass-fed beef, lamb and pork; top-quality, mouthwatering baked goods and yummy farmstead cheese curd. The list goes on. Strawberries and much more will be available soon.

The impacts of food globalization

Before globalization, almost all foods were local and seasonal. Most people grew and/or foraged the food they ate, harvesting at the appropriate time and enjoying what they harvested at the peak of freshness, while preserving the rest.

Today, the food we eat is, more often than not, grown on large industrial farms before being shipped across the country — or from central or South America, or overseas — to huge distribution centers, where it’s sorted, packaged and processed before being trucked to retailers. This means that a remarkable diversity of food is available all year round, for consumers who can to afford to buy it.

Unfortunately, the environmental consequences and ecological impacts that result from large-scale production of cropping food in monocultures with intensive use of pesticides and air pollution — resulting from expanded mechanization and transportation of foodstuffs over great distances, which contributes to global warming — aren’t so obvious. Nor are the impacts food globalization has on local communities, where dollars that might otherwise remain in the area, supporting local agriculture, are lost.

System disruptions

When farmers grow products to sell to consumers on the other side of the continent or halfway around the world, it creates an unstable and potentially unsustainable system for both the farmer and the consumer. But building a food system that supports local producers creates a more-sustainable supply chain, even in the event of a disaster.

The lack of security in our food chain became dreadfully obvious during the early months of the coronavirus pandemic. I’ll never forget the images of empty shelves in supermarkets and people waiting in line for hours at food pantries and distribution centers; of vegetables rotting in fields because they couldn’t be shipped, and of milk being dumped for the same reason. Millions of Americans — people from every socio-economic level — required assistance, many for the first time.

Eliminating the problem

Local food systems alleviate, and even eliminate that kind of instability, while allowing community members to get closer to the sources of the wholesome, nutritious food they’re eating. They get to meet the growers, ask questions, even visit with them.

It’s fun to talk to the folks that grow and/or prepare your food. Producers appreciate feedback from their customers. And their customers feel more connected to the people responsible for their food. They feel more connected to the region as well.

Healthier, safer eating

A local food system is much more than growing vegetables for local consumption. It’s about how we approach agriculture, our diets, and where our food comes from. It’s about keeping small farms in business and promoting food diversification.

Multinational food production, on the other hand, is about increasing a monopoly on basic food items and affecting regulatory controls on food safety. Multinationals depend on food additives to enhance the appearance and taste of the foods they distribute and to ensure their preservation, during the lengthy journey from factory farm to table.

Plants and animals are often subjected to advanced forms of genetic engineering. And animals are, all too often, repeatedly given steroids and antibiotics, which can persist in the meat we eat.

What’s more, much of the produce we eat is grown from seeds that have been developed by genetic engineering in corporate laboratories. Those patented seeds are, typically, remarkable producers — able to withstand disease, extremes in climate conditions, even herbicide treatments. Because of this, many farmers have become dependent on seed owned and sold by these corporations.

Produce sold locally is more often selected for flavor and/or unique characteristics and allowed to remain on the vine to ripen longer than produce shipped to chain grocery stores. It’s often picked or harvested on the morning it’s sold, or just a day or two before, which can make the produce sweeter, juicier and tastier.

Other food items, such as eggs from a farmer who raises chickens, are also fresher than those that come from far away. Anyone who cooks would agree that the freshest ingredients tend to produce the best-tasting dishes.

Learn more

You can find in-season, farm fresh produce and local food products by visiting adirondackharvest.com.

To stay up to date on what’s new in local food and agriculture across the region, scroll down toward the bottom of the page and sign up.

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