"Why Local?"

Seasonal Farmers Market Manager Tim Johnson shares his thoughts on the importance of eating local

Understand that eating “seasonally” and “locally” are used here interchangeably. Both allude to an attitude of consumption that revolves around (or at least emphasizes) what local farms/producers are growing/transforming in cooperation with their environment’s ability to provide at certain times of year. We highlight these businesses because they are inspiring a new ethos of intentional eating.

This month is an especially appropriate time to illustrate the importance of local, seasonal eating. PUMPKINS HAVE ARRIVED and November marks the insurgence of the pumpkin’s food/drink infused ubiquity. But what’s the fuss all about?, you might ask rhetorically. Canned and powdered pumpkins are available all year, and farming innovations certainly allow us to grow them indoors at any time of year. Well, ‘hypothetical-rhetorical person’; simply without being able to explain thoroughly, we all know they taste better in the fall. The purpose of this post is to propose a ‘why.’

Taste

Although this first point is seemingly subjective, proximity to plate is a large factor in how food tastes and how much nutrition is retained. This is not a matter of wishfully imagining food from nearby dirt tastes better. Short supply chains afford the absence of chemical ripeners. In most local cases produce is fully ripened on the tree/vine/plant and maintains the maximum nutritional/taste value possible, aside from biting it off the plant. (recommended). 

In fact, when food is picked or cut, it immediately starts to loose nutrition as its enzymes decompose and feed. Researchers at Montclair State University found this to be true and significant when they studied the Vitamin C content of broccoli through its seasonal availability.Science!

Creativity

It is said that creativity finds its greatest potential within constraints. Eating seasonally is no exception. Many of New England’s most traditional fall cuisines emerged from taking something seemingly inedible and reworking it into something delicious. Shoutout to cranberries, maple trees, pumpkins, and quahogs! Our challenge to you: branch out of winter stews, break away from summer salads, move beyond those autumn roasts. Sweet potato tacos? Heirloom tomato pad thai? Dogfish lasagna??? Get your culinary gears grinding, the weirder - the better. 

Conservation

A European bumper sticker states, “Eat your view,” attempting to link the preservation of lands to the support of local farms. It’s a link that is already acknowledged by the Trustees of Reservations. If you go to their website you’ll find that many of their reservations are actually farms. There are now direct ways for us all to enjoy the scenery created by that relationship. Family farms have a vested interest in preserving environmental fertility since a lot is demanded  of their small plots of land. Besides, you might not want to trust a farm that doesn’t let you visit. 

Education

Have you ever been to the grocery store, knowing you should buy food, but still having no idea why you walked in the door? You won’t have that problem at a farmers market. Every piece of fish, cut of meat, and pound of vegetable comes with advice on what you can do with it. Oftentimes that sales(wo)man was involved in procurement and they know very well how it cooks, pairs, fries, etc. When the process is personalized, the customer benefits. 

In addition to being a [really great] place to eat, the Boston Public Market serves as a civic space that educates the public on food sources, nutrition, and preparation. We hope you’ll take advantage by scheduling a free tour, taking a cooking class, or visiting us at one of many outdoor events we host and attend. 

Assurance of fair wages

If it came from America, chances are someone was paid at least minimum wage, in a safe working environment, in every stage of its production. That is not always guaranteed in developing countries. Although agriculture jobs can bring new possibilities of advancement for struggling communities, the outsourcing of these jobs is not always for that reason. Oftentimes inputs are outsourced because it is much less expensive. Chemical use regulation is less stringent, land rights are less likely to get in the way, and workers rights are nonexistent. 

Yes, over time, worldwide trade has made our global food system incredibly diverse and inexpensive. It’s hard to argue globalization’s downside; food costs claim a smaller share of our income than most other countries, international cuisine has induced beautiful blends of cultures, and, well…avocados. But, in the process we have lost track of what our environment is sustainably capable of producing. Our great demand for any food any time ultimately exploits mother earth and brother/sister human. 

A brief response to the skeptics

As with any grassroots movement, there is bound to be criticism; both warranted and unwarranted. Lets start with the claim that eating locally discourages diet variety. Fruit-for-fruit, farmers markets provide incomparable variety. Of course there is a distinct lack of tropical fruits and vegetables but anything that can reasonably be grown locally emerges in a plethora of heritage and heirloom varieties. Many New England farms are still small and dynamic which allows them to experiment and branch away from mainline breeds. Often times specialty breeds are absent from supermarket shelves because they don’t travel well or are only available at certain times of year. The farmers market system allows those varieties to take center stage in your town and on your plate. 

The second criticism is price. It is true that farmers markets can boost your grocery tab compared to big box stores. The best way to summarize why will also highlight its importance. Small farms are not gouging prices, they are reflecting the true cost of producing these goods. Generally they are unsubsidized by government grants for commodity crops, their workers are paid a living wage, and their transportation costs are higher. These farms are also unable to turn out volume from their small plots, preventing economies of scale, driving up their prices. 

This is not meant to be a final exposition of our viewpoint. We want to entice you to come engage with us personally.

Continue the conversation at Dewey Square Tuesday/Thursday until November 21st and year-round at 100 Hanover St. We’re eager to hear from you and demonstrate our value to Boston’s bodily and community health.