6 Pros and Cons of Buying Locally Grown Foods!

One of the most common reasons consumers buy local food is to protect the environment. Often implicit in this rationale is the idea that eating local reduces one's carbon impact, and thus helps to slow climate change. The evidence for this seems pretty clear cut. The average food product travels more than 1,500 miles to reach on your plate. That transport, whether by boat, plane, train, or truck, emits pollution. So buying your food closer is almost always better. Right?

Wrong. Let's delve a little deeper.

Transportation accounts for less than a tenth of the carbon footprint of the foods you buy.
Transportation accounts for less than a tenth of the carbon footprint of the foods you buy.

1. Proponents of local food are absolutely correct in saying that closer production reduces the carbon impact of transportation, but transportation is not the only facet of food production that releases greenhouse gases, which contribute to climate change.

In fact, it's actually a pretty paltry one. Production accounts for the vast majority of agriculture's carbon footprint, while transport to the grocery store, and finally your table, accounts for less than a tenth! This value varies depending upon the foodstuff, ranging from a low of 1% for red meat to a high of 11% for fruits and vegetables.

2. This means that buying local really doesn't have much of an impact on climate change.

In fact, in a 2008 paper, Carnegie Mellon University's Christopher Weber and H. Scott Matthews calculated that if a family reduced all of their "food miles" to zero -- basically meaning they grew all of their own food in their kitchen (good luck with that mess) -- the reduction in carbon impact would be equal to driving a 25 mile per gallon car 1,000 miles less per year. The frugal SUV driver would be making a more eco-conscious sacrifice.

Production accounts for the majority of agriculture's carbon footprint.
Production accounts for the majority of agriculture's carbon footprint.

3. Considering that production accounts for such a significant chunk of the energy that goes into food, there are actually many circumstances where buying local can actually be worse for the climate.

For example, an acre of land in Idaho can produce about 50% more potatoes than an acre of land in Kansas, so buying a local Kansas potato in this circumstance would be quite inefficient.

Moreover, for eco-conscious lamb consumers in the United Kingdom, it actually makes more sense to purchase lamb raised 11,000 miles away in New Zealand than lamb raised down the street. Why?

"New Zealand sheep are generally pastured and raised on farms using hydroelectric power," wrote Gary Adamkiewicz, an environmental scientist at Harvard.

4. The simple fact is that certain climates and soils are more suited to certain crops.

It's more economically efficient and climate-friendly to mass produce in those locations and distribute across thousands of miles.

5. But just because buying local isn't necessarily better for the climate doesn't mean it's not beneficial.

There are many reasons to buy from your local farmers. For example, freshly harvested food that hasn't been warehoused for weeks retains more of its nutrients. You're also supporting local families and building a balanced community.

The best reasons to buy local food? Better nutrition, better flavor, and support for your communities.
The best reasons to buy local food? Better nutrition, better flavor, and support for your communities.

6. Perhaps the most important reason to buy local is that it supports farmers striving to preserve genetic diversity.

Food that travels has been bred and optimized for shelf life, size, appeal, and heartiness. These cookie-cutter changes sometimes sacrifice taste and nutrition. Smaller local farms, in contrast, often grow many different varieties of crops to provide a long harvest season, an array of colors, and the best flavors.


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  • I don’t support local to protect the environment. Support local extends beyond farmers; small businesses, cafes, workers, shops, etc. I support local because it means helping someone’s life, not helping a rich tycoon.

    I’m innodated with people with the same morality, hence my extensive wealth. Oh wait...

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    • Wait, how does local hurt the environment? So you would rather eat fruit from Mexico who uses sewidge as fertilizer?

  • I buy local because fruit isn't picked green, like oranges and cantaloupe, so the are sweeter. If a cantaloupe is as hard as a rock it was picked way too soon. I usually choose ones that are a little soft because they have always been the sweetest tasting. It is usually fresher and hasn't been sitting on a grocery store shelf. The berries are usually fresher, like strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries. Everything was picked in the morning at a lot of farmer's markets, and the prices are usually lower as they don't have a lot of overhead. I don't care if they reduce the carbon footprint, I want fresh and good tasting produce.

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What Girls Said 2

  • Nice mytake

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  • Nice take

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What Guys Said 11

  • Wait what a lot of this doesn’t make sense.

    Do you really believe these eco friendly farms can supply the whole world?


    How would growing your own food also not effect the pollution caused by production? Assuming farms would have to make a little less considering there’s one less head to feed (supply and demand).

    Climate change is complete bullshit, and I won’t even go into that.

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  • Personally, I don't buy into the climate change thing.
    I buy local simply because it helps my local community. It keeps the dollars here rather than sending them to another state, or country. It's really that simple.

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  • You really missed the boat on this one. Buying local isn't so much about the environment as it is about getting fresh, nutrient-rich foods to sustain the human organism. Ideally, we would all be growing and SHARING our own foods with each other. Contrary to popular belief, we live in a world of abundance where there could be free food for everyone. Since, as a society, we've chosen to rely on dedicated farmers, the healthiest option is to purchase and eat produce that has been harvested most recently (and has not be tampered with to increase shelf-life).. thus some choose to buy locally.

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    • 5 of the 6 sections support buying local. I don't know why so many people are missing this. :- )

  • "One of the most common reasons consumers buy local food is to protect the environment." Says who? It certainly wasn't me. My reason (s) for buying locally grown foods are as follows:
    1) local
    2) no chemicals
    3) economically competitive
    Even if there is an environmental issue regarding local farmers, fortunately the farmers could invest/buy in environmentally-friendly equipment - whether it's solar powered tractors or solar-powered barns or anything else to help the environment.

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  • It doesn't really matter where you buy your foods from, because guess what? Kansas is still growing potatoes wheather you buy it or not. So on a large scale being picky isn't really helping the environment.

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  • Ehh... yeah I dunno man. While you're correct that production causes more of the carbon footprint than transportation, moving lamb 11,000 miles is still quite inefficient.

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  • carbon impacts are important to consider but there is also a lot of other aspects to consider which think add far more pros to local farming
    - it doesn't just supporting the local farmer but providing jobs (farmhands, transporters, etc) to people in the community
    - more organic farms means more tax revenue which means lesser taxes on those living in the area around them
    - fresher goods means higher quality goods that haven't lost nurtrients as food does the longer it sits
    - fresher also means less need for any additives to preserve the food.
    - it also means organic products produced locally will cost less to cultivate and thus cost less at the store

    the climate impact is important sure but if we are talking about costs, health, jobs, etc i think these outweigh the rather minor increased carbon footprints that can possibly be alleviated elsewhere with a stronger local economy

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  • Less handling of the product means it cheaper, and fresher. No more discussion, if you have a back yard grow vegetables, and have chickens

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    • Well no not really. My partners parents tried planting their own veg and their cat dug them up and ate them.
      As for chickens, despite my cats best efforts the urban foxes (the ones the community love to maintain until they eat a child) have killed all chickens and such in the area.

      No discussion required.

    • Show All
    • not every city allows chickens you damn ape.

    • @TrixiePooch that's just stupid I would leave and live in another city.

  • I grow some of my own veggies. This year i had potatoes, tomatoes, and sweetcorn. I also have grapes, dessert for eating and others i make alcohol (Rakiya) from. I also have apricots, apples, cherries, strawberries, pears. I also make rakiya from the apricots if the crop is good. I have a large herb garden, different mints, thymes, lemon grass, basil, oregano, savita, parsley. I will plant garlic and onions this winter for Spring picking.
    Any other veggies i need i buy locally, same with fruit.
    I'm also considering getting a few chickens, even though i am terrified of them.

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  • I often reflect WHO has grown the food, and under what circumstances.

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  • To me locally grown food is food that comes from farmers in my own town or from my own garden.

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