Group: Eat local foods

This is not your grandmother’s produce.

That’s because most of the so-called fresh produce we eat is not as fresh as one might think, according to the USDA Agricultural Research Service.

Instead, fruit like apples are often treated with the gaseous compound, 1-methylcyclopropene (1-MCP), to prevent aging, allowing the produce to sometimes sit for almost a year after it’s picked and sometimes undergoing chemical treatment for the prevention of fungal rot. After that the fruit travels many miles from storage to your grocery store shelves.

30 Mile Meal, a program that works to support local farms, is hoping to bring the food we eat back to its roots by keeping it local. “We seek to increase the demand for local foods among residents and businesses; we aim to promote local farmers and food producers and also promote businesses sourcing locally,” says Christina Perry, brand coordinator for the 30 Mile Meal. “We correspond with more than 1500 farmers in the region as well as restaurants and urban farmers.”

“We always talk about a triple bottom line,” says Perry. “There was a study done in 2010 on Northeast Ohio that said if we could ramp up local food production just 25 percent to meet already existing demand, the region would gain over 27,000 new jobs and millions in increased wages and tax collection and billions more in economic output. Buying local food just keeps more dollars here that can be spent in the region.”

But the benefits aren’t just economic. According to Perry, fruits and vegetables that are commonly found in grocery stores travel more than 1,500 miles to arrive on your plate. Not only does that mean a lot of environmental pollution from transit alone, but “it’s picked before it’s really ripe and sprayed so that ripens in transit and it loses a lot of nutritional value along the way,” says Perry. “A lot of the producers we deal with use organic or natural practices even if they’re not certified organic. So they’re not using a lot of pesticides and things like that.”

Eating locally grown produce often is overlooked, though, because farmers generally forego the timely and costly marketing efforts needed to remind consumers the benefits of buying local.

“Generally speaking, farmers don’t really invest heavily in marketing,” says John Garwood, district retail manager of Agland Co-op, an organization owned and operated by farmers from the Northeast Ohio region and is not only focused on local farms, but supports agriculture in the community as well.

“Agland tries to get involved in a lot of different things,” says Garwood. From in-house experts at the Agland Country Store in Canfield who go to homes and farms and give advice on anything that grows, to free soil testing events, Agland encourages local growers and more importantly, young growers. Agland is a major sponsor of 4-H and Future Farmers of America in addition to supporting local school fundraisers, agricultural education programs for children, and even maintaining local baseball fields.

“We see local food and Northeast Ohio farmers as an important part of the community,” Garwood said.

A new program being used in area hospitals, however, just may help drive the effort, though.

“Humility of Mary just started a voucher program so that patients in their outpatient clinic with chronic disease like obesity or heart disease get $20 a month in free money to spend at the Youngstown and Warren area farmer’s markets. They liked it so much in Warren that the Trumbull Health Department started offering their employees $5 vouchers to buy local foods as well,” Perry said.