Love Your Local Lettuce!
The average meal travels anywhere from 1,500 to over 10,000 miles from the farms (or, more likely nowadays, factories) to your plate; these miles are often referred to as food miles. Each component of a meal, from fruits and vegetables to meats and grains to spices, has flown or been driven from where it was grown (or raised) to where it was processed to where it was packaged, THEN to a store where you travelled to buy it. Not only is the environment affected by the fossil fuels burned for each of these trips, but also by the use of resources in packaging (papers, plastics, and possibly aluminum) and, most likely, the use of fertilizers, pesticides, and antibiotics (possibly even genetic modification) to grow it on a large scale and withstand the trip. Though the concept of food miles is somewhat flawed (as that tomato carpooled with hundreds of other tomatoes and whatever else), it is still a useful representation of the hidden costs of our modern day food systems.
It has been estimated that local food uses 4-17 times less oil than non-local, but local food has a number of benefits in addition to reducing this food mile-energy. One benefit of local (fresher) food is added nutrients. As soon as produce is picked, its nutrients begin to break down, so those tropical fruits that traveled two weeks before reaching the store are not as nutritious as local ones. Fresher food also tastes better. Foods that are grown to support local populations are less likely to be breeds grown exclusively for their hardiness and abilities to endure travel, and so are more likely to be grown for taste.
In addition to taste and nutrients, local food may also be safer. Local farmers often eat their own produce and must take care of their land. As a result they are more likely to use less dangerous (organic) methods of pest control and fertilization, and use growing methods that keep the soil healthy in the long term. Organic food generally uses less energy in production, so sometimes it may also be beneficial to get organic food, even if it comes from a greater distance.
One important consideration in buying local is the growing season. In the modern world of 24-hour grocery stores full of exotic produce, few of us are truly aware of the natural growing season of Northeastern Ohio. The next few months of local food may have these in store:
May: Asparagus, Garlic, Lettuce, Mushrooms, Radishes, Spinach
June: Asparagus, Beans, Beets, Blueberries, Broccoli, Cabbage, Garlic, Green Onions, Kale, Lettuce, Mushrooms, Peas, Radishes, Spinach, Squash, Strawberries, Zucchini
July: Basil, Beans, Beets, Blackberries, Blueberries, Broccoli, Cabbage, Carrots, Corn, Cucumbers, Green Onions, Kale, Leeks, Lettuce, Mushrooms, Okra, Onions, Peaches, Peas, Peppers, Plums, Potatoes, Raspberries, Spinach, Squash, Tomatoes, Zucchini
And don't forget local honey, chickens, eggs, and other products that are available all season.
So, how do you get these delicious local foods? There are several opportunities here in Lakewood. One way is by checking out the Lakewood Farmer's Market, which is scheduled to begin on Wenesday, June 4th from 11am-2pm in the parking lot of Kauffman Park (behind Drug Mart, 15412 Detroit Ave.) and continue each Wednesday until October 1st.
You can also join a local Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program through the Lakewood Earth and Food (LEAF) Community. LEAF offers two choices of CSA programs, City Fresh and Covered Bridge Gardens, with weekly pickups of produce at the main branch of the Lakewood Library on Thursday nights, beginning June 5th. Pre-registration on a weekly or seasonal basis is required, so check out the brochures at http://www.leafcommunity.org/initiatives/community-supported-agriculture/ and sign up today!
If you like fruits and don't mind putting in the effort to pick 'em yourself, visit local farms like like Rosby's Berry Farm (http://www.rosbycompanies.com/berryfarm.htm) and Patterson Fruit Farm (http://www.pattersonfarm.com), where you can pick your own produce. And, don't forget the option of growing some yourself!
Lastly, you can join the Slow Food Movement, which works toward a food system based upon high quality and taste, environmental sustainability, and social justice - a system that is good, clean, and fair. Check out their website at http://www.slowfoodusa.org/about/index.html and the Northeast Ohio chapter at http://slowfoodnorthernohio.blogspot.com.