I love living in Southeastern North Carolina. We have amazing outdoor recreation, mild winters, warm summers, and such a great variety of local meats, veggies, and seafood. Plus, I believe food brings people together, and that is exactly what I see local people, farmers, and businesses doing here in our region.
Wilmington is a city that often feels like a small town, and I attribute a lot of that to the vibrant local food scene. On any given Saturday you can find a local market with folks walking around shopping for fresh, local food. In the summer, things pick up a bit and even throughout the week you can find markets filled with food and crafts.
Like many things, the research around the benefits of shopping locally is complicated, so you must figure out what is important to you. While local food is not necessarily healthier than nonlocal food, it can inspire healthier habits. For example, research shows that individuals who purchase local fresh fruits and vegetables, or grow it themselves, consume a greater quantity and variety of vegetables, and their children do the same.
Local food is also often assumed to be healthier because it’s fresher. It's true that the nutritional quality of produce is often highest right after harvest, but the time it takes for a fruit or vegetable to make it to your table has many different variables. Everything from the reliability of cold chain storage to how long the veggie sits in your refrigerator can impact the freshness, so it's difficult to generalize about nutritional value.
However, nutrition isn't the only value worth considering. Research also suggests that there is a “multiplier effect” when shopping locally. The multiplier effect is the concept that money spent on local food is more likely to be re-spent within the local economy. Local farmers buy inputs locally, employ local people, and otherwise work with other local businesses. Studies estimate that for every dollar spent on local products, between $.32 and $.90 worth of additional local economic activity takes place.
Furthermore, some studies show that involvement in the local food systems increased peoples’ engagement in the community, not just economically. I like to say hello to my farmer when picking up my Community Supported Agriculture box or buying produce on Saturday. I like being able to ask how hot or sweet the peppers are, what kind of tomato I’m purchasing, or how to use a green that’s unfamiliar to me.
As the weather warms, I hope everyone takes a moment to say thanks to our local farmers, delivering the sweet flavors of summer. If you are interested in finding out more information about local foods visit www.go.ncsu.edu/localfoods
Morgan King is the Family & Consumer Sciences Agent at N.C. Cooperative Extension Center - New Hanover County, located at the Arboretum, 6206 Oleander Drive, Wilmington. The gardens are free and open 8 a.m.-5 p.m. daily. Reach King at firstname.lastname@example.org or 910-798-7660.