A SUSTAINABLE APPROACH TO NOURISHING OUR BODIES AND COMMUNITIES
This was originally published on the University of Maryland Dietetic Internship blog page.
Have you ever wondered where the food on your plate came from or how it got there? My community rotation at Farm to School, an organization that connects local produce to students and their families, taught me so much about where food comes from, the benefits of eating seasonally, and how to eat locally. Farm to School promotes consuming food in a way that supports our health and our communities. During this rotation, I learned not only why it is beneficial to eat seasonally and locally, but also about many ways to make positive changes. I will share with you some online tools that help locate seasonal and local produce, and I’ll share some of my firsthand experiences rotating with an organization that supports this idea.
There are many benefits to eating seasonally and locally. Seasonal produce, which is sold shortly after it has been harvested, is typically fresher and more delicious. When produce needs to travel great distances, it must be picked before it ripens so that it can survive the journey, but local produce is picked when it is ripe and ready to be harvested. This means local produce tends to be fresher due to shorter storage and transport times. Eating by the season also helps provide a variety of nutrients to our bodies throughout the year. Off-season produce found year-round is still tasty and nutritious, but it’s great to include local and seasonal produce when possible.
While choosing seasonal and local foods is beneficial to our diets, it also supports the communities that we live in. Buying foods that are sourced within our community supports local farmers who compete with large chain grocery stores. This is especially important to note as we navigate through the COVID-19 pandemic. During my time at Farm to School, I was able to listen in on a conversation regarding the challenges local farmers are facing during this time. Eating locally not only helps your local farmers but also may support other jobs in your community. In addition to buying produce locally, you can check out restaurants in your area that use locally sourced foods.
Knowing where your food is coming from is an added benefit of choosing to consume food this way. During my Farm to School rotation, I had the opportunity to visit Catoctin Mountain Farm in Thurmont, Maryland. Here I was able to see for myself how different fruits and vegetables are grown. I spoke to the farmers about their growing practices and learned how much time and effort goes into the growing process, from start to finish.
Choosing to eat local, in-season foods is not only good for your stomach but good for your wallet too. Produce that is in season costs less. Be sure to check that out next time you are shopping for groceries!
Now that we have explored some benefits of eating this way, learning what is in-season around you is a wonderful way to start. The Seasonal Food Guide is a great online tool that will show you what is in season in your state for any month you choose. Shopping at farmers markets is fun and a great way to support the farmers in your community. Along with doing a simple Google search, the National Farmers Market Directory is an online tool that will show you where the nearest farmers markets are located.
Other tips on eating this way include looking for local labels when you are shopping at the grocery store or planning ahead by preserving what is in season, using creative methods like canning or freezing.
Interning at Farm to School gave me the opportunity to learn more about this topic. It also encouraged me to eat a variety of food with the intention of caring for the environment and community. Starting slowly and making little changes here and there on how we choose to eat can make a big difference.