Maybe you’ve seen the bumper stickers or t-shirts around town touting “Buy Fresh, Buy Local” It’s more than just a marketing campaign; it’s a philosophy that governs everything from economics to environmentalism.
• What is local? Let’s start with the basics. Local food is generally defined as food that comes from within a 100-mile radius of where you live. Sure, not everything you need and want to eat can come from within that 100 miles, but you’d be surprised how much is available in your area.
• Why is local food better? Food that comes from local sources is fresher since it was not shipped from Florida, California, or even other countries like Mexico or China. Fresher food is more nutritious and tastes better. Because it wasn’t shipped from far away, the food’s carbon footprint (the amount of fossil fuels burned during its delivery) is much smaller than that of food at the grocery store.
• Why is local food good for the economy? When you buy a local product, your dollars stay at home. According to research by the Virginia Cooperative Extension, just $10 a week spent on locally-grown food and food products over a year generates an additional $1.65 billion in the state economy and approximately $137 million in Hampton Roads. That’s no small potatoes!
• Why is local food important to Hampton Roads? Buying local food helps carry on the region’s farming tradition and sustains family farms for the next generation. We started as a farming region, and many of us who grew up here still remember when all those neighborhoods named “Fill-in-the-Blank” Farms actually were farms, when tractors and farm trucks ruled the roads, and when roadside farm stands were the way you decided what was for dinner that night. Today agriculture still has a large economic impact in Virginia Beach, third behind the military and tourism.
• How do I buy local? Fortunately, the local food movement—championed by organizations like Buy Fresh Buy Local, Food Routes Network, Slow Foods, and The 100 Mile Challenge—have helped create a friendly environment for “locavores,” the name for folks who try to eat as much locally produced food as possible.
The Hampton Roads region offers a multitude of farmer’s markets during the growing season. Several farms also offer CSA (Community Support Agriculture) programs, in which you pay a farmer in advance for a box of local produce each week throughout the growing season. Other retail outlets, as well as local restaurants, have joined in the local food movement, too.
Buy Fresh Buy Local Hampton Roads has a mission to help connect consumers with the freshest local products available. We do this through several outlets including a printed seasonal Food Guide, the latest of which will be available on our website and at locations around Hampton Roads in early April.
We also offer news on our Facebook Page, Twitter feed, and through an E-newsletter, which gives a monthly update of local food events, what’s in season and where to get it. Parents, keep an eye out for the BFBLHR Summer Farm Tour Treasure Map, which encourages parents and kids to get out to the farms and find local food treasure right here in Hampton Roads.
Here are some tips on how to make the most of your farmer’s market shopping experience:
Bring cash. Although many markets and producers accept credit cards, it’s always a good idea to have cash on hand in case they do not.
BYOB – Bring your own bags. Reusable shopping bags or recycled plastic or paper bags are ideal to reduce waste.
Go early. The earlier you get to a market, the better the selection and the fresher the products.
Keep an open mind. See a fruit or vegetable you’ve never seen or used before? Ask the farmer the best way to prepare it. You may find your new favorite dish!
Get the kids involved. By allowing kids to pick and purchase their own items, they may be more interested in trying something fresh and healthy.
Bring a cooler. If you plan to stick around at the market or run other errands afterwards, have an ice pack and cooler on hand to keep your purchases fresh.
So remember, buying local is far from a one-hit wonder. It’s good for your health, the environment, the local economy, and our area’s heritage and history. And all it takes is $10 a week.
Rachel Burns is the executive director of Buy Fresh Buy Local Hampton Roads.