Monday Medical: Benefits of buying local food

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Strohauer Farms in La Salle is one of the Colorado farms City Market uses to get produce to bring its customers locally growns food. Buying local food supports small farming businesses in the region.

One hundred years ago, nearly all food was fresh and locally grown. Today, local food is earning an ever-growing share of the consumer’s plate. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the number of farmers markets selling directly to consumers increased 9.6 percent from 2011 to 2012.

“People are realizing the benefits of locally grown food,” said Jenny Thomsen, registered dietitian at Yampa Valley Medical Center. “Healthy food is as crucial to your family’s well-being as a visit to your health clinic.”

Local food markets offer a surprising variety of produce. Even in winter, Steamboat Springs produce managers offer locally grown food. For example, right now, City Market has green beans and a selection of organic produce from Colorado, according to produce head clerk Kirk Wishon.

“I always buy local when possible,” said Katie Stassen, produce manager at Natural Grocers. “The less distance something travels, usually the better and fresher the produce.”

While January snow piles up, Natural Grocers shoppers can pick up Colorado-grown mushrooms, sprouts and apples.

Bamboo Markets produce manager Hanna Hale said, “Even at this time of year we carry mixed greens grown in Strawberry Park by Elkstone Farms. Yampa Valley Farms supplies us with pork and chicken. We also stock Colorado-grown meats from Rockin’ J Cattle and Colorado Elk and Game Meats.”

“The world of fruits and vegetables is incredibly diverse,” Thomsen added. “Local food shopping can put purple beans, yellow beets and ancient grains such as quinoa and amaranth on your table. For so many reasons, I recommend people buy local produce when they can,” Thomsen said.

While buying local produce at this time of year is not easy, it is possible to buy closer to home. For example, last week Thomsen bought blueberries from Chile and compared them with California blueberries. “The California berries were juicier, with a richer flavor,” Thomsen said.

“Local farmers take pride in selling produce at its peak, usually harvesting the morning before you buy it. By shortening the time from farm to market to your table, local produce is packed with maximum nutritional value.”

Buying local food supports small farming businesses in the region. The growth of farmers markets across the country allows farmers to sell directly to their customers and retain a greater percentage of the profits. Local food consumption also helps increase the value of the farmer’s land, benefiting this small business and preserving agricultural landscapes.

“When you visit the farmers market or take a farm tour, ask about the farmers’ growing methods,” Thomsen said. “It’s important to know how and where your food is grown, the quality of the water and if there are additives. All these factors affect flavor and food value.”

Buying fresh, nutrient-packed food helps preserve quality nourishment for our children and grandchildren. In recent years, there has been a resurgence of farms protecting heirloom seeds that have been in the family for generations.

While you’re picking up that succulent, locally grown tomato, you’re saving money that would have been spent on transportation costs including fuel. You’re reducing pollution and packaging costs, too.

“You might pay a little more for locally grown food, but as a dietitian, I remind people that you get what you pay for in food quality,” Thomsen said.

Many Steamboat restaurants offer locally grown menu items. More information about local food, agriculture and the farmers’ market is available on these websites: www.deeprootsco.org/veggies.html or www.communityagalliance.org/NW_CO_Products.html or www.mainstreetsteamboat.com/farmers-market/.

Patricia Moore is the marketing and communications specialist at Yampa Valley Medical Center. She can be reached at patricia.moore@yvmc.org.

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