Many people make the decision to purchase local food because it's proven to be better for their communities and the environment. But, is there anything else in it for the consumer other than a good conscious and a little pat on the back?
Great fresh food.
Perhaps most importantly, great tasting fresh food.
While there are many smart minds behind strategies implemented in the industrial food system, they are only worried about one thing: Keeping produce looking fresh.
This can be tricky because freshly picked produce doesn't last long. In a matter of hours lettuce can wilt, broccoli can go from bright green to yellow, and the skin on tomatoes can wrinkle.
Refrigeration, vacuum sealing, flash freezing and canning helps to stop this deterioration process and extend shelf life. But, industrial farms have even gone as far as to get ahead of the produce and are picking it before it's even ripe.
"Nowhere is this approach more common than in the tomato industry," writes Nick Carter in More Than a Mile.
Prematurely harvested, green tomatoes are "naturally" ripened with ethylene gas. Ethylene—which is even considered organic—creates pretty, bright red tomatoes that will last the journey to the grocery store and the days spent on the shelf.
They will look ripe and ready to eat; but, what about the taste of these tomatoes?
That is where the industrial farm and food systems get it wrong.
So much of the focus in the industrial food system is solely on the appearance of the vegetable. Grading standards account for size, shape and color. Flavor is not a factor. After all, you can't take a bite out of every tomato before it goes to market.
But, isn't food that tastes good the point of eating?
Sure, calories are important and necessary. And, access to fresh food year round is, arguably, not a bad thing. But, what about the joy of eating great tasting food?
An August, vine ripened tomato is wildly different in taste that its industrial counterpart. This is be-cause ethylene cannot do what the sun can.
"Tomatoes don't just turn red as they ripen under the sun. They produce fructose, tannins, anoth-er nutrients in those final days," writes Carter.
That fructose and tannins are what make an Indiana, August tomato's flavor so powerful.
The ripe, just picked tomato has juicy tang that is so intense and special enough to eat simply with just a sprinkle of salt. Fresh picked corn is full of natural sugars that are so refreshingly sweet it's almost a dessert. Green peas just off the vine pack flavor, crunch and nearly 100% of the needed daily Vitamin C in just one cup.
Fresh, local food is beautiful, tasty and even more nutrient dense and should be savored when available. But, done so quickly.
Just-picked, local food is wonderful, but also fragile. Farmers are well aware of this and take great care to get consumers produce shortly after harvesting. Without the industrial manipulations to preserve the appearance, it is not uncommon for a farmer to harvest their produce just hours be-fore it reaches their customer's hands.
But, it's not just the appearance your local farmer will be concerned about.
Farmer's take great pride in what they grow and because of the ability to connect directly with the consumer they want what they offer to be as fresh as possible, packed with nutrition and flavor. They want a consumer to enjoy their experience with what they grow and produce. They want it to taste great.
Because that is the point—and the joy—of eating local food.