Current estimates indicate that, on average, produce travels over 1,500 miles from farm to table. This conventional transportation decreases the nutritional value of the produce, as well as contributes to climate change by adding to the carbon dioxide emissions.
Alternatively, relying on local sources for produce has nutritional and environmental advantages.
Even when the highest post-harvest handling standards are met, food grown far away that spends significant time on the road has more time to lose nutrients before reaching the marketplace.
Farmers growing for a local (and especially a direct) market favor taste, nutrition and diversity over shipability when choosing varieties. Greater crop diversity from the farmer means greater nutritional diversity for the eater.
In direct and local markets, produce is usually sold within 24 hours after harvest at its peak freshness and ripeness, making consuming them a more attractive prospect. During this short time and distance, produce is likely handled by fewer people, decreasing potential for damage. Minimizing transportation and processing can ensure maximum freshness and flavor, and nutrient retention.
Food transport is a major contributer to carbon dioxide, the greenhouse gas that plays a significant role in climate change. Current studies estimate that transportation of food accounts for about 5% of overall carbon dioxide emissions. Interestingly, food packaging contributes more – about 7% of overall emissions. Growing population in urban areas is leading to a significant increase in urban agriculture in unprecedented areas, such as vertical growing and roof gardens. In 2010, there were 7,175 farmers' markets that offer access to healthy, sustainable produce, representing a quadrupling of markets since 1994.
Photo by Rose Lincoln/Harvard Staff Photographer