Agri Leader

How far did your food travel?

During a visit this month to my aunt and uncle’s farm in Virginia, we marveled at the bounty in their garden—greens, tomatoes, carrots, hot peppers (my aunt swears she eats one right from the garden every day), onions, asparagus, corn, and plenty more.

They even have an apiary with thousands of buzzing bees that produce honey. Their ability to eat healthy and local is a no-brainer—and quite tasty.

Back to my non-farm, condo-living reality, I returned home re-energized to buy both my tried-and-true produce items as well as some I don’t get frequently.

Because I write this column, I feel strongly about supporting locally grown produce. Yet I’ll be the first to admit it doesn’t always come easy, especially during certain times of the year—like right now, as Florida’s produce items are mostly grown in the winter.

Yes, Florida summers bring an abundance of watermelon, corn, greens, black eyed peas, and a few other items. However, are those items that we—consumers used to finding every food item we want year round—want to solely rely on for the dog days of summer?

I read a statistic from the Worldwatch Institute that stated our food travels an average of 1,500 to even 2,500 miles to reach our plate. That mileage is a 25 percent increase from two decades ago.

As you can imagine, the longer time it takes to transport our food affects our environment (more air pollution from all that transport), food freshness, and even our health.

I wanted to find out just how much my produce-seeking efforts were racking up that average farm-to-table mileage.

The results:

For my completely unscientific study, I focused on produce items I had bought in the previous few days from the supermarket. I used only items that were labeled by their country of origin (something required on produce items at supermarkets) or that listed a state if they were from the U.S.

Here’s the breakdown of where my produce items came from. I’ve listed them in order of distance from me:

My backyard: jalapeños (OK, this was not a labeled item, but it’s cool to say I’m growing these)

Florida: watermelon

South Carolina: peaches

New Jersey: blueberries

California: portabella mushrooms, grapes, mixed greens, lemons

Washington: cherries

Costa Rica: bananas

Peru: avocados

Whew—I feel like I’ve done a North and South America tour without even leaving my kitchen.

I’m a big label reader, but it surprised me to see how I was unaware that a number of my food items came from far-flung locales, such as Peru for my avocados. Why didn’t I take a pause in the supermarket to get avocados from Florida, for example? I’m pretty sure those are available right now.

I also realize that some of the items I listed would come from Florida during other times of the year, such as the blueberries, mushrooms, and lemons.

So, if you find yourself in the same boat of me—and I’d imagine many of you are—then what can you do to support local growers and buy more produce from your area?

Visit local farmers’ markets, take part in community supported agriculture (CSA) groups, read labels to see where your food is coming from, support supermarkets that buy local produce, and try to use recipes that include items in season.

I realize none of that is novel advice, but if we all made more of an effort, it could go a long way toward more nutritious eating and a cleaner environment, as fewer items would be shipped from around the globe.