For those of you that subscribe to our newsletters, you might be noticing a trend. There has been a LOT of talk about “local” and “seasonal” food choices. In a society where tropical fruits are available in December and produce is shipped year round to your neighbourhood grocer, you might be wondering why eating seasonably and locally is something that we concern ourselves with. Who cares if Strawberries are “in season” when you can buy them twelve months a year? What are the benefits of buying produce seasonally and why should we look at purchasing home-grown Canadian goods when Mexico and China produce viable alternatives? Don’t get me wrong, convenience is nice and I certainly appreciate having my favourite foods at my fingertips! But, have you ever wondered what happens to the nutritional content of your food when it is picked weeks before appearing on the shelves of your supermarket? Have you ever thought about the journey your food makes before it gets to your cart? Learning to think within these parameters might make you reassess your choices during your next shopping trip.
Due to the vast changes in technology over the last century, the world has seen tremendous advancements in transportation and in agricultural production. The ability to ship food across global markets has resulted in a greater diversity of food and less seasonal dependence within geographical regions ( Kearney, 2010). While mass production and increased transportation are certainly positive aspects of a modern society, what does this mean for the quality of the food in your fridge? The vitamin and mineral content of fruits and vegetables depend of several factors including ( but not limited to) variety, ripeness, post- harvest handling and transportation (Frith, 2007).
The fact is, most varieties of produce found in groceries stories are chosen for their growth rate and their ability to withstand long durations of travel (Frith, 2007). These production traits are not free of cost and often come at the expense of taste and nutritional quality. I find it frightening that while food supply has increased in most markets; nutrients per serving have decreased. According to the Critical Issue Report by Brian Halweil, studies continue to show that high-yielding crop varieties generally produce lower concentrations of nutrients. Why is this? One reason is that high-yield crops allocate energy to producing large products (re: fruits, vegetables, grains, seeds) and put less energy into absorbing micronutrients (Halweil, 2007). On the flip side, studies show that farms producing for local markets, are likely to prioritize nutritional quality over durability when making “varietal decisions” ( Frith, 2007).
Ripeness is a key factor in evaluating the nutrient content of the foods that we consume. If our produce has to travel thousands of miles to arrive on our doorstep, you might guess that it was picked well before it was allowed to ripen. This is unfortunate as certain produce varieties can only reach full nutritional maturity while still attached to the plant ( Frith, 2007). An example of such foods are tomatoes. While tomatoes might produce full colour after harvested, their total vitamin C content has been shown to be higher when allowed to vine ripen (Firth, 2007). Unfortunately, the more mature the product, the shorter its post-harvest life. This means that in order to maximize profit, foods are often harvested early to withstand long journeys.
Post harvest handling and transportation play large roles in the quality of the food that you purchase. If produced locally, it is likely that the fruits and vegetables that you desire have been handled by fewer people, which would certainly cut down on the potential for damage! Bruising, caused by long trips and poor handling, is a huge culprit for nutrient loss ( Frith, 2007).
Upon evaluating these factors, we believe that relying on local sources for our food has some distinct advantages. At South Pond, we work with some excellent local purveyors including Crosswind, Lunar Rhythm Gardens, Publican House and Old Flame, Mariposa Dairy, Nesbitts Meat Market, and of course, our own garden for flowers, herbs and vegetables! Sourcing locally can mean within your community, within your province and even within your country. We wholeheartedly believe in this philosophy and to prove it, we are working on our Ontario Feast On designation! To learn more about Feast On and its partners click here! For those of you who would like to experience “farm to table” first hand, we invite you to attend one of our events to see the difference that it makes!
Frith, K. (2007, January 1). Is local more nutritious? Retrieved December 04, 2016, from http://www.chgeharvard.org/resource/local-more-nutritious
Halweil, B. ( 2007, September). Still No Free Lunch: Nutrient levels in U.S. food supply eroded by pursuit of high yields. Critical Issues Report. Retrieved Dec 04, 2016 from https://www.organic-center.org/reportfiles/Yield_Nutrient_Density_Final.pdf
Kearney, J. (2010, August 16). Food consumption trends and drivers. Retrieved December 04, 2016, from http://rstb.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/365/1554/2793.short