Wednesday, August 4, 2004

Think healthfully, eat locally - for cheap


Perhaps nothing could be finer than to be in Carolina in the morning, but we don't buy it. Far better is being in Ohio in late summer any old time of day. Here are our reasons: corn, tomatoes, peaches and melons.

No one who cares more than a hill of beans for food would argue those points, but a new government study gives us even more food for thought. The U.S. Department of Agriculture says the average American can meet his or her daily requirements for fruits and vegetables for just 64 cents per day.

Like homemade apple pie, this issue's good any way you slice it.

Most of us know deep down in our chocolate-covered hearts that we'd be better off eating fresh fruits and vegetables, but the benefits of more produce consumption go beyond our own health. If eating more produce means eating more local produce, it can be a huge boon to the local and regional economy. Growers save money on distance-shipping foods. Consumers save money by buying directly from farmers. Dollars stay in the region rather than moving off to big corporate chains that are farther and farther away. And customers are more likely to strike up a relationship with the grower who raised the ear of corn than with the supermarket clerk who simply plopped it on a display counter. Simply put, buying locally builds community.

Then there's the issue of just what those dollars buy, locally. Keeping small businesses viable has enormous benefits for any community. But keeping small growers viable has the added benefit of keeping green space open - and green. Even a two-acre lot can yield an amazing amount of produce and significantly help the environment.

Greater Cincinnati and Ohio are awakening to the power of buying locally and eating seasonally. The Chefs Collaborative, a national program that formed here in 1999, supports local growers and promotes the use of fresh, seasonal food. Last year, the Ohio Food and Farm Network formed to promote agriculture that is "ecologically sound, economically viable and socially responsible." Its Web site, www.ohiofoodandfarm.net, includes a wonderful guide to local farm markets and food sources.

If there's a food idea to be supersized, this one is it.

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