Until fairly recent times, people only ate locally produced foods. Long distance transportation of food was essentially nonexistent. Food was grown and purchased locally, whether in markets or small stores. By the latter portion of the 19th century, when trains began to travel across the American landscape, that started to change. Over time, our food system has become more industrialized and removed from urban areas.
At the same time, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) reported in 2014 that farmers who sell directly to consumers represent “a very small share” of the national food supply. On average, between 1978 and 2007, only 5.5 percent of all farms sold products directly to consumers. And, that is only 0.3 percent of total farm sales. But, in recent years, that trend has been changing. Increasingly, farmers are finding ways to sell more of their products, especially fruits, vegetables, and nuts, directly to consumers. This is especially true in the Northeast and the West Coast, where there are thousands of summer and winter farmers’ markets and community supported agriculture (CSA) groups, programs in which members prepay to receive regular, usually weekly, food products during the growing seasons. The USDA also noted that when farmers sell directly, consumers have access to unusual and heirloom varieties that might be difficult to locate and more fragile products that might be harder to transport. 2
According to Local Harvest, a nonprofit that “connects people looking for good food with the farmers who produce it,” most produce in the United States travels four to seven days before reaching supermarket shelves. Typically, it is shipped 1,500 miles. Of course, produce from other countries travels even longer distances. When food is purchased at large supermarkets, only 18 cents of every dollar goes to the grower. The other 82 cents “go to various unnecessary middlemen.” 3
In a study published in 2009 in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, researchers from Minnesota wanted to determine if participating in twice-weekly garden-based activities would promote fruit and vegetable intake among 93 fourth to sixth grade children who attended a 12-week YMCA summer camp. Using produce from their garden, the children prepared snacks. In addition, each week the children tasted a fruit and/or vegetable from a farmers market. The researchers found that almost all the children enjoyed the garden and produce-related activities. In fact, some of the children expressed a desire to spend more time working in the garden. Only 5 percent of the children noted that they did not want to participate again the next summer. After completing the program, the children reported a significant increase in the intake of fruits and vegetables. The researchers commented that “participation in the ‘seed to table’ experience of eating may help promote healthful eating behaviors among youth.” 5
In a study published in 2012 in Appetite, researchers from Phoenix, Arizona, asked members of Arizona’s community supported agriculture (CSA) programs to complete an online survey, which included questions on behaviors related to food purchases. The researchers received 115 responses. One section of the survey asked how membership in the CSA influenced the variety and amount of produce that their household consumed. The vast majority of the respondents were white females. Almost 70 percent indicated that they were the primary food purchaser. The researchers learned that 67.5 percent of the respondents noted that since joining the CSA they were eating more fruits and vegetables. An even larger number, 92.1 percent of the members, reported eating a greater variety of fruits and vegetables. The researchers commented that “community supported agriculture (CSA) programs have become a viable source of locally produced foods and represent a new way to increase fruit and vegetable consumptions among individuals.” 6
In a study published in 2013 in Public Health Nutrition, researchers from North Carolina examined the association between different shopping patterns and various parameters of health. The cohort consisted of 400 low-income, nonstudent women between the ages of 18 and 44 years who lived in eastern North Carolina. One hundred and fourteen women reported that they shopped at farmers’ markets. According to the researchers, they were more likely to consume five or more fruits and vegetables every day. 8
In a study published in 2015 in the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture, researchers from California and Seattle wanted to learn more about the safety of food sold at farmers markets in Los Angeles, Orange County, California, and the greater Seattle area. Researchers collected a total of 133 samples (52 basil, 41 cilantro, and 40 parsley) from 13 different farmers markets. Markets were selected based on their proximity to research labs; the researchers wanted the samples to be analyzed the same day they were purchased. All of the herbs were tested for Salmonella and Escherichia coli (E. coli). One parsley sample was found positive for Salmonella, and 24.1 percent of the samples were positive for E. coli. The researchers noted that there is a need to determine how this level of contamination compares to other retail sources of these herbs. The researchers noted that in supermarkets fresh herbs are held in refrigerated areas; at farmers markets, they are placed outside, even during very warm summer days. And, they concluded that “the current study, along with future research in this area, will be important in heightening our understanding of the safety of perishable foods sold at farmers’ markets.” 10
In a study published in 2014 in the Asian Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers from Australia examined the food options available for Australian residents who live in remote areas in the western part of the country. The researchers found that while the food costs significantly increased in remote areas, the quality of the food decreased markedly. The healthiest foods, such as fruits and vegetables, tended to cost “disproportionately more.” However, oranges, which were grown locally, were rated better. So, these Australians had access to some local food. The researchers suggested that the government provide subsidies for the transport of fresh foods. According to the researchers, it has been shown that reductions in the cost of food have resulted in the consumption of healthier foods. 11
1. University of Vermont, www.uvm.edu.
2. U.S. Department of Agriculture, www.usda.gov.
3. Local Harvest, www.localharvest.org.
4. Elizabeth R. Racine, Elizabeth A. Mumford, Sarah B. Laditka, and Anna E. Lowe, “Understanding Characteristics of Families Who Buy Local Produce,” Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior 45, no. 1 (2013): 30+.
5. Stephanie Heim, Jamie Stang, and Marjorie Ireland, “A Garden Pilot Project Enhances Fruit and Vegetable Consumption Among Children,” Journal of the American Dietetic Association 109 (2009): 1220-26.
6. Alexandra L. MacMillan Uribe, Donna M. Winham, and Christopher M. Wharton, “Community Supported Agriculture Membership in Arizona. An Exploratory Study of Food and Sustainability Behaviours,” Appetite 59, no. 2 (2012): 431-36.
7. Sara A. Quandt, Janae Dupuis, Caitlin Fish, and Ralph B. D’Agostino, “Feasibility of Using a Community-Supported Agriculture Program to Improve Fruit and Vegetable Inventories and Consumption in an Underresourced Urban Community,” Preventing Chronic Disease 10 (2013): 130053.
8. Stephanie B. Jilcott Pitts, Qiang Wu, Jared T. McGuirt et al., “Associations Between Access to Farmers’ Markets and Supermarkets, Shopping Patterns, Fruit and Vegetable Consumption and Health Indicators Among Women of Reproductive Age in Eastern North Carolina, USA,” Public Health Nutrition 16, no. 11 (2013): 1944-52.
9. Gareth Edwards-Jones, “Does Eating Local Food Reduce the Environmental Impact of Food Production and Enhance Consumer Health?” Proceedings of the Nutrition Society 69 (2010): 582-91.
10. Donna J. Levy, Nicola K. Beck, Alexandra L. Kossik et al., “Microbial Safety and Quality of Fresh Herbs from Los Angeles, Orange County and Seattle Farmers’ Markets,” Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture 45, no. 13 (2015): 2641-45.
11. Christina Mary Pollard, Timothy John Landrigan, Pernilla Laila Ellies et al., “Geographic Factors as Determinants of Food Security: A Western Australian Food Pricing and Quality Study,” Asian Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition 23, no. 4 (2014): 703-13.
Edwards-Jones, Gareth. “Does Eating Local Food Reduce the Environmental Impact of Food Production and Enhance Consumer Health?” Proceedings of the Nutrition Society 69 (2010): 582-91.
Harrison, Judy A., Julia W. Gaskin, Mark A. Harrison et al. “Survey of Food Safety Practices on Small to Medium-Sized Farms and in Farmers Markets.” Journal of Food Protection 76, no. 11 (2013): 1989-93.
Heim, Stephanie, Jamie Stang, and Marjorie Ireland. “A Garden Pilot Project Enhances Fruit and Vegetable Consumption Among Children.” Journal of the American Dietetic Association 109 (2009): 1220-26.
Jilcott Pitts, Stephanie B., Qiang Wu, Jared T. McGuirt et al. “Associations Between Access to Farmers’ Markets and Supermarkets, Shopping Patterns, Fruit and Vegetable Consumption and Health Indicators Among Women of Reproduction Age in Eastern North Carolina, USA.” Public Health Nutrition 16, no. 11 (2013): 1944-52.
Levy, Donna J., Nicola K. Beck, Alexandra L. Kossik et al. “Microbial Safety and Quality of Fresh Herbs from Los Angeles, Orange County and Seattle Farmers’ Markets.” Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture 95, no. 13 (2015): 2641-45.
Pollard, Christina Mary, Timothy John Landrigan, Pernilla Laila Ellies et al. “Geographic Factors as Determinants of Food Security: A Western Australian Food Pricing and Quality Study.” Asian Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition 23, no. 4 (2014): 703-13.
Quandt, Sara A., Janae Dupuis, Caitlin Fish, and Ralph B. D’Agostino. “Feasibility of Using a Community-Supported Agriculture Program to Improve Fruit and Vegetable Inventories and Consumption in an Underresourced Urban Community.” Preventing Chronic Disease 10 (2013): 130053.
Racine, Elizabeth R., Elizabeth A. Mumford, Sarah B. Laditka, and Anna E. Lowe. “Understanding Characteristics of Families Who Buy Local Produce.” Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior 45, no. 1 (2013): 30+.
Uribe, Alexandra L. MacMillan, Donna M. Winham, and Christopher M. Wharton. “Community Supported Agriculture Membership in Arizona. An Exploratory Study of Food and Sustainability Behaviours.” Appetite 59, no. 2 (2012): 431-36.
Weinstein, Eleanor, Rodolfo J. Galindo, Martin Fried et al. “Impact of a Focused Nutrition Educational Intervention Coupled with Improved Access to Fresh Produce on Purchasing Behavior and Consumption of Fruits and Vegetables in Overweight Patients with Diabetes Mellitus.” Diabetes Educator 40, no. 1 (2014): 100-106.
Wheeler, Ashley L. and Karen Chapman-Novakofski. “Farmers’ Markets: Costs Compared with Supermarkets, Use Among WIC Clients and Relationship to Fruit and Vegetable Intake and Related Psychosocial Variables.” Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior 46, no. 3S (2014): S65-S70.
Local Harvest. www.localharvest.org .
U.S. Department of Agriculture. www.usda.gov .
University of Vermont. www.uvm.edu .