Over the past few decades, massive supermarket chains have dominated the American food market. Although dazzled by the falling prices and shiny corporate façades, consumers were not being informed about the hidden impacts that these low prices were having on farmers, quality standards and local economies. There is a growing awareness now, however, regarding the overwhelming benefits of buying locally and ethically sourced foods.

1.  Supporting your local economy 

As well as directly supporting the economic development and job market of your community, by spending your hard-earned cash on local foods you’re also playing an important role in the economic sustainability of local farmers.

“You’re able to gain more economic benefits by closing the supply chain locally,” explains Robert Eyler, Professor of Economics at Sonoma State University. “You don’t want to have local farmers selling food to outside distributors, who then take a profit and sell it back to the local area.”

There has been maturation in consumers, a realization about the importance of creating sustainable, local economies. In most cases residents do want to help change their community for the better, as Marcus Benedetti, President and CEO of Clover Stornetta Farms, explains: “People genuinely care and are willing to spend their dollars in a social way, but it does take a heightened awareness to do that.”

2. Food security

Buying locally produced food helps to create a sustainable food system in your area, and it is this system that will ensure that your community does not face a food crisis if a natural disaster, or other event that sees your region cut off, occurs.

“If food is centrally produced; if that is the dominant model and we don’t have local food production, then we’re threatened by food insecurity if there’s disruption to the distribution channels,” says Garrett.

“If trucks couldn’t get to a region people would be pretty much stuck, asking each other ‘how long is the food in the store going to last us?’

3. Humanely treated farm animals yield tastier products

Locally sourced food is more likely to come from animals that are treated humanely in clean and comfortable living conditions.

Cows in organic dairies like Clover Stornetta Farms, for example, live longer and happier lives, are not treated with recombinant bovine growth hormone, recombinant bovine somatotropin or antibiotics, and always have clean bedding for when they go to sleep. They’re also free to roam and graze the pastures.

Grass-fed cows produce healthier, tastier products than cows that have been fed genetically modified grain.

4. Environmental sustainability

As well as aiding the production of higher quality dairy products, the diet and lifestyle of cows at organic dairies also helps to reduce the environmental impact of a dairy farm.

Cows are unable to properly digest the genetically modified grain that they’re given at non-organic farms, causing them to emit significantly more methane — a powerful and damaging greenhouse gas. Also, cows at organic dairies are never given foods that are infused with pesticides, which helps to keep groundwater, soil and rivers free of the toxicity associated with synthetic products.

Sourcing local food products also helps to drastically reduce carbon emissions by significantly reducing the mileage that it takes food to reach its destination. Terry Garrett, GO LOCAL's representative on the Sonoma County Food System Alliance, explains: “The difference in the carbon footprint of imported food, whether it’s shipped from Asia or South America, or driven up in trucks from Mexico, versus that of local food is huge,” he says.

A 2011 study conducted by Sonoma State University found that usually food has to travel an average of 1,500 miles before it reaches your plate, but for food that is sourced locally that distance is reduced drastically to a mere 100 miles.

5. Health benefits

As food ages it starts to lose its nutrients. Imported food, which has been sitting in a truck or on a plane for days, is less healthy than local foods, which have made the short trip from the local farm to your plate.

The same goes for milk that comes from organic dairies. Studies have shown that organic milk is 30 to 40 percent lower in saturated fats than non-organic milk, yet much higher in healthy Omega-3 fatty acids, which can lower the risk of heart disease and reduce the chances of developing eczema.

“The health benefit of eating local foods has a big social impact,” says Eyler. “If you are eating foods with higher nutritional levels that positive health impact can, over time, begin to reduce the cost of health to public.”

Whether it’s a growing awareness about the importance of keeping your dollars in the local community or wanting to ensure that your family is eating as healthily as possible, buying locally and ethically sourced foods is the smart, sustainable thing to do. “The education process is the key,” says Benedetti. “There’s definitely been an evolution towards buying local, which is fueled by a genuine interest and intrigue, as well as a social conscience; and, it’s the trendy thing to do right now.”