Locally Grown Movement Is Keepin' It Close to Home

My husband and I went to some friends' place for the dinner the other night, and after a delicious meal of roast beef, veggies, and the freshest bread I've ever tasted (with real butter, no less), the bomb dropped. While clearing the plates, our hostess said, "Now, we don't have tea or coffee, but I can offer you some homemade apple cider."

My husband, being a big apple cider fan, was thrilled. I, on the other hand, felt my heart sink and panic set in. No tea? No coffee? Not even herbal or decaf? This would never do. The after-dinner cup of tea has been a ritual of mine for almost 10 years. I can count on my fingers the number of times I've missed it in those years (and I don't have any extra digits). And now, here was our hostess, our friend, telling me that the only thing she had to offer was apple cider. What gives?

Turns out, our friends are taking part in the Locally Grown Challenge, a movement that encourages people to consume only those products produced within a certain distance of their home – in our friends' case, 50 kilometres. The idea is to promote community development and reduce reliance on industrial food production, which often uses inhumane and environmentally detrimental practices.

Our friends explained that the roast beef, veggies, bread, and butter I'd been exclaiming over during dinner were all bought at the local farmer's market and had been produced in or around our small city. The apples were a bit of a cheat, our host admitted sheepishly, because they were actually bought more than 50 km away, but, he explained, "we bought them at the actual orchard where they grew, not at a supermarket they'd been shipped to, so it's still basically within the rules."

I must admit that, at first, this sounded a bit like what my dad would call a "hippie-dippy" idea, which I've come to expect from these particular friends. After all, they left corporate jobs in a major city to raise chickens and turkeys on a farm just outside our smaller city in an effort to "get back to the land." On closer examination, though, this locally grown thing might be more than just an environmentalist fad.

Buying only locally grown products stimulates the local economy and helps keep small farmers and producers in business. It also ensures fresher, better tasting food – that meal is one of the best I've had in a long time, better even than the rather expensive steak dinner my husband had treated me to a week before. What's more, our friends now know the history of everything they put in their bodies. They can ask a farmer whether pesticides were used on the vegetables, what type of feed the animals were fed, and anything else they need or want to know about the food they're consuming.

Perhaps the best selling feature to a skeptic like me, though, was that both our host and hostess have lost weight and gained energy. Without a lot of processed and refined foods occupying their energy for digestion and adding to their bodies' fat stores, this couple is the healthiest and happiest they've been since we've known them.

Is all this enough to make me give up my after-dinner tea? Not likely (though I will say our hostess makes a mean apple cider!). However, it has got me thinking, and tomorrow, I'll be shopping for my meat and vegetables at the farmer's market rather than the supermarket. But first, I'll be enjoying my Saturday morning coffee.

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