Buy local to reap nutritional, economic, and sustainable benefits.

As people seek fresher foods, they have begun to connect with local family farms. Community-supported agriculture (CSA) programs and farmers' markets give consumers direct access to produce, meats, cheeses, breads, honey, and other foods that are produced in nearby communities. In the past 10 years, the number of local farmers' markets has more than doubled―it is up from 1,755 to 3,706, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Agricultural Marketing Service.

Why it's here to stay:
Because they are so fresh, locally grown fruits and vegetables often have a nutritional edge over produce raised on "factory" farms. The latter, which constitutes most of the produce grown in the United States, is picked about four to seven days before it arrives on supermarket shelves, and shipped for an average of 1,500 miles before it's sold, according to Local Harvest, a nonprofit agricultural research group. All that downtime takes a toll. USDA researchers have found that if it's not handled properly, produce can lose up to half its nutrients in transit. Water-soluble nutrients like vitamin C are particularly vulnerable.

What it means for you:
"Buying food from local vendors gives you input," says Gail Feenstra, R.D., food systems analyst at the University of California at Davis's Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program. "You can find out how things were grown. You can also request varieties of fruits and vegetables that wouldn't be available elsewhere." And then there's the most important reason of all: Because of its freshness, locally grown food tastes better than produce designed to be shipped. "Growers' priority is on taste and texture versus transportation," Feenstra says.