Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Teaching Children to Eat Locally

Recent concerns about E. Coli outbreaks and the ongoing debates about food preservatives and additives have resulted in consumers looking at local producers with more interest. Since it is impossible to know what pesticides were applied and the production and transportation procedures used with a piece of produce from South America, foods that are grown locally give the consumer more control over what they put into their bodies.
Most people agree that locally grown produce tastes better as the farmer has not focused on packing, shipping and shelf-life and instead has harvested his produce at the peak of freshness. The tomatoes we buy in the supermarket were most likely harvested and shipped green and ripened artificially as compared to those nice red tomatoes available at the farmer’s market or farm stand. Buying from the farmer down the road eliminates the typical 1,500 mile trek that the average food item normally travels before reaching your table. Think of the fuel costs being saved!
Another great benefit to eating locally grown foods is it helps the local economy. Farmers that sell directly to the public receive the full retail value. Keeping farmers in business means the preservation of farmland in your community.
Some people ask if they will save money by purchasing locally grown food. Unfortunately you don’t always save. The scale of production comes into play as the farmer in California may have produced 2,000 acres of peppers, compared to the local farmer with one acre.
So what does this “buy local” trend mean to you as a parent? Undoubtedly you have read about the increasing trend of childhood obesity and the need to promote healthy eating. One of the easiest ways to increase the consumption of fruits and vegetables in children is to involve them in the selection and preparation of these foods. Strolling through a farmers’ market on an early Saturday morning is great fun for kids as they take in the sights and smells. Let the bright colors of the produce attract their eye. Often there is an opportunity to taste some fresh fruit or a fun recipe featuring an in-season veggie.
Involve your child in the preparation of the fruit and vegetable – you are almost guaranteed that they will eat it, if they help make it! By purchasing directly from a farmer, you have the added bonus of showing your child how food is grown. Take a look at the tomatoes growing on the vine or the ears of corn on the stalk. Some farms offer “pick-your-own” for some crops like strawberries which makes for a memorable adventure and learning experience for the preschooler!
The other thing you will notice when you purchase your produce locally is that there are seasons for every fruit and vegetable, unlike shopping in the supermarket. Knowing that there is a short window of opportunity for enjoying that delicious sweet corn makes it taste even better when it finally hits the stands!
If you have trouble locating local markets or producers, contact the Cooperative Extension office in your county or region. In Pennsylvania you can go to http://extension.psu.edu/extmap.html to find the phone number of your closest extension office.

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