Buying local food a reinvestment in our businesses, services

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The benefits of choosing locally grown foods are numerous: exceptional flavors, improved health, safer food supply, knowing how our food was produced, support for our family farms and protection of the environment.

But in this economy, one of the most important benefits may be that the food dollars spent with local farmers stay close to home and are reinvested with businesses and services in our community.

Here in the Greater Lehigh Valley (Berks, Lehigh and Northampton counties), we spend $1.3 billion per year on food that we eat at home; however, only $5.3 million of this (less than 1 percent) is purchased directly from our local farms. In other words, the majority of our food dollars are leaving the Greater Lehigh Valley when we purchase food imports. Once these dollars leave, they are unlikely to return.

If each of the 390,000 households in the Greater Lehigh Valley committed to spending just $10 per week on locally grown foods during the growing season (May through November, 28 weeks), we would keep $109 million of our food dollars circulating in the Greater Lehigh Valley, helping both family farms and our local economy.

As the growing season gets into full swing, now is the perfect time to get involved in our local food economy. Pick up a free copy of the new 2013 Local Foods Guide and discover the many sources of foods grown in the region. Guides are available at producer-only farmers markets and other local food providers throughout the Greater Lehigh Valley.

FARMERS MARKETS, FARM SHARES

Six of our 10 producer-only farmers markets will be reopening this month: Bath, Bethlehem at Campus Square, Easton, Emmaus, Nazareth and Saucon Valley. Four more will recommence in June.

Visit one near you and discover the delightful tastes of fresh-from-the-field produce. From arugula and asparagus to a wide array of greens and lettuces, the sweetness of spring is yours for the tasting.

Here in the Valley, we also have dozens of community supported agriculture options. By purchasing a share of the harvest at the beginning of the year, members receive a weekly delivery of the farm’s bounty throughout the growing season.

We are also fortunate to have numerous farm stands throughout the region offering freshly harvested goodness.

For people on a limited budget, farm shares are another option. Farm shares are weekly deliveries of farm-fresh vegetables scaled for income and portability. Members are able to pay using Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits.

This year, Buy Fresh Buy Local is partnering with local community groups and farm partners to offer affordable weekly shares of vegetables to families in Jordan Heights, Allentown, South Side Bethlehem and the West Ward of Easton.

REPORT ON ACCESS TO FRESH FOOD

You can also get involved by participating in upcoming food forums.

Buy Fresh Buy Local and Renew Lehigh Valley soon will present an assessment report about our local food economy, identifying current opportunities and hurdles for local foods in the Lehigh Valley. This report will be used as the basis for a fresh-food access plan, which is part of the larger Envision Lehigh Valley Sustainability Plan.

Residents’ input into the fresh-food access plan will be critical to creating priorities for the local food economy.

The Lehigh Valley Planning Commission projects that the Valley’s population will grow by 145,000 over the next 20 years. As a region, we need to decide whether we want to maintain the agricultural nature of the Valley and preserve our local farms.

We will be asking residents for input on this issue and other aspects of the local food economy at a series of food forums this summer. Please sign up.

Meanwhile, become a part of our local food economy and taste the difference!

Lynn Prior is director of the Greater Lehigh Valley chapter of Buy Fresh Buy Local. She can be reached at 610-703-6954 or at lynn@buylocalgreaterlehighvalley.org.

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