Next week, July 23-31, begins Maryland’s Buy Local Challenge, which challenges Marylanders to eat at least item a day grown on a local farm. Bonnie Alexander, RD, LDN, an outpatient dietitian at Adventist HealthCare White Oak Medical Center, tells us why she “whole heartedly supports” buying locally sourced produce and what organic really means.

Buying locally grown produce not only benefits your local economy, but can offer health and nutritional benefits.

What are the benefits of buying local?

  • Fruits and vegetables grown organically and consumed in-season have more vitamins and minerals and are often more flavorful
  • Farmer’s markets can be a great place to discover new fruits and vegetables and offer competitive prices
  • You can talk with the producer about the produce and the best way to prepare it
  • Walking around your local farmer’s market is a fun way to exercise and enjoy the outdoors
  • Locally grown crops require less storage time and likely less chemical preservatives

Buying locally makes in-season, organic fruits and vegetables much more accessible and cost effective.

But what exactly does organic mean?

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) regulates what food is considered organic. According to the USDA, organic food is grown using sustainable agricultural practices. This also means not using certain pesticides, fertilizers or other chemicals. Organic meat, poultry, eggs and dairy products come from animals that are not given antibiotics or growth hormones.

How can I tell if food is organic?

In stores, food that is organic will display a “USDA Organic” or “100% Organic” seal. Foods that simply say “organic” on the label are 95 to 99 percent organic. While not all locally grown produce is organic, much of it is, and farmers should be able to describe their growing techniques.

Is eating organic healthier?

Some studies have shown that organic foods are safer and higher in nutritional quality, while other large studies have shown that there is little difference between conventionally vs. organically grown products. In other words, there is no right or wrong answer.

What is for sure is that you’re consuming less harmful chemicals like pesticides when eating organic food. While it’s difficult to say whether it’s truly worth the money to switch to organic products, you can feel good about your decision to support local growers when you buy local!

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Want more help eating healthy? To make an appointment with one of our dietitians, please call 301-891-6105.