Locally Grown: How eating food grown close to home contributes to the health of people and the environment
Brendan Tuckey straps a basket to his waist before walking down a row of zucchini plants.
He rummages through the large leaves looking for any that are ready to harvest.
Zucchinis are just some of the wide varieties of produce Tuckey grows with his wife, Jenny, on EverGood Farm in Oneida County.
“We grow favorites such as cucumbers, tomatoes, zucchini, eggplant, that type of thing,” said Tuckey as he starts the long list of what grown on the farm.
Not matter what is grown, it never goes very far.
“We would sell all of our produce in a 30-mile radius. A lot of it is probably within a 15-mile radius,” said Tuckey.
Health benefits of eating locally grown produce
Health and environmental advocates encourage people to eat more locally grown food when they can.
When grown locally, produce is harvested at the peak of ripeness versus being picked early in order to be shipped.
This means local food is likely to have more nutrients.
Plus, as Tuckey and his customers will tell you, food grown closer to home often tastes better.
“We get meat locally and eggs locally. A lot of it is cause of quality. Maybe because of our job, we think locally grown stuff’s actually higher quality. It’s fresher, hasn’t got the food miles, hasn’t been in a truck,” said Tuckey.
Environmental benefits of locally grown food
On the environmental side, Tuckey is focused on the food growing process.
Several years ago, he switched to a regenerative agricultural model. For EverGood Farm that means no tilling and growing in blocks.
“The aim of it really is to build soil while you’re trying to produce product,” said Tuckey.
For Tuckey, it’s about finding a growing method that’s healthier for the land and produces the most high-quality vegetables he can grow.
He’s found great success with this method.
“We definitely saw benefits straightaway. The soil health particularly over the first three or four years. Now it’s kind of stabilized,” said Tuckey.
When people buy food that’s locally grown, they’re not only supporting farm’s like Evergood that focus on sustainable farming, but they’re also reducing their environmental impact.
Locally grown tends to mean less waste and plastic packaging.
You’re decreasing food miles, the distance food travels from where it is grown or made until it reaches its destination.
When you buy food from a local farmer, the carbon footprint tends to come down to a gallon or two of gas versus food that’s shipped from halfway around the world.
Of course, there can be some drawbacks if you’re only eating local grown produce.
If severe weather like a drought or flooding impacts a region, that could impact multiple growers in the area and mean fewer crops that season.
It also means eating in season, which again is good for environment, but in northern Wisconsin can limit your variety, especially in the winter.
So, while maybe all your food doesn’t need to be produced locally, Tuckey argues that it’s important to have locally grown food stay local as an option because of our more centralize food transportation system.
“We kind of saw it during the pandemic how complicated a lot of systems are how it didn’t stand up when things start to breakdown. It seemed quite easy for the whole system to breakdown. I don’t think we’d really want our whole food system like that. It kind of seems very dangerous,” he said.
Grow it yourself
Buying locally grown food isn’t the only alternative.
Mike Haasl runs the Northwoods Community Garden in Rhinelander.
For $40 a season people can rent a 10-foot by 20-foot plot by Nicolet College.
“Our goal is to allow a space for community members to rent a plot and grow their own little garden out here in the beautiful, open sunny field instead of in the woods,” said Haasl.
The garden is a mix of people with a tried-and-true green thumb and those who have never planted a seed.
Haasl says the long-time gardeners are always happy to help the new ones.
“When you sign up for a plot, you can ask for a garden mentor. We have a few experienced garden mentors that are willing to show the new people the ropes. Of course, anytime somebody is out here asking, ‘Is this a weed or a plant?’ there’s usually someone to answer a question,” he said.
Haasl likes growing his own food so he knows where it’s coming from and what’s been done to grow or make it.
“Things you do yourself, you have a little more control over, when you export your consumption to other parts of the world you lose sight of that and all kinds of things can be happening, on your behalf, that you really wish wouldn’t be happening, but you don’t see it, you don’t know what’s going on,” said Haasl.
Another motivating factor for Haasl is the community that grows alongside the garden bed. It’s a notion that came up a lot with both Haasl and Tuckey.
For Haasl, it’s creating a community of growers who can learn from one another and find joy what they do.
For Tuckey, it’s people who come to the farm stand each week looking for fresh vegetables and wanting to learn where their food comes from.
“We wouldn’t be farming, I don’t think, if we were just pushing it off to a wholesaler and it was just kind of an income-based activity,” said Tuckey. “The connection with the community has been really important for the farm and for my wife and I. That’s a big part, hearing people’s stories about their relationship with the food we’ve grown.”
So whether you want to try your hand at growing your garden or swing down the road to pick up some vegetables from your local farmer, there’s a community ready to support you.