Ohio is home to more than 77,000 local farms, ranging from small farms to large operations. These farms feature a diverse selection of over 200 different types of crops and livestock. You may be wondering, now more than ever, how exactly does your food get to your dinner table.
According to ATTRA – Sustainable Agriculture Program, the average fruit or vegetable on an American’s plate travels roughly 1,500 miles to get there. In contrast, locally or regionally sourced produce travels about 27 times less distance than conventionally sourced produce according to American Farmland Trust. And most local food is made available to communities via farmers’ markets.
So how does produce get from field to plate? The journey from farm to plate consists of five different stages: production, processing, distribution, retailer, and consumer. Let’s see how farmers’ markets make the journey faster, more efficient, and ecologically friendly.
Broadly speaking, the production process consists of farmers cultivating fresh produce, livestock, and other products. On a large scale, many other states rely on Ohio for certain crops that they are unable to produce, like soybeans and corn, and Ohioans must rely on other states for products that cannot be produced here as well, like Florida for year-round tropical fruits.
Luckily, Ohio’s vast biodiversity allows for a large variety of products to be produced for most of the season to be purchased fresh. These are foods that are featured in our local stores and farmers’ markets and make up a majority of our local food system.
Photo by Ryan Grzybowski
Food processing is defined as any of a variety of operations by which raw foodstuffs are made suitable for consumption, cooking, or storage.
Our local farms go through several different processing steps to prepare the food that they bring to the markets. These processes include the cleaning, sorting, packaging, and preservation of products. For example, certain products that are available at the market, like fruit jams and compotes, go through the preservation process, as the fruit is prepared and jarred to create a long-lasting product.
Processing is a crucial part of the food journey in ensuring that product is well-prepared and ready to be purchased.
Photo by Ryan Grzybowski
The distribution of fresh fruits, vegetables, and other products connects the farms to retailers for these fresh products to be sold to the public. The types of transportation that are involved in the distribution process are limitless, including ground, air, and water transports for some products you may find in a grocery store.
Locally, fresh produce from area farms are abundant in not only grocery stores, but farmers’ markets as well. Having access to fresh produce within miles of the farm it was grown on can also be considered ecologically responsible.
By buying locally grown produce, you’re actively reducing your carbon footprint by receiving products that require only a small amount of ground transportation.
Retailers are how fresh produce and products can be connected to the general public for consumption. Unique to the Midwest is the abundance of local farmers’ markets, and the real connections they form between the farms and consumers.
Farmers’ markets provide the general public with the opportunity to support the local food system and small business owners including many family-owned and operated farms, without having to go directly to the farmer. For example, each Saturday, May through October you can shop from the same vendors and farmers and learn about where your food comes from during the Howe Meadow farmers’ market. (And don’t forget out the winter market at Old Trail School on select Saturdays November through April!)
The final process of the food journey is one that you play the lead role: being the consumer.
Buying fresh produce from farmers’ markets directly supports local agricultural businesses, and it reduces one’s carbon footprint by reducing the number of fossil fuel emissions that large forms of transportation can emit during distribution. Plus, it’s probably healthier and was produced using fewer chemicals too. But don’t take our word for it, ask your local farmer!
It’s time to take advantage of the fresh resources Ohio has to offer. We’ll see you at the market!