The greenest choice for produce? Grow your own or buy organic produce from local farmers. But if you can’t do that, consider choosing foods with the following labels:
Locally sourced food can mean just about anything—your backyard, your county, your state, 50 miles, 100 miles, 200 miles and so on. Many state labels (e.g., Colorado Proud) mandate only that food is grown and processed within the state.
Health benefits: Locally grown foods are often picked when they are riper (since they take less time to travel to market) and can be richer in nutrients because of this.
Eco-benefits: Buying locally can conserve fuel (that would be used to transport food long distances). According to the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State, if Iowans purchased only 10 percent more of their food from within their home states, it would result in as much as a 7.9 million pound reduction in carbon emissions annually. However, research out of the UK and New Zealand suggests that, in some cases, imported foods may be kinder to the environment because they originate in countries that use simpler farming methods (think: ox cart versus a tractor) or more fuel-efficient transportation systems.
Is it regulated? No.
Keep in mind: “Local” doesn’t necessarily mean a farm is small, organic, or sustainable.
Certified organic fruits and vegetables are grown without the use of pesticides and herbicides, genetically modified seeds or sewage sludge fertilizers. Farmers must conserve soil quality and often use non-toxic Integrated Pest Management (IPM) techniques, such as using ladybugs to control aphids or mint oils and cloves to deter pests.