Why eating local is good for you and the planet


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It's an eye opener finding out where food comes from.

I recently bought some marinated barramundi from a fish shop, marked "Australian and Asian ingredients".

When I asked what the Asian ingredient was, I was told the fish came from Taiwan but the sauce was made in Australia.

I confess that I like to eat local food as much as possible.

Why? Local food is usually fresher and more nutritious than food that has travelled long distances and stored for some time.

Local food is a greener choice because the distance travelled to reach the table is shorter and the carbon emissions lower.

A study of food miles found a typical Australian shopping basket with 29 items including oranges, sausages, tea and baked beans has travelled some 70,803 kilometres to reach Melbourne, or nearly two times the distance around Earth.

The road transport alone reached 21,073 km, almost the whole way around Australia's coastline, says Robert Larocca, chairperson of CERES (Centre for Education and Research in Environmental Strategies).

More consumers are saying no to imported food products and returning to local food. They are heading to farmers' markets to buy produce directly from small independent farms, cutting out the middleman, which means the fresh produce is usually cheaper than at the shops.

A recent trend is community-shared agricultural (CSA) programs.

Each week a group of Australian-owned farms delivers seasonal fruit and vegetables directly to your door or a neighbourhood pick-up spot.

Its members deliver a weekly box of seasonal fruit and vegetables at a set price, or allows you to order individual items instead.

Many sell a range of dairy, grocery, meat and chickens.

If the delivery vans are refrigerated, the food arrives very fresh.

A small business success story is Aussie Farmers Direct, a company that sources and delivers seasonal fruit and vegetables as well as milk, fresh bread, juice, eggs, butter, bacon, cheese, meat and chicken from local Australian farmers to the front door of residents in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Perth, Canberra, Geelong and Ballarat.

It was named the fastest-growing business in Australia in BRW's Fast 100 2009. It has grown to 131 franchisees and has more than 65,000 customers.

The revival of the concept of the milkman has seen a great community service come back to life, says Braeden Lord, chief executive officer of Aussie Farmers Direct.

"This coupled with the return of families eating more at home from the economic downturn means more local produce on Australian families tables," he says.

If you want to save big money on food, join a food co-op. They buy in bulk to save money and divvy up the fruit, vegetables and other groceries to the members.

Have a look at how organic food co-op Alfalfa House started up in 1981 and evolved into a service with a shop that is open seven days a week at www.alfalfahouse.org.

You need to understand your responsibilities.

Co-op members usually take turns to buy wholesale goods at the main food markets and divide it up into boxes and bags in return for access to cheap organic fruit and vegetables.

Depending on numbers, you may only have to do the shopping once or twice a year. Why not band together with like-minded people and start a co-op?

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Susan has been a finance journalist for more than 30 years, beginning at the Australian Financial Review before moving to the Sydney Morning Herald. She edited a superannuation magazine, Superfunds, for the Association of Superannuation Funds of Australia, and writes regularly on superannuation and managed funds. She's also author of the best-selling book Women and Money.