Food For Thought: Where Does It Come From?

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When it comes to buying food, the options are endless. You can get just about anything you want anytime of the year. But just how does it get here where does it come from, and is buying local any better for you?

With fruits, veggies and dairy products, most people agree that the fresher it is, the better.

That's one reason the waiting list for the Community Supported Agriculture program at Holcomb Farm in West Granby is growing.

"Know your farmer, know your food is very strong and that message is out much broader today than it has been in the last 30 years," Jim Lofink, the executive director of Holcomb Farm, said.

As part of the program, families pick up local produce once a week from June through October.

"Here you can only get what's in season, which is a good thing," Eunice Heinlein, of Avon, said.

"I like buying local because I'm supporting local farms," Lisa Anderson, of Barkhamsted, said.

To meet consumer demand for local food, Fresh Point Connecticut, a local food distributor, makes sure 20 to 35 percent of the food they buy is locally or regionally grown, Tom Yandow, the company's retail sales manager, said.

"There's a big trend moving towards the locally grown. You should be able to get product that's fresher if it's picked today and delivered tomorrow. Unfortunately, we can't grow tomatoes in the middle of winter," Yandow said.

Since you can't always buy local, here's the skinny on where the rest comes from and how it gets to Connecticut.

We'll start with grapes: Yandow says most come from California, where they're available for about six months, thanks to storage.

"They'll put them into storage rooms and they'll take the oxygen out and it basically puts the grapes to sleep and that extends the season a little bit, but only by a little bit," said Yandow.

Grapes usually make their way from California to Connecticut by truck, a process that takes about five days. However, they can also arrive by rail, which takes seven days. The rest of the year, grapes come from Chile by boat, a process that takes two weeks.

"It's in our building only one or two days. It has to go out very quickly," said Yandow.

With apples, you can get local ones from July through December, and even longer since they can be stored for months. You'll also find them year-round and they are either trucked in from California or Washington, or shipped in from South America by boat.

Your bananas typically come from South American countries, which is a big source for imported food.

"If you look at the equator and take a 500-mile distance both north and south, you have similar climates for produce to be grown successfully," said Stan Sorkin, the President of the Connecticut Food Association.

There are plenty of reasons consumers prefer local food. Among them: the nationwide food recalls like we've seen with eggs and spinach.

Experts say local farmers have added incentive to maintain clean practices and higher quality since customers can stop right in.

"I have a little more faith in that food because I know where it's been," said Dr. Christine Greene, a nutritional scientist with Hartford Hospital and the University of Hartford. "When it comes from a large production, there's thousands of people far away, migrant workers, I don't know that food."

Other reasons demand is up for local food: local growers can use fewer pesticides, the food likely has some added nutritional value, and it tastes better.

"That's why we go strawberry picking in the summer. Those strawberries taste different when you pick them right off," said Greene.

Whether your produce comes from Connecticut, California or Chile, don't forget that it's all part of a healthy diet.

"Everything is fresh. Everything gets inspected," said Sorkin.

"When you can, buy locally grown because you're supporting our local economy," said Yandow.

Find out more from the Connecticut Grown Program at the Connecticut Department of Agriculture Web site

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