Give a Valentine to Wildlife: Eat Local

Wild peach-faced lovebirds

Audubon @Home, Arizona

by Krys Hammers
Desert Rivers Audubon Society

One way to reduce your carbon footprint is to eat local.  According to the website,, the average distance that food travels in the US from the farmer to the final consumer is 1,518 miles.  The fuel used and the pollutants generated from trucking your food can be greatly reduced if you buy local foods.

Additionally, when you buy food directly from the source, the farmer gets $.90 of every dollar you spend. The farmer only makes $.21 on the dollar on food he sells to food distributors.  The rest goes to transportation and distribution.   In turn buying locally supports your local farmers and your local economy.  Foods that don’t go into the distribution chain are also less susceptible to contaminants.

The East Valley area hosts a number of Farmer’s Markets. Most operate seasonally and the season ends in June.  That’s the case in Tempe and Chandler, but the Mesa Farmers Market; located at 263 N Center operates year-round.  They are only open on Fridays from 9am to noon.

If you can’t get to a Farmer’s Market, you may want to consider participating in a co-op or CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). You pay a fee and each week you receive a bag full of fresh local vegetables, sometimes with recipes or ideas for using them.  You can also preserve some fruits and vegetables for use when they are out of season.

The ultimate in eating locally is growing your own food.  We all know how harsh our desert can be.

Winter vegetable garden at University of Arizona Maricopa Extension, Phoenix

Yet some fruits, vegetables and herbs are well-adapted to our climate.  The soils can be treated to be more productive.   It gives you a use for that compost that you’re creating.  It doesn’t take a lot of space.  It’s amazing how much you can get out of a 5 foot square raised bed.   And if you plan well, you can have 2 growing seasons a year.

I’m trying my hand at gardening for the first time in this climate.  I expect to have all the cherry tomatoes and cucumbers that I can use this summer.  And I’ll have more basil, rosemary and oregano than I can use.  Not to forget my feathered friends, I also planted a sunflower with a huge seed head, just for the birds.  It is so much fun when cooking to go out to the garden for some ingredients.   It’s fresher, and you know it’s got to taste better.  When you grow it yourself, you can know for certain if you have used pesticides or chemicals.  I recommend the book, Extreme Gardening by Dave Owens to help you get started.

Not everyone may want to grow their own food, but we can all support markets and restaurants that use local foods. I challenge you all to become a locavore and go on a 100 mile diet.  The next time you’re tempted to buy that cantaloupe that was shipped all the way from Argentina, think twice about what it truly costs us.