Omnivore students can have locavore options

Steve Carpenter, owner of Jack-O-Lantern Farms, shows hydroponically grown cabbage in his greenhouse. All of Carpenter’s produce is locally grown. and sold.

Locavores, people who eat foods that are grown locally whenever possible, lead a lifestyle that offers many potential benefits, both nutritionally and economically.

Many college students do not realize food exists outside of Wal-Mart and Taco Bell, but the truth is that the number of year-round locally grown and sold produce farms is growing, according to an article published last December in USA Today.

Locavores not only have easy access to locally grown and produced foods, but they are also reaping the health benefits associated with a diet high in local and organic foods.

There is a decreased risk of heart disease, certain types of cancer, diabetes and obesity. A more local plant-based diet is also higher in fiber, antioxidants, and is lower in fat, said Jill Englett, an instructor in the human environmental sciences department at UNA

“It’s just healthier overall,” Englett said. “The vitamins in produce oxidize easily, so when produce is picked, they already begin breaking down. By the time it reaches a grocery store, it’s already lost a lot of the important nutrients.”

The economic benefits of leading a locavore lifestyle are also positive. By purchasing locally grown produce and foods, individuals are supporting local agriculture, said Leelia Wissert, a regional extension agent in Lauderdale County.

“When you buy locally, you’re not only getting better quality produce, but you’re also supporting the entrepreneur, or the people that are growing your foods,” Wissert said. “They use almost all of what they make to produce more locally grown foods.”

Jack-O-Lantern Farms, a local farmer’s market in Muscle Shoals, is open year-round and sells a variety of hydroponically grown produce and Certified Naturally Grown products. The owner, Steve Carpenter, said after all is said and done, 90 percent of the farm’s income is put right back into the ground to grow more produce.

“When you purchase local foods, one of the main benefits is that the money stays right here in Alabama,” Carpenter said. “If you buy from Wal-Mart or a grocery store, you don’t know where your money goes. But buying here means 100 percent of your money stays here.”

While the locavore lifestyle is not always the cheapest way to live, experts would agree that in the long run, eating organically and locally grown food is a good decision.

“It’s a little more expensive, but the quality is so much higher,” said Chris Becker, regional extension agent for Home Grounds, Gardens, and Home Pests. “You could be buying something in a grocery store that was picked weeks ago, and you don’t know what’s been done to it to keep it fresh looking, but at most farmer’s markets, you’re getting something that was picked that morning.”