Maria Isabel Vasquez Jimenez was tying grape vines at a farm in Central California, when the temperature soared well above 95 degrees. Only a few days in the country, this undocumented field worker, who didn’t have easy access to water, shade or the work breaks required by law, passed out from the heat and died two days later.Maria-Isabel

Maria was 17 years old. The Center for Disease Control reports that heat-related deaths of farm workers are on the rise in the U.S.  This deadly trend is unfortunately one of the costs of cheap food.   When you buy cheap food at the big box stores, you also invest in this deadly system of industrialized food.

Compare this experience with that of working at a local farm like Simple Gifts in North Amherst, MA.  Here the farm workers work hard but are treated fairly.  As apprentices who live on the site, they are gaining a valuable education in preparation for the day when they might manage their own farm.

Farm apprentices and farm managers at Simple Gifts Farm in North Amherst

Our industrialized food system of mega-farms, long-distance shipping and big box-stores has driven down the retail price of food to the point that Americans, on average, expend about 9 percent of their annual income on food. The industrial food system in the U.S. produces relatively “cheap” food, but at a cost. Fortunately, in some parts of the U.S., we can partially opt out of this exploitative and costly system.

In our community of Amherst and surrounds, the locally grown vegetables are of higher quality than anything shipped from a distance.  We can enjoy the freshness and flavor of the food available at our local farmers’ markets, farm stands, food coops and some regional supermarkets.  Yet most experts agree that less than 10 percent of the produce purchased in our region is grown locally.

Why don’t more of us “buy local”?

I suspect the reason that 90 percent of the consumers in our fairly progressive region of the country don’t regularly buy local food is due to its perceived higher price and the convenience of shopping at the big box stores.

Busy people treat food shopping as just another task, rather than a pleasurable social experience.  Studies indicate that we have 10 times more conversations when we shop at the farmers’ market than at the supermarket.  I know when I stop in at the new Simple Gifts Farm Stand in North Amherst, I always bump into friends and neighbors.

Shopping locally isn’t an “efficient” use of time in a task-driven life – which is one of the reasons I make the effort slow down and shop at the farmers market or Simple Gifts.  Yes…. for me, buying locally is an investment in a higher quality of life (for all).

bigy.jpgSome regional supermarkets do try to offer local products.  The Big Y in Western Massachusetts, for example, is a family-owned business and a major supporter of the UMass Student Farm, which grows organic vegetables for sale locally. When we do choose to shop at supermarkets, we can support local farmers by asking specifically for locally grown products.

And what about price? How often have we heard the statement that local food costs more?

Certainly, local beef, pork and chicken cost more than meat raised in a factory farm. You just can’t beat the efficiency and scale of the industrial animal factory for low price. Hve you ever experienced “sticker shock” when you see that local, fresh eggs may be priced at $5.00 a dozen or more when industrial eggs may be closer to $1.50?   Well, there is a reason!   Just look at the pictures of local eggs and free-ranged hens compared to factory farmed eggs below….


The fact that local meat products are generally produced with less stress on the animals may not be worth the higher price to some of us.   And some people truly can’t afford to pay the higher price for meat, dairy and eggs that are produced in a sustainable manner. But many of us have a choice!  On the other hand, there is little difference in price between local and shipped vegetables, especially during our growing season.

If we were truly concerned about the health of the animals, our own health, the health of our community and the health of the environment, we would choose to buy local meat, dairy and egg products, wouldn’t we.  We would investment in a higher quality of life for ourselves, for local farm families, our community, and for the animals we consume.

When we buy local bacon and sausages, we can even introduce our children to the live animals that provide these products for us, like “Pig Floyd” at Simple Gifts Farm!

Pig Floyd is helping to clean up the weeds at Simple Gifts Farm

“Cost” includes more than “price”

The industrial food system that produces cheap food does so at a great cost!  The retail price does not include the cost of harm done to the workers in the food system; on farms, in factories, shipping terminals, big box-stores, and the fast-food restaurants serving the food. These workers earn near minimum wage. A federal minimum wage law that leaves families in poverty is part of the cost of cheap food.

When we consider the quality of life we enjoy in those regions like ours where local food is plentiful, we might also wonder about the quality of life of those who are working to produce, ship and sell cheap food. When we buy food shipped from long distances, we say “yes” to an exploitative system designed primarily to maximize financial returns of corporate shareholders – at the expense of others.

It is true that relocalization of the food system may result in higher (but fairer) food prices overall.  At the same time buying local food will create local jobs and build community.

When you buy your food locally you are making an investment in a higher quality of life (for all).  I think this is an investment we can’t afford not to make.


Please tell me what you think about this in the comments box below!


  1. Since 1960, local farmers have had processors to freeze and vacuum pack their local animals. Unfortunately freezing and vacuum packing local farm fresh vegetables, fruits, cooked whole grains and cooked dry beans have not been done. The convenience and year round availability of this freezing and vacuum packing option is what is needed to expand local food sales. In NYS school and food bank kitchens can do this since November 2017 with HACCP plan approval from the local health department. I have been doing this in my Ag. & Mkts. inspected kitchen with Cornell Food Venture Center approval since 2004. More cooks and food entrepreneurs should copy this idea. Please contact me at 518 758 7342 to learn more. Anna Dawson


  2. Well said! Another important part of the puzzle, in my opinion, is enticing and educating more people to cook meals at home from whole foods instead of buying prepared items. The food culture (as we all know) in the USA is sad, and when more respect is given to the dining experience, more importance is often placed on the ingredients. Americans spend a very small percentage of their income on food and that habit and mentality needs to change! Here is an interesting article from 2016 highlighting what different countries spend on food:


  3. If we’re all supposed to do our own food shopping and cooking, then why aren’t we also supposed to do our own food producing? Farms produce food for consumers, because it’s far more efficient than everyone growing their own. But the same applies to food distribution and preparation. Once consumers are organized in co-operative consumption, we can decide, collectively, to support local farms.


  4. African Americans have a long long history of co-op food production, distribution, consumption and local investment. There is more to it than just investing in quality life. There has been a glamourisation of being a local hero.


  5. Thank you for sharing these words. As yes, it is true that buying local is perceived as less, many communities who are marginalized also do not have access to land to grow the food that they may want. There is also the economics of afforting food especially with a minimum wage or with farmworkers actually earning a lot less than the MA minimum wage.

    I do praise farms that are doing lots of work to make their food available for anyone and having great prices. I also praise food programs like WIC, Senior Coupons and HIP to make it more accessible to buy local! We need all of these systems (and maybe some more that we haven’t thought about) to keep making local food accessible and affordable


  6. Thanks for the insights. In my view, until local products are more widely available in supermarkets, most folks are not going to be able to buy them. We need to work the local demand and supply issues for the mainstream food system and that requires long-term efforts. See more information at


  7. Beyond the advantages of buying local, there are additional ones to purchasing sustainably raised or certified organic food in terms of nutrition and taste, As to cost, most people don’t add the costs incurred when supermarket food spoils. Our farmers market customers tell us our lettuce keeps for two weeks if properly stored


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