7 Big Reasons to Eat Local That You've Got to Consider ...

As we all know, exercise and eating right are two sides of the same coin. And when it comes to eating right, there's nothing better than eating local. Why? Well, here are some enlightening reasons by guest contributor Kim Kash.

Supermarkets these days have pretty much any food you could want, any time of the year. Looking for pears in April? They've got 'em. Spring lettuce mix in November? No problem. The only drawbacks are 1. They don't taste very good, and 2. They're expensive!

Honestly, who has the time to figure out what the freshest, most seasonal choices are in the grocery store? Is it really worth the hassle? We say yes ma'am. Here are seven reasons why you should choose fresh, local, ripe and in-season produce. You will...

1. Eat Tastier

This goes at the top of the pile. Is there anything more delicious than a summer-ripe, organic, local tomato? Or a little basket of fresh, delicate raspberries picked this morning? Some of the most delicious foods are ones that must be eaten quickly after harvesting, and don't ship well. Eating local is the only way to get them at their best.

2. Eat Cheaper

Seriously, you ask? Isn't fancy local produce always more expensive? The surprising answer, demonstrated time and time again by regional agricultural department studies, is no. A head of ruffly butter lettuce grown by a farmer right outside of town will often cost you less than one produced and shipped from Mexico. Shipping costs must be factored into the price of food, so keep that in mind when you're deciding between seemingly similar products at the grocery store.

3. Eat Healthier

Foods start to degrade in flavor, texture and nutritional value from the moment they are harvested. The quicker you can get them on your table, the more vitamins and minerals you'll get. That means eating local.

4. Give Some Love to Your Local Farmers Market

To avoid the local-versus-shipped confusion altogether, simply do your shopping at the local farmers market. If you can buy it at the farmers market, then it's probably in season. To make sure, verify that market where you shop includes actual local farmers -- and not just wholesalers with homegrown-looking displays. For example, if you spot papayas on sale at your farmers market in Chicago, then you know you're dealing with a wholesaler and not a true, local farmer.

5. Support Family Farmers

For some family farmers, it's a struggle to make ends meet by selling to wholesalers or big grocery store chains. These distributors and chain stores demand very low prices from the farmer, then mark up the foods when they sell them to you. (This is a business, of course, and their profit comes from you.) But if you buy directly from the farmer, via the farmers market, farm stand, or weekly CSA box, then he or she sets the price you pay, and reaps any profit.

6. Create a Smaller Carbon Footprint

Another environmental benefit to buying most of your produce locally is the smaller carbon footprint. Think about it; those rock-hard tomatoes that you can buy in January were shipped a long way. They were picked unripe and trucked in to tempt you into an off-season purchase, creating an unnecessarily large carbon footprint in your grocery cart.

7. Eat a Wider Variety of Foods

Eating locally means putting very different things on the dinner table depending on the time of year. Your spring menus might include baby greens, leeks, asparagus, and berries. Summertime brings tomato, corn, an explosion of greens and herbs, peppers, eggplant, and juicy cherries. In the fall, you'll enjoy pears and apples, carrots, beans and greens, to name a few. And winter is not as bleak as you might first think: root vegetables, winter squash and hearty greens are all on offer, as well as citrus fruits -- which may not be local to you, but If you're eating trucked-in foods, they're a good choice. US-grown citrus fruits are easy to find, and they ship and keep well.

Unless you get really serious about eating local, your dinner table is going to have a mix of foods from near and far. That's fine. The goal is to make local foods be the backbone of your meal planning, and to supplement with other things that your own family needs or loves.