I have been asked this question, in one form or another, numerous times when talking about the food that my wife and I eat; how local is local?
When it comes to food my wife and I always choose local organic when possible, but for many foods the definition of local changes slightly with the changing of the seasons. This means during the vegetable growing season as per your geographical location you should buy all your produce grown as close to home as possible; for the North East that means late spring (May) through early-mid fall (October-November). My wife and I are lucky enough to have a wonderful organic farm stand less than 5 min from our house, as well as a farmers market every weekend that hosts many organic farms from within our state. I also believe that during these bountiful seasons it is best to buy what is 'in season' for any particular month, that means spring veggies in the spring, summer veggies in the summer, and fall veggies in the fall. Unfortunately as with any growing season the end is inevitable and that's when we broaden our idea of local. During these "off season" months we keep produce purchases from within the U.S. How fresh can that organic produce actually be if it comes from the other side of the world? This also means some vegetables will have to be passed over until the next growing season since even California does not grow all products all year round. And even some of the ones they do are just not the same; that means no fresh tomatoes in December!
Just on a side note I try to make sure only to buy 'loose produce', nothing packaged in wrappers or plastic boxes, because even with organically grown products of this type when shipped from across the country (or world) they can still use small amounts of pesticides in packaging in order to prevent the item from becoming spoiled or eaten prior to sale.
Meats and eggs are the extreme exception to this rule; my wife and I ALWAYS buy our meats (beef, pork, chicken, and lamb) from local organic grass fed farms. I think this is very important and is the only way to ensure that you are indeed eating exactly what is advertised, and that is healthy meat from an animal that was raised in a healthy sustainable way. Yes you can buy 'all natural' or 'organic' or 'free-range or grass fed' meets from your local grocery store, it's where my journey started all those years ago, but they are not what is advertised and in my opinion do not taste very good. Why? Because these marketing terms like "all natural" or "free range" are skillfully manipulated and under regulated. Although I am not sure what actually constitutes "all natural" it most likely means that some of its ingredients originated from natural sources... so do most all pharmaceuticals but how natural are they? 'Organic' is another term that can be very misleading when it comes to the sale of meats. Organic beef for instance means the cow was fed organic corn and a grain-fed cow is NOT a healthy cow (see an earlier post on this subject). Another term often abused is 'free range'. To qualify for free range status the government says the animal only needs access to the outside, and says nothing about whether there is any viable grass for the animal or even whether the animal ever goes outside. This is why buying this type of meat from the grocery store often equals tough tasteless meat.
So do some investigating and find a local organic sustainable farm near you. I mean even a two hour drive once a weekend is local compared to the 12hr flight that exotic fruit traveled just to enter the U.S.