Q: Thanks for the articles on organic , local, sustainable , slow food —a topic that's been on my mind lately. Here's my problem: In the same week, I shopped for fruit at the farmers' market and at Costco. Costco's plums, strawberries, and blueberries were superior and cheaper; the farmers' market plums, apricots, and peaches were inconsistent and more expensive! What's a conscientious shopper to do? — Amie Kosberg, Santa Monica
A: No matter where you live, your local season for any fruit is probably short. For example, strawberries peak in your region in mid-May. At the season's beginning and end, flavor drops off. Produce grown in a particular region is also vulnerable to variations from year to year—if you have a rainy summer, as we did in the Northeast, strawberries suffer. A retail giant like Costco sources produce from hundreds of growers worldwide, so it can compensate for a bad season in one place by ordering more from elsewhere. And its large-scale suppliers can grow more economically—if you farm 10,000 strawberries, each one is cheaper than if you grow 300.
I still base my family's diet on what's at the greenmarket. I follow the seasons closely, and we eat the best fruits and vegetables we can when they're at their peak. Yes, I also buy produce shipped from afar, but I treat it as a luxury, even if it's cheaper. Why? Because "cheap" food typically comes with hidden costs—to the environment, to local farms, and, increasingly, to our health. I'm committed to helping my local farms survive, and to keeping America's food supply safe and independent. To me, that's a valuable way to shop.