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      Keeping your body and the economy healthy

      Whether by choice or by doctorâ??s orders, healthier eating is becoming more and more popular.

      Ken Meter, an economic analyst from Minneapolis, says by purchasing food from local farms, you can not only eat healthier, but the economy will be healthier, too. According to Meterâ??s extensive research done in 32 different states, farmers made less net income in 2011 than farmers did in 1929 after nine years of rural depression.

      "Often the farmers who are raising commodities for export markets are not doing as well financially as we think," explained Meter. "Theyâ??re often shipping hundreds of millions of dollars out of each region, buying farm inputs that are sourced far away, while their neighbors are buying food largely from far sources, too."

      Meter says making the transition to buying more local foods on a larger scale will take time. Farmers would have to create greenhouses and extend their seasons, and consumers would have to change their eating habits.

      But many producers and consumers are becoming more conscious of where their food is coming and going.

      "What drives this change is farmers and consumers who want to connect with each other," Meter said. "Iâ??ve talked to so many farmers saying, 'Iâ??m tired of raising food and putting it on a truck and it disappears and I have no idea how itâ??s eaten.' Iâ??m talking with consumers who also say, 'I want to know the practices of the farmer before I buy the food. I want to know whatâ??s organic and sustainably-raised.'"

      Take Chef Mark Pittillo at Portage Health, for example. Pittillo dramatically changed the hospitalâ??s menu to incorporate more locally-grown foods.

      "We have the advantage of getting produce that is vine-ripened," said Pittillo. "So, itâ??s able to get all the nutritional value that it could possibly get on the vine before we use it."

      Many farmers have what is called a CSA program, or Community Supported Agriculture.

      "That means that you actually become a customer of that farmer, and you buy a share of his farm," Pittillo explained. "Then, every week you get a box of produce, and the good part about that is you really donâ??t know what youâ??re going to get in that box. So, it kind of pushes the person at home to try some different things."

      Making the transition from foods that weâ??re used to, like cheeseburgers and pizza, to more healthy foods isnâ??t always easy. But with options like pita chips, cucumbers, and black bean hummus, it makes things a little bit easier. Meter says that although change can be difficult, the changing climate, rising oil prices, and declining reliability in imported foods suggest a change might be needed.

      "As I look at the real economics, thereâ??s no reason not to change to a different system," Meter said.