So you’re a vegetarian. You’re leading a good life free from eating animals and generally find yourself healthier because of it. There’s a good chance you’re also interested in helping the environment just a bit. But were you aware of just how damaging it can be to everyone involved when you buy food from other parts of the nation, or even the world? Eating local can be tough, but there are some pretty critical facts you should be aware of before you head to the supermarket again.

When someone tells you to “buy local,” what does that mean to you? Naturally, buying local tends to mean simply purchasing food that’s been grown relatively close to where you live, say within 100 miles, or even 50. Living off food grown and packaged within 100 miles of where you live can be tough to manage, but learning how can be immensely beneficial to the environment as trucks don’t have to drive as far to deliver the goods. Plus, the less travel time it takes trucks, the more money is saved to the company, savings that hopefully trickle down to you as the consumer.

But be wary of something else potentially worse than trucks constantly en route to destinations: Growing crops outside of their natural habitats. How could this possibly be harmful? It’s due to the amount of extra planning that must go into growing a plant outside of normal circumstances. For instance, let’s say you live in the Pacific Northwest and want oranges. Oranges aren’t natural to the Pacific Northwest, so your options are either to have some trucked in from California, or to find a way to grow your own. The only way to do the latter is to force them to grow in a non-native locale.

The ways to grow non-native plants are varied, some as simple as adding more water or nutrients to the soil, but other times entire facilities must be built to accommodate the new plants. Local ecosystems can and do suffer as a result of these non-native species of plants as well since introducing something that doesn’t fit with the local ecosystem will either create hardships for the plant itself (fixed by means of extra work such as fertilizers), or worse can create hardships for everything else around it. If a particular crop has natural checks in place in its native habitat that keep it from growing out of control but none in its new locale, things can quickly get out of hand. The crop may spread beyond the control of the farmers, leading to severe problems for the local area.

A good choice is almost always your local farmer’s market. Not only will you find the local farms working their tails off to bring great food each and every market, but they’re more likely to be living that whole “grown locally” mentality as they simply won’t have the money to grow anything outside of their price range, so non-local crops just don’t make sense to them. REal faremrs know teh value of various crop seasons and where they can be grown, so take the chance at teh farmer’s market to ask the important questions. Learning never hurt anyone!

As I said, if you want to be careful about doing things naturally, sometimes simply buying locally isn’t enough. You’ll need to do some research regarding what types of crops are native to the area and which simply aren’t. Deciding what to do after that is entirely up to you though. Is it worth more to let trucks cruise across the country, or to introduce a non-native plant into a new habitat? Let your wallet have the final word.