Tuesday, July 12, 2011
So what are we to do? Start small, I say. I've compiled a few simple tips that have helped our family to enjoy the natural abundance of local foods:
1. Find a Farmer's Market. This is an easy way to integrate local food into your diet, and it supports local farmers in the process! Farmer's Markets are usually held once or twice a week and they allow farmers to come and sell consumers their foods directly, which eliminates the expensive "middle man." You may not pay any less for these foods, but your farmer is keeping more of the profit, which helps to ensure that she'll be there next year to sell you some more great food! Want to find a farmer's market near you? Click here.
2. Join a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). Once you've mastered the farmer's market, you can take it to the next level by joining a CSA. These programs are designed to generate revenue for farmers in the spring, when their costs are highest, and to allow patrons to share in the bounty of the harvest all summer long. Patrons sign up directly with the farmer and physically visit the farm (or designated pick up spot) once a week to pick up a box of vegetables which have been produced that week. Full shares tend to be around $600 for the season in our area, but that can vary significantly by region. Our family has discovered it to be great fun to go to the farm each week to pick out our produce, and then to find applicable recipes to use! This week we've had ginger beef with bok choy, turnip gallete, and taco salads thanks to the fresh produce from our farm! (Hungry yet?)
As a side note: for those who eat meat, CSA's are available for that market as well. Our family purchases meat in bulk from a farm about a mile down the road from us and we store it in a deep chest freezer. Some farms will also sell meat in smaller portions, so it doesn't hurt to ask. Milk, eggs, and cheese can also be purchased through CSA's.
3. Support a local business. Another great option for securing local food is to patronize, and really get to know, your local grocer. While it might be tempting to frequent a huge box store where you can get everything on your list, it's far more important to build community relationships, keep the cash flow among neighbors, and to develop a meaningful relationship with your food supplier so that you're always comfortable knowing where your food came from.
If a local marketplace isn't an option in your area, be sure to ask for local foods at your supermarket. Some big chains are getting on the bandwagon and are now labeling food that is produced locally so that you can make an effort to choose the tomatoes grown at the farm a couple of towns over rather than in another country. If you don't see clearly labeled local food then go ahead and ask for it. One local chain in our community didn't sell any local food at all until consumers began to demand it! Especially in today's economy your purchasing dollars have a lot of sway, so make them count.
4. Grow a garden or raise some animals. I am not naturally a gardener. Ask anyone- I can kill anything green faster than it takes to say, "oops, I forgot to water the plants." That aside, I've made some strides in recent years in terms of growing food, and my husband has been good enough to take on a considerable amount of that load. We don't grow all of our food by a long shot (that's what our CSA is for!), but we do grow some. Our garden this year includes watermelon, potatoes, tomatoes, dill, mint, thyme, lemon thyme, basil, rhubarb, onions, scallions, lettuces of several varieties, strawberries and raspberries. Sounds like a lot? Not really- we've used container gardening, bag gardening and raised beds to make it more manageable. After all, we have three kids under six so it's very important that our plan is simple!
Raising backyard chickens, a dairy cow or goat or a few meat animals are also an option for some. Granted, space requirements are challenging for many (as is the desire for many more!), but some families find great satisfaction in raising animals to meet their family's needs via meat, milk, eggs, wool and more.
5. Foraging. Believe it or not, this is still a valid form of securing nutrition! Here in Maine, we find wild blueberries and strawberries all over the place and are able to make great jams and sauces. You can do this anywhere in the country, but you need to check before you eat!