You’ve got a literal world of foods at your supermarket. So why should you bother with local foods? Well, you’ve heard of “Think Globally, Act Locally.” One of the best ways to do it is with your belly!
Consuming food that comes from local sources boosts your local economy. You help protect small farms and companies, as well as provide local jobs. When you don’t buy your food from local suppliers, that just means your money is being shot out of your local economy. You may not be able to recreate bloggers Alisa Smith and J.B. MacKinnon’s attempt at a 100 Mile Diet, but even purchasing 10% of your food locally would make a large impact.
Freshness is a key reason for eating locally. Those exotic fruits you got from MegaCorpMart may be enticing, but are they really as fresh as they should be? Probably not, considering they were picked before they were ripe and cold-shipped across the globe. Buying local food means you’re getting the absolute freshest product available. Have you noticed hot new restaurants boasting that they feature local foods menus? There’s a reason for that. Top chefs know that besides supporting local economy, they’re providing their customers with top quality food.
Sustainable agriculture revolves around 3 basic tenants: making farming profitable, bringing together farming communities, and taking care of the environment. The idea is to be able to farm continuously with as little outside resources as possible. Sustainable farms aim to use fewer outside resources, such as purchased fertilizers, gas to run machinery, or complex irrigation systems. They rely on the sun and the rain, labor instead of giant machines, crop rotation, and creating their own fertilizing agents.
As a consumer there are several ways to help out with sustainable agriculture and get the freshest, tastiest local foods around.
CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture. It’s basically like chipping in with a bunch of people in your area to get fresh, regional produce every week during harvest season. CSAs may sound new and hot, but it’s been around for a while. Started by Japanese women in the 1960s, the idea spread to North America and Europe during the 1980s. There are over 1,000 CSAs in the US, most being in the Northeast. Different CSAs operate in different ways. Some require you to come out and work the land, others just want a way to share the product from their sustainable farm and charge a fee. They use the fees to purchase supplies and seed, pay workers, and distribute the food. Each year you take a bit of a gamble in joining a CSA. You aren’t guaranteed the same amount or variety of produce each year, due to weather and other factors. All CSAs require payment upfront, and costs can range from $150-$600 depending on the size of “share” you purchase. Generally, a full share produces enough to feed 2 or 3 vegetarians. The average season lasts 18-20 weeks and offers a variety of produce. Find out about CSAs near you.
Farmers Markets are springing up in cities and towns everywhere these days. They’re a great way to see what’s available in your area and provide an important link from the farms to the cities. You can find everything from fresh produce to locally made breads, cheeses, and other gourmet food items. Sometimes you can find fresh, local meats and fish, too. You can be almost certain that everything you buy at a farmers market has been grown, baked, caught, and produced locally. Find your local farmer’s market.
Roadside farm stands offer a variety of produce that has just been picked. Some are just shacks along the side of a country road that boast beautiful fresh produce and some are more permanent and fancy affairs that also offer jams, wines, gift baskets, and more. You’ll have the best luck finding farm stands off the interstate and closer to farmland. Take a side trip along a rural route and you’re sure to hit one during the summer months.
What’s better than a crisp fall afternoon picking apples… and eating them all? Pick-Your-Own Farms are gaining popularity again. Spend the afternoon with friends foraging goodies. Most Pick-Your-Owns have stands to sell hot apple cider, pies, and jams when you’re done. You can pick everything from peas to strawberries to flowers depending on what’s in season and what grows where you live. It’s often best to call ahead to find out what they have available to pick that day. Pick-Your-Own lists farms by state, along with crop availability and harvest schedules.
For those of us who live in cities but want to get our hands dirty, community gardens are a great way to dig in. Community Gardens make empty lots brighter and bring neighbors together. Some gardens focus on growing just flowers or food. Fees for joining a Community Garden are generally low, often free, and are generally priced by the size of plot you use a year. Check out the American Community Gardening Association.
Heather Humble lives in Cambridge, MA and likes to create delectable treats with local food from her CSA share and farmers markets.
UMASS CSA Page
The ultimate resource on CSA.
Find local food sellers and restaurants near you.
Robyn Van En Center for CSA Resources
The group that brought CSA to the US.
Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education
Learn about sustainable agriculture.