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The Hows, Wheres, & Whys of Eating Locally

University Farmer's Market


We have been eating loads of fresh, local goodies lately – it was fun to show off our local flavors with Kate last week! Actually, I’ve made a special effort to find local food in October as a part of the Eat Local Challenge.


We’ve been trying a local delivery service to supplement our farmer’s market goods and goods from the local food co-op. Last week our food miles averaged 166 miles, and we paid for a carbon offset for the delivery. Considering this included dairy, dry goods, and several staples in addition to a few mid-week veggies, that wasn’t bad!


I have had several questions over the last few months about how to find local food. I thought I’d answer them here, so those of you who are wondering can learn, and those of you who know can add to my list! Please do add any resources and thoughts in the comments – thanks!


The Buy Sustainably Challenge


Top 10 Benefits Of Eating Local, Seasonal, Organic Food


1. Supporting local farmers & local food diversity will be increasingly important in an economic crisis, as energy prices rise, as our climate continues to change, and as our food supply continues to become threatened by a loss of biodiversity.


2. Eating local food also allows you to have more power as a consumer to monitor where your food comes from, and how it is grown and raised. You also have a strong voice in the local government, so you can make a difference in food legislation.


3. If you eat seasonally, you will reduce the amount of energy used to store your food.


4. If you eat organically, you will reduce the amount of energy, pesticides, and herbicides used in growing your food. This has benefits for your health as well as the climate, our food and water supplies, and the natural environment.


5. If you eat locally, you will reduce the amount of energy it takes to transport your food.


6. The flavors and nutrients of local and seasonal food are generally much richer and more complex. The French have a term for the flavor of wine grapes that comes from growing conditions, soil, water, and place – called terroir. I believe all fruits, vegetables, dairy, meats, nuts, etc. have such potential. We just recently sunk our teeth into a local butter which was divine, with hints of cool, wet, luscious northwest clover. Just amazing.


7. If you grow your own or you purchase from local farmers, you may discover many varieties of different vegetables and fruits you’ve never heard of. This is how we found tayberries for the first time. Until recently I’d never seen kohlrabi in the stores, but I knew the taste well from my grandfather’s garden. In Geyserville, our carrots had multiple levels of complexity – some were spicy, some sweet, some with many other flavors I’ve just never tasted in a carrot.


8. When you buy from local farmers and grocers, your money remains within your local economy. Generally, your money will remain within your local economy much longer as it passes from that farmer to the local hardware store or the local feed store, and beyond. Whereas when you buy from a national or international chain, generally your money leaves your local economy as soon as it leaves your hands. In addition, more of your money goes directly to local farmers, so that they receive more of a living wage.


9. If the economy continues to get bad, a relationship with local food producers and sellers will become essential. Maybe one week you won’t have the money to pay for your produce, but a local farmer may just accept a barter for something you can offer him or her in exchange. And maybe some day a drought hits California, or an oil crisis makes trucking produce too expensive. By supporting our local economies now, we will have these systems in place when we really need them, and we will be able to support one another during difficult times.


10. Buying from local people encourages important personal connections within your community. I’ve learned so much more about my local region, having searched for local food providers. And what joy it is to talk with a local farmer about her particular variety of greens, to learn from another farmer about a new way to protect your tomatoes during heavy rains, or to discuss a new law that may be passed that will affect your local food supply. The stories that come from these interactions just make our lives so much happier, healthier, and more beautiful.


And lastly, it is important to remember that while some things may seem slightly more expensive to buy locally and organically, in the end, eating locally, seasonally, and organically is much less costly to your community; our air, water, energy, and natural environment; and the safety of our children’s food supply. We can reduce economic costs by shopping only for seasonal local produce, and by growing whatever we can in our own yards.


Locally Harvested Wild Edible Mushrooms


Where To Find Local Food


  • Farmer’s Markets

  • Locally-owned Groceries

  • Natural Food Co-ops

  • Organic produce delivery services

  • CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture – generally a farm you buy into so that you receive produce from it each week)

  • Local farms – they may sell to you, or tell you where their products are sold

  • Farm Stands (generally adjacent to your local farms, or located somewhere near the local farming district)

  • Produce Stands (often located in city neighborhoods, where several farmers sell their goods to a central produce seller)

  • Restaurants and Cafes Serving Locally-produced Food

  • U-pick Farms

  • Gather wild berries, greens, nuts, and other foods (Do be careful of those things that have been sprayed – check with your city parks department if you don’t know; and make sure you know what you are picking – if you aren’t absolutely sure what it is, do not eat it!)

  • Grow food in your own backyard

  • Grow food in a community garden, a friend’s garden, your parent’s garden

  • Barter with other gardeners (trade apples from your tree for lettuce from his garden, for example. Or even barter for a service, if you don’t grow food of your own – can you help prune or pick apples on the tree, or bake a pie, or help build something for your neighbor?)

  • Food Banks, if you are in need of extra food (Don’t be afraid to use this service if you need it – it’s very important for you and your children to eat fresh fruits and vegetables, and that’s what the system is set up for.)


If They Don’t Have It, Ask For It


Don’t forget the power you have as a consumer to ask for things you want to buy. If your store doesn’t carry something you want, ask. If one of the store’s distributors carries it, they’re likely to try out a product you ask them to carry. And if it doesn’t carry local food, tell them how important it is to you, and have your friends do the same. This is the only way it will change!


Squash at University District Market


How To Find These Resources In Your Area


  • Organic Consumers Association
  • Local Harvest
  • Eat Wild
  • Phone Books
  • Google search
  • Google’s local directory
  • Other local food bloggers – many local food bloggers have resources like this for their local regions.
  • Word of mouth – ask friends and family, ask other moms and dads at school, call your Chamber of Commerce, ask local farmers where they sell their goods, ask local restaurants where they buy their local produce, ask anyone who might know… or anyone who might know someone who might know! Don’t give up!
  • Please add to this list in the comments!  There are lots of readers from other countries here, and I don’t know any international resources, so please let me know of any resources in your country.


If You Don’t Have One, Build One


No excuses! If you don’t have any of these things, it’s time to form one. Past time. You will not be alone in wanting to bring local foods to your area. And some of your local farmers are probably very anxious to find a local niche. So gather your courage and do it!


Find or form a local group of people interested in helping you create a local food system, and start on it now. You can begin by forming a local community garden system, or by creating a farmer’s market once a week, or pushing local groceries to carry products from local growers.


There are many programs out there that exist in other regions, so you don’t have to reinvent the wheel here. Call a farmer’s market that does exist in a nearby city or town, explain what you’re trying to do, and ask them how they started. Contact a co-op in another area and ask them what works for them, what advice they can give you. Meet with them if they will give you the time. Call the Seattle Department of Neighborhoods and find out how their matching funds work for setting up our local community gardens, and what other incentives they’ve given Seattle residents. Also find out where they get their funding, and how they were able to create the program.


Don’t forget that just about everyone who is working on their communities is busy – and many doing this as a volunteer – so make sure you respect their time by have a prepared list of questions, thoughts, and issues you’d like to address. Most likely they will be very happy to help you start, and will be honored that you’re using their program as a model. But just make sure you are respectful!


Seasonal Food at Local Farmer's Market


Seattle-Specific Resources



Some local food companies we patronize for daily food:

 


Fresh Farmer's Market Saturday Lunch


What Else?


What have I missed? What other resources are there for finding local food? Please feel free to add specific programs in your neighborhood, so that anyone here from your region can find them, and so we can all find more examples in case some of us have to create our own!


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16 comments to The Hows, Wheres, & Whys of Eating Locally

  • I have to say that eating locally makes me feel more grounded, more attached to the seasons. I’m cooking squash now and eating pomegranates. We enjoyed the last of the watermelon and are watching tomatoes dwindle. It really reminds you that summer is over and we’re knee deep in fall.

  • http://communityharvestproject.org.au/
    now this site and group is just starting to get themselves running but certainly worth supporting if you are in the Hills around Mt Dandenong, Melbourne, Victoria… which is where they are starting and hoping to expand from.

  • Well said as always Melinda. As you know we have been growing our own food and eating locally for nearly two years now. Our local farmers market and the farmers who share their crops there have been our most valuable resource for learning about how to eat and produce local foods. Not only have they supplied us with food to supplement our own garden, but they have been more than willing to talk to us at length and teach us about what grows best and when in our local environment.

    Another valuable resource for us has been the community of bloggers (yourself included) where we have learned and been encouraged on our journey.

    Thank you for taking the time to share this post and provide a list of resources for new localvores.

  • This is a very comprehensive and thoughtful list. I want to add my vote for eating local, it really is a rewarding thing to do. For this time of year, in our area, it is so easy to do. Part two of this for anyone new to the idea might be what to eat in January, February, March?

    I love how both grocery stores that I do shop at, the co-op and a locally owned chain of grocery stores in my community (one of which is a block and a half from my house), have labels on all the products that are local/northwest grown.

  • Wow, comprehensive — just what I was thinking! Proud to know you!! Permission to post an excerpt, with attribution and likage, at the red mullet?

    risabee

  • Great.

    I’m hungry, dinner isn’t for another 2 hours, and I decide to read a post on eating locally. Thanks. :P

    I really think eating locally is about the flavor. Tomatoes — long my favorite food EVER — fell out of favor with me as I have only eaten non-local tomatoes the last year and a half. They just don’t taste the same at all. Anyway, I definitely try to eat local as much as I can. Which isn’t much. But I try. And influence others to try.

  • Über Comprehensive . . .

    In the progressive blogoshere there is an expression, What Digby Said. It is based on a blogger who is such an erudite, deeply researched writer it is hard to add anything. Great LA Times article explains this and the fact that everyone assumed for years that Digby was a guy – and they were wrong.

    You are our Digby, Melinda. You have done a beautiful job here with providing not only the information for Seattle, but a template for any region. A wealth for us to enjoy.

  • Great post! Especially your point about, “If you don’t see it, ask for it!”

    I’ve found that one talkative local food vendor can be a gold mine for finding other resources. Area farmers know each other; ask the person you got your cow from where to find wheat, and I bet she’ll know.

    I’m also seeing a growing need for local food distributors – people who will visit the individual farms and bring it to one place for consumers (and also restaurants and grocery store and institutional kitchens) to purchase. Like a farmers’ market that’s open grocery store hours!

    And finally…http://foodorigins.wikispaces.com/ lists the origins of some name-brand foods, like Eden Organic, Muir Glen, and Earthbound Organics.

    Emily

  • What a great list!

    We do a combo of CSA/Home Garden/Farm Market, and it really works out well. I’ve been able to freeze a lot for winter, and everything tastes so much better than it does at the store.

  • You should also list Bright Neighbor, especially for Portlanders (but also growing to other cities).

    Here is an independent review:

    http://peakoilhausfrau.blogspot.com/2008/10/bright-neighbor.html

  • This is a great post Melinda. I have another important benefit of eating local. It reduces overall garbage output and plastic usage. It took us a few months to notice our garbage had dwindled way down and it’s stayed that way for the last year. It’s rare we get a single use container for anything. Nearly every jar or berry basket is returned to the grower or vendor, plastic bags are reused if not phased out all together. Processed foods have become a thing of the past and so has their packaging. We actually consider the package as much as what’s in it when making a purchase. And it all started with those damned tasty local tomatoes and carrots. Thanks for all the great work and info. here.

  • Rob

    Another great list- I did not know that the eseential baking company was local! And they sell bread at my local trader joes! Another source I have discovered is the green grocer- in my case Duane’s Garden Patch- not all the fruitt and veggies are local or organic, but duane does try to stay local as much as possible and always can tell you where something came from.

  • Green Bean, Mmm, more grounded – interesting, I like that. It makes me very excited about the seasons.

    Belinda, It looks like it will be a great resource for your area! Thanks for leaving the link.

    Shibaguyz, Aw shucks. Thanks. A great point – that farmers are also important resources for how to cook local food! And definitely for growing advice.

    Deb G, Great idea for a part 2! : ) I plan to post lots of seasonal recipes over the winter, too, because I think that is often the hardest part of eating seasonally: what to do with that produce?!

    Ours also have labels telling where each item is from – with special labels for the local products. I love it!

    Risa B, Thanks again for posting the excerpt! Proud to know you too. ; )

    Stephanie, Them’s the breaks, eh? LOL. Flavor is definitely important! Essential to the Slow Food Movement, too. I’m glad you’re influencing others! I have a difficult time eating a salad in a restaurant now – there is no flavor or complexity…

    Katecontinued, Thank you. You are very sweet to say this, and it has put a big smile on my face. I’m glad that others are enjoying my words and my research.

    Emily, That’s a great resource – thanks for posting the link. I hope they continue to expand the database! I agree that there is a big need for local food distributors. On Monday I will post more about that, actually!

    Allie, We do a similar combo, of market, garden, and local food delivery. It makes me very, very happy!

    Randy, Thanks for adding the link!

    Katrina, Ooooh, I may have to redo my list because you’re totally right! How did I miss that?? The other day I was sitting around a table with several people from my sustainable neighborhood group, trying to write a waste reduction grant proposal. We were brainstorming about ways to reduce waste, and I said very similar words to yours here! Very important. Thank you – I knew you’d have something wonderful to add! : )

    Rob, Glad you found a new resource – yes, the bakery is over near Gasworks Park. I have a friend who works there. : ) Duane’s Garden Patch sounds like a nice spot.

  • [...] I have written recently about eating locally, and where to find local food sources.  In that post, I also mentioned that if you don’t have a local food supply, it is time to build one in your community.  Many of you have expressed an interest in learning more about how to do that.  So I have a story for you! [...]

  • I enjoyed your post. If I may, I would like to suggest my farm web site.

    Sumas Mountain Farms is the only producer of 100% certified-organic, lifetime grass-fed & finished beef in the Lower Mainland of BC (Canada). We also offer chicken, eggs, pepperoni, jerky, salami, sausage, farmer sausage, and more.

    Because our beef is 100% grass-fed & finished, the quality of the meat is exceptional, and the flavor is unsurpassed. Plus, it is more nutrient-dense and packed with healthful Omega-3′s than conventional beef, which is healthier for you, your family, and the planet.

    Please visit http://www.sumasmountainfarms.ca/ for more information!

  • Regena Seykora

    My friends and I are opening a new business, specifically a coffee shop, so I am online doing a bit of research. Reading your posts have give me some great things to think about, so thanks for the new ideas.

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