I’m sure that you’ve heard things like ‘eat local’ and ‘eat sustainable’ but how? And what if you live in an area (like me), that only has a farmer’s market in the summer? How do you eat local then? And really what’s the point anyway? Not to mention the questions, “What if I’m on a fixed income?” or “Doesn’t it cost more that way?”
Lets start by understanding what ‘eating local’ means and move from there.
‘Eating Local’ means that you purchase and consume products that are produced in your area. This could mean shopping at your local farmers market. Don’t know if you have a farmer’s market in your area… there are some great sites out there to help you with that! Local Harvest lists farms, farmer’s markets, restaurants, grocers, and others by zip code. The USDA also has a farmer’s market search engine found here.
Another way of eating local is to purchase your meat straight from a farm. Usually if you purchase this way you are required to buy either one quarter, a half, or a whole beef or buffalo. This way you can purchase grass-fed meat from a local farmer and get your steaks and other cuts for nearly the cost of ground beef from your local grocery store! How can you find a farm near you? Check out eatwild’s site! And if you can’t find a farm near you to buy good beef you can always purchase meats from US Wellness Meats.
CSA’s are another alternative. CSA stands for ‘Community-supported Agriculture’ According to Local Harvest:
“Here are the basics: a farmer offers a certain number of “shares” to the public. Typically the share consists of a box of vegetables, but other farm products may be included. Interested consumers purchase a share (aka a “membership” or a “subscription”) and in return receive a box (bag, basket) of seasonal produce each week throughout the farming season.”
The great thing about CSAs is that depending on your farmer, your basket can include anything from eggs, homemade bread, meat, cheese, fruit, flowers or other farm products along with their veggies. It all depends on the farmer. Since you are buying direct from the farm, the products that you receive from your basket will be at peak freshness/ripeness. You don’t have to worry about your produce being picked 3 weeks ago, being sprayed with gas to prevent ripening and then traveling halfway around the world!
An option that is similar is called ‘Pick Your Own’ or ‘You Pick’. Some CSA will offer you a discount if you want to help with the harvest. Pick your own is not just limited to apples or strawberries. I have seen farms where you can even volunteer to help with animals if you have some basic animal knowledge and are so inclined. If you would like to find a ‘Pick Your Own’ where you live check out PickYourOwn! If you can’t find one near you there are options like Bountiful Baskets or Food Buying Clubs (more on those later).
Just remember that CSAs and Pick Your Own is only limited to the imagination of your local farmer. If they don’t offer something that you would like to see? Let them know! EVERY farmer that I have met that has opened their farm to the public has always said that they wish more people would tell them what they wanted so they could make it happen for them!
Farmers that sell directly to the consumer make money when you buy from them. If they knew that there was another way to get more of your business they would most likely oblige!
The whole point of eating local is to encourage growth in the economy that you live in. If Farmer Bob is raising cattle, has chickens that lay and sells some veggies on the side, wouldn’t you rather give him your money than send it China and get meat, eggs, and veggies that have traveled across the globe, been sprayed with chemicals and don’t taste as good (since they weren’t picked when they were fresh)!?! The other thing that most people don’t realize (I know I didn’t) is that farmers are pretty restricted when it comes to the prices that they can sell their products for. Most farms sell their products to food processing companies, these companies may or may not alter the product, and then in turn sell that product, with their label on it, to the grocery store, which in turn sells the product to you, the ‘end’ consumer. As you can see when you buy something at the grocery store, a very SMALL percentage of the money actually goes to the farmer. So when you buy straight from your farmer, you are cutting out the middle men and letting him make the profits! I know that the commodities markets change almost every day, but I found this little tidbit in regards to a gallon of milk, “August 2011, on average, consumers paid $3.40 per gallon and producers received $1.53.” (source) This means that if you were to purchase your milk straight from the farm that the farmer would earn $1.87 MORE on each gallon. That is more than double! So if the farmer cut his herd in half and just sold directly to the consumer, he would still make more money than he would if he sold to a food processing company. This means half the work for the farmer for more profit than he’s currently making! This doesn’t even touch all the transport costs, gas, and chemicals that can be cut straight out of the equation! I could go into this more deeply… I sense another article coming. All that to say, most of the time a farmer will be able to sell you his product for much less than you would pay at the store.
As a consumer it is MOST important for you to realize that when you purchase things with your hard earned money, that you are voting. “Money makes the world go round” is a famous quote, it is sung about in songs, and written about in books. When you have control of the money, you have power. You have the power to make changes just by where you decide to spend your money! Which would rather support slave labor in a foreign country, or your neighbor?
Please keep in mind, when it comes to your local farmer, communication and respect are key! This is not ‘public’ property, it is their home and their land, and they have been gracious enough to open it to you! Be respectful, walk where they walk, keep control of your kids, and don’t ask to use the bathroom unless it is an emergency. Treat their home the way that you would want them to treat yours and they will thank you for it!
If eating local seems like something that you would like to do then make the jump and go for it. You will get to meet new people and discover new things and save money along the way. It make take some more effort than just driving a cart around a store, but it will be worth it. And the flavor? Lets just say, nothing tastes better than something that you had to work for! So what’s in season where you live? Check out the interactive map over at Simple Steps.
If you decide to make the jump or have years ago, let me know! I’d love to read your story!