I know it sounds like I am just throwing around the hot buzzwords when I say this, but seriously, I LOVE local food. In other words, I love food that was grown or raised within a fairly short distance of where I am cooking and eating. There are multiple reasons for wanting to focus my cooking and eating this way. First off, it simply tastes better most of the time. Why? Because if you don’t have to pick your berries when they are mostly green so that they can ship across the country without getting smushed, then they taste better. (Or ever had eggs fresh from the farm, the taste difference between that and what you buy at the store is unbelievable.) Second, it supports local economies. Local food is often grown by small, independent farmers rather than big corporate entities. So, all the money stays local which certainly benefits my whole local community. Third, it reduces my environmental footprint. If my food was grown down the street it certainly has less environmental impact than if it was grown in another country or state and shipped here. Although there is some debate about whether is is “greener” to eat organically or to eat locally – if you can’t do both. I have seen several articles about this, and frankly I think local may often trump organic IF you must choose. Part of the problem is that getting certified organic though the USDA is often cost prohibitive for small non-corporate farms. So even though your local farmer might not be certified, they might be using organic practices that are safer for the environment and your health. OK and finally, it is usually cheaper! So: tastier, greener, economically & socially sounder, and cheaper. What is not to like?
There are few ways that I keep up with what is fresh and available in my local area. First off, I shop at least once a week at my local farmers’ market. Almost every community has one these day. In North Carolina we have 5 state run markets in the 5 largest counties in the state. They are permanent and open all year. Most other communities here have seasonal markets that are only open on the weekends during the growing season. I visit a few of those once in a while too because they will often feature specialty producers that don’t come to the main market. Surf around the internet and I’m sure you can find one that operates locally.
Another way to follow local trends in food and drink is read the local version of Edible Communities. Mine is called Edible Piedmont and the Summer 2010 issue just showed up with the other free periodicals outside of my local Whole Foods. The articles are really well written and the recipes always feature local produce and are often by locally famous chefs. If nothing else, the ads can give you a great idea of which restaurants and shops sell local food in your area. This issue features recipes with fresh tomatoes and peaches, two of my summertime favorites!
Another way I keep up with seasonal, local food is by being a member of a CSA. Community Supported Agriculture is a way to “subscribe” to a local farm and get a box of goodies from that farm every week. It helps support your local farmers and often exposes you to fruits, vegetable, and proteins (mine even gives us fresh cut flowers in our weekly box) that perhaps you wouldn’t buy normally. There are lots of ways to find out about CSAs in your community. One way is through is websites and organizations such as Local Harvest. You can also just google CSA and your state and you’ll find listings. Most CSAs will be closed for membership already for this year, but you can get yourself on a waiting list for next year so you don’t miss out!
You can also find local food blogs and participate in local chapters of organizations like Slow Food USA. Don’t get me wrong, I am not going to totally give up ingredients I love just because they can’t be grown in NC (artichokes anyone?) but I am trying to spend more of my time and dollars in this way. I think we all win. Eat Local!