Instant Expert: 6 Ways to Eat Local All Year Long
With warmer weather on the horizon, it won't be long until you can start adding fresh-picked produce straight from the farm stand or farmers' market back into your daily diet. For a lot of us, spring and summer also marks a time when we start making major changes to what goes on our table, with fruits and vegetables more often than not taking the place of comfort and/or processed foods. And while we tend to focus more on better types of food, there's something else that deserves a little attention to — where it all came from. By now you probably know the benefits of eating locally and seasonally — supporting your local economy, reduced carbon footprint, a more diversified diet, food safety and point-blank, better tasting food. If all of these things sound good to you (and they should), then get started on your own local food journey by following these 6 easy tips. By the time fall rolls around, you'll be a pro.
1. Learn about what grows in your region and when. We're not asking you to pick up a copy of the Farmer's Almanac, but eating locally requires you to do a little homework. Knowing what foods are in season will help you determine whether something was grown in your neck of the woods and if it's going to taste good. And while some items, like that package of strawberries in the supermarket in Michigan in the middle of January, obviously weren't grown by your friendly neighborhood farmer, others can be a little more tricky. To find out the seasonality scoop for your area, Sustainable Table and Field to Plate have some really great guides and resources to help you stay informed.
2. Seek out local farms. This might not be possible for people calling the urban jungle home, but if you live out in the burbs or in a more rural area there's likely a farm or farm stand nearby, where you can pick up just-picked ingredients to take your cooking to the next level.
3. Shop at farmers' markets. Farmers' markets are not only a great place to pick up an array of seasonal, locally produced foods, they allow you to put a name and a face to the people producing your food. Farmers are usually happy to answer any questions you have about farming techniques, harvesting timelines and more, which is refreshing for anyone that feels frustrated by the lack of transparency in our food system. A label reading USA, Mexico or Peru doesn't really give you much to work with. You can also find a great selection of meats, cheeses, breads, fish and food stalls pumping out hot and tasty eats (which in itself is reason enough to go!).
4. Join a CSA. Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is a partnership between farms and local communities, in which CSA members pay in advance for a “share" of the farm's harvest for an entire season. Once the season starts, usually around the end of May or early June, members receive a box filled with a mix of freshly harvested produce every week until October or November when the season ends. A CSA is a great way to introduce local and seasonal foods into your diet, while also branching out and trying fruits and vegetables you would never have otherwise eaten, since what goes into your box is determined by what the farm grows and what's ready for picking. Some farms use a different system where you can visit their farm stand and pick and choose the items you want, including non-traditional items like baked goods and non-perishable items.
5. Grow your own. Whether you have a sprawling backyard or just a few feet of sunny countertop space, growing your own food is the ultimate way to eat locallyWhile a full-blown garden might be a little adventurous for someone just starting out, a container garden or kitchen herbs are perfect for getting your feet wet. Community gardens are another great options, especially if you're short on space, but are ready to branch out.
6. Pickle, preserve and freeze. Chances are, most of your favorite fruits and vegetables aren't available all year round. Sure you can still buy summer squash and fresh berries in the middle of winter, but they were more than likely transported thousands of miles to make it to your table. Not exactly local, is it? But that doesn't mean you can't enjoy your favorite foods all year long. Freezing, drying, pickling and bottling are just some of the many ways you can preserve fresh, local food to eat whenever you like.