Perhaps one of the easiest ways to drastically improve your health is to become a locavore.
New word for you? Thought so – cause it’s not one. But it is today!
Locavores are people who patronize their local farmers, growers, and producers for food, and commit to eating local as best they can. This means purchasing foods that have been grown in or around your area, and changing the foods you consume based on what’s in season.
When done with intention, it also means supporting diversified farms that practice sustainable agriculture and rotate crops and animals in order to cultivate nutrient-rich soil. This type of farming builds vibrant soil from the bottom up, and increases the nutrient content of the things grown in it, including fruit, vegetables, and the grasses that feed the animals who graze on it.
And bonus! You also get food that has virtually no “transit time,” which increases the preservation of the vitamins, minerals, enzymes, antioxidants and phytonutrients it contains. As a result, you take a part in reducing the enormous amount of fossil fuels used to fertilize, treat, and transport products of conventional monocultural farming – as well as manage the waste associated with Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs.)
Sold? Good, so am I. Let’s chat about how you can get on the eat local train, stat.
6 Ways to Eat Local
Eating local is usually defined as purchasing food grown within a 100-mile radius of your home. However, this can vary depending on what you’re comfortable with, and the things available in your area. (Use this super-cool mapping tool to help you select your chosen radius.)
While changing the source of your food may put you slightly out of your comfort zone, just think how empowering it will be to speak directly with the people who will feed you and your family.
And rest assured – even the smallest change will support your health, the environment, and the local farmers who value healing to our earth, and our food system. (I definitely maybe sounded a little crunchy right there, and I’m ok with that.) Start where you can, and commit to making additional changes when you and your family are ready.
1. Shop at Farmer’s Markets
Farmer’s markets are special places where the local farms from your area gather together to sell their products. Many cities – both small and large, host farmer’s markets on a weekly or bi-weekly basis so you can regularly stock your home with freshly picked produce. Because the farmer’s get to sell directly to the consumer and cut out the middleman, quality foods can be found at much more affordable pricing. In fact, farmers are typically more flexible with their prices, and will do promotions or sales on certain items throughout the year.
They’ll also work with you to give you special discounts on bulk orders because they have the flexibility to do so, and appreciate building relationships with their customers. So, dress to impress when you go and bring special presents.
Note: Not all farmer’s markets have the same guidelines, so be sure to ask each vendor a few quick questions about their farm’s location, how they grow/produce their food, and their strategies for pest management. Most of the time, they’ll be more than happy to explain it to you – and I bet they’ll probably invite you to their home/farm to see what they do personally!
How to Find Your Farmer’s Markets: The easiest way to find your local farmer’s markets is to visit the Farmer’s Market section on LocalHarvest.org. From there, you can put your city in the righthand search box and click “search” for a list of all of the markets in your area. You can also visit the USDA Local Food Directories to search out the registered farmer’s market in your area. Once you find the name and location of the farmer’s markets in your area – head over to Mr. Google and search the name of the farmer’s market to find the direct website. You’ll mostly likely find more specific information there about start dates and times.
2. Visit Your Local Farms Directly
Most of the farms you’ll find at local farmer’s markets have opportunities to either purchase or pick your own produce on-site. As you might have guessed – this food is often priced lower than what you’ll find at farmer’s markets because farmers don’t have to come to you to sell it. You can also find more opportunities to purchase food in bulk, which reduces the cost below most supermarket prices.
If your local farms end up being over an hour away, plan to make a trip every 3-4 weeks to get your food, and invest in an extra freezer to store your bounty. Much of the time, the food you are purchasing was picked or gathered that morning, and will last much longer than you expect.
Before you visit, see if you can schedule a tour of the farm. This is a great activity for the entire family because it’s educational, interactive, and gives you insight on where and how your food is made.
How to Find Your Local Farms: The easiest way to find your local farms is to visit the Farms section on LocalHarvest.org. From there, you can put your city in the righthand search box and click “search” for a list of the farms in your area. I recommend clicking the “back out” button on the map at the top in order to give you a radius that is 100-150 miles around you. You can find farms that will allow you to pick your own food at pickyourown.org. Scroll to the bottom of the website, and click on your state (or country), and then region. After your find the names of your local farms, do a search in Mr. Google to find their direct websites for more information.
3. Join a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA)
A community supported agriculture (CSA) is a way to invest in the farms around you. You purchase a “share” of the farm (or farms), and in return, you receive a portion of the harvest. Typically, you’ll receive a box full of local and seasonal produce delivered to your front door, or to a specific location nearby where you will pick it up each week.
Farmers provide CSA members with a list of expected produce throughout the year, and often include other goodies like recipes and guides on how to prepare specific items that show up in the share each week.
CSAs help local farmers because it provides funding upfront, and allows them to spend time in the fields during the growing season instead of trying to generate sales at farmer’s markets.
How to Find Your Local CSAs: The easiest way to find your local CSA is to visit the CSA section on LocalHarvest.org. From there, you can put your city in the righthand search box and click “search” for a list of the CSAs in your area. I recommend clicking the “back out” button on the map at the top in order to give you a radius that is 100-150 miles around you. You can also find local CSAs by searching “CSA” + your city, state (or country) in Mr. Google.
4. Learn What’s in Season
In the age of the supermarket, most of us are far removed from the growing season of the fruits, vegetables, and animal products we consume. Despite having “off” seasons, items like tomatoes and strawberries show up in the middle of winter thanks to shipments from other regions and countries.
Familiarizing yourself with what’s in season in your area will help you be able to discern what food at your farmer’s market or organic grocery store is truly locally grown. If you choose to continue to supplement with foods from conventional grocery stores, it also helps you know what to expect to find at your local farms (or farmer’s markets) on your next visit, and plan ahead accordingly.
Knowing the growing seasons of foods in your area also allows you to rotate meals each month, which means you to get the most nutrient-dense food available. This keeps food fun and exciting – and helps you from getting stuck in a “recurring meal” rut.
How to Find Out Your Seasonal Produce: To find out which foods are available in your area each month, visit sustainabletable.org and select your state + month. You can also use the Epicurious Peak-Season Map which will tell you what’s in season based on your state. For those in Europe, check out the BBC Seasonality Table, and for those in Australia, check out the Seasonal Food Guide.
5. Choose Restaurants That Source Food Locally
Restaurants that source food from local farmers are becoming much more popular. These restaurants are typically designated as “farm to table” restaurants, and change the menu based on what’s in season in the area.
Eating at farm to table restaurants is a great way to continue to support your local farms and consume high-quality food, even when eating out. Much of the time, you’ll find the local farms you buy from each week are the same farms being sourced for food in the restaurant. If a restaurant doesn’t display the farms they buy from on the menu, ask your server to provide you with the information. If they have no idea what you are talking about or are stumped, be suspicious.
How to Find Restaurants that Source Food Locally: To find restaurants that source food locally either in your area or while traveling, start by doing a search for “farm to table restart” + the city, state (or region) where you want to eat. You can also use eatwellguide.org, which allows you to search sustainable food based on your zip code. After you do your search, uncheck all of the boxes except for “restaurants” before hitting “view selected.” My favorite resource is LocalEats.com. Once you search your area, check the “Farm to Table” box on the left-hand side – which will give you a detailed list of locally owned, farm to table restaurants in that area.
6. Get Ultra-Local: Grow Your Own Food
For all you overachievers out there, growing your own food is the super duper way to eat local. While this may seem a bit more “involved” than you were going for – you may be surprised at how incredibly easy it is to start a small garden that can produce a substantial amount of food for you.
If you’ve never grown food before, you’ll want to start with things that are easier to grow like peppers or lettuce greens. These items can be grown in pots or containers, which make them easier to plant and manage.
And even if you don’t have good soil (and sun) available to you (ah, apartment living!), simple plants like herbs or Aloe Vera can be grown inside on window sills, which reduces your need for purchasing from “outside” sources.
How to Grow Your Own Food: The best way to figure out what food will grow well in your area is to visit your local garden center. Not only is this a great place to pick up materials, it’s also packed full of knowledgeable employees that are readily available to answer all of your questions. To learn more about some vegetables that are great to start with, check out this article.
And PS… here are my resources!
For separating and bagging produce, Mr. Coconuts and I use these reusable produce bags in all sizes when shopping at farmer’s markets, farms, and local grocery stores. We then use these large cooler bags to transport our eggs, meat, and produce to and from our destinations.
For post-purchase storing of berries and easily damaged fruit, I use these ceramic baskets for washing/storing items in the fridge.
Do you eat local food from your area? What changes have you experienced since consuming local food? Let me know below!