Farmer’s markets are everywhere. Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs have spread like, well, weeds. The word “locavore” has entered our lexicon.
At this point everyone has heard of “eating locally.” So what does it actually mean to eat locally, what are the benefits, and how can you do it Mr. Everyday Dollar style? I’m here to give you this information!
The term eating locally is usually based on “food miles” (and take-out from the Indian restaurant down the street doesn’t count).
The food cooperative – where I shop the bulk aisle – defines it as food that is sourced “within 150 miles of the city or anywhere in the state of Wisconsin.” The government definition is that “the total distance that the product is transported is less than 400 miles.”
Semantics aside, the whole movement can be attributed to Gary Nabhan, whose 2002 book Coming Home to Eat details how he ate only food that was grown within 250 miles of his Arizona home for an entire year.
Then, in 2005, Nabhan’s book inspired a group of women in San Francisco to try eating from within a hundred-mile radius of their homes for a month. This became the first “eat local challenge”, and the San Francisco Chronicle published an article about them.
Shortly after, writer Barbara Kingsolver moved from Arizona to Appalachia to begin living the life of a locavore with her family. She wrote about the experience in the 2007 book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. Nabhan had started a food revolution!
Benefits of eating locally
To me, it’s concerning to think that most of us live our lives disconnected from the source of our food. We mindlessly rely on a distribution system that can get us anything at any time. While I admit it’s logistically amazing that I can buy a fresh mango in the dead of a Wisconsin winter, there are reasons why that’s not necessarily a good thing.
- Ten percent of all fossil fuel energy consumption in the U.S. is due to food processing, transportation, storage and preparation. (Source)
- Buying local products gives farmers an incentive to diversify their offerings, rather than focus on a single crop. Diversified fields help protect the environment by producing crops that are more resilient against pests, extreme weather and disease. (Source)
- Processed food in the U.S. travels more than 1,300 miles on average to reach consumers. (Source)
- Produce in the U.S. travels more than 1,500 miles from industrial farms to the plate. (Source)
- If every U.S. citizen ate just one meal a week composed of locally and organically raised meats and produce, we would reduce U.S. oil consumption by 1.1 million barrels of oil every week. (Source)
- Small, family-owned farms reinvest a larger portion of their profits into their communities. While large, industrial farms often bulk order seeds, equipment, and products from distant companies, small farms are more likely to purchase operating supplies and services from other locally owned businesses. (Source)
- Only 9% of customers in chain supermarkets had a social interaction with another customer and 14% had an interaction with an employee, but at farmers’ markets, 63% had an interaction with a fellow shopper and 42% had an interaction with an employee or farmer. (Source)
3. Your health
- Local foods usually are allowed to ripen on the vine for longer, increasing the plant’s nutritional value. (Source)
- Farmers who sell their produce locally are more likely to choose fruit and vegetable varieties for their superior flavor rather than for their durability for travelling long distances. (Source)
How to eat locally and cheaply
There’s an assumption that eating locally is expensive. It certainly can be if you fork over $20 for a local organic chicken. But there’s a simple system that will allow you to eat locally and cheaply: Buy at the peak of the season, buy in bulk, and preserve.
In order to buy at the peak of the season, you’ll need to be able to gauge when that is. For instance, the first raspberries of the season will typically cost $5 for a tiny little container. At the peak of the season, there will often be a large surplus which drives the price down.
This is the appropriate time to buy in bulk. U-Pick farms are a great option, find one near you. At farmer’s markets, vendors – often growing seasonal products – will find themselves with a large surplus which they’re sometimes willing to discount when you buy large quantities.
Preservation can be accomplished using different methods. There’s canning, dehydration, pickling, even making jams and jellies. Here’s a tip – the quickest, easiest, and most economical method is freezing because there’s no startup costs besides freezer bags or containers.
That is the system to eat locally and cheaply. Let’s face it, it’s too expensive to be a true locavore and consume only food sourced within a few hundred miles. Considering all of the benefits above it is, however, beneficial for our environment, communities, and our bodies to become pseudo-locavores.
When you’re at the farmer’s market, or trying to offload zucchini from your overgrown garden, or struggling to use your CSA box, remember that most produce is easily frozen.
Below are some popular spring produce with links to freezing instructions (anything not listed is a Google search away):
- asparagus – how to freeze
- cherries – how to freeze
- rhubarb – how to freeze
- strawberries – how to freeze
- blueberries – how to freeze
- corn – how to freeze
- cucumbers – how to pickle
- eggplant – how to freeze
- peppers – how to freeze
- squash – how to freeze
- tomatoes – how to freeze
From late summer into fall it’s the season for:
- apples – how to freeze
- broccoli – how to freeze
- brussels sprouts – how to freeze
- potatoes – how to freeze
- mushrooms – how to freeze
- winter squash – how to freeze
The most exciting time is winter, when you open up the freezer and pull out local produce that you prepared just for this time. It doesn’t get much more satisfying than that my friends.