Supporting local and sustainable food benefits not just us, but also Mother Earth. The basic idea is to transcend marketing labels like “all-natural” and “USDA Organic,” and foster a real, authentic connection to the food we eat. More specifically, try to buy and eat food that is grown within a 100-mile radius and from farms that raise animals humanely. Prioritizing these two criteria will usually result in finding produce, grains and meat that is grown naturally without hormones, pesticides and other chemicals.
The decision to eat locally and sustainably yields ample positive effects. Besides feeding yourself and your family healthier food, you will support local economies and reduce fossil fuel emissions (buying a zucchini from the farm down the road uses a lot less gas than one that is shipped from Mexico). Overall, you will get fresher, better quality food, and rediscover the genuine joy of cooking and eating the bounty of the Earth without harming it.
But where to start?
Here are some easy initiatives to get involved with eating locally:
1. Shop at farmers’ markets.
With the bounty of summer upon us, there are farmers’ markets everywhere you look. Most take place on the weekends, but many areas have midweek markets as well. Shopping at a farmers’ market allows you to buy directly from the source and even meet the farmers who grow your food. They are energizing community events that usually involve live music and fun for the kids.
The Internet is a treasure trove of information on all things sustainability. Simply Google your location and ‘farmers’ markets’ and you should come up with times and locations. For example, a complete listing of Massachusetts’ farmers’ markets can be found at www.massfarmersmarkets.org
2. Join a food co-op.
If you do not have time to go to the market, you can join a local food cooperative, or co-op. A co-op is essentially a grocery store that is owned collectively by its members and carries local and natural foods. Like going to the farmers’ market, joining a co-op will inject an automatic sense of community into your shopping process.
3. Plant a potted herb garden.
I know, I know, taking on another project right now is a lot to ask. But the minimal work of planting a potted herb garden is vastly outweighed by its benefits. Herbs provide the most flavor in any dish and cooking with fresh ones from your own porch/backyard/windowsill will be incredibly rewarding. Simply go to your local gardening store or farmers’ market, choose your favorite herbs, put them in a pot with dirt, place them somewhere that gets sun, and water them once a day. That’s it.
4. CSA: Community Shared Agriculture.
Another awesome way to procure fresh food is to buy a CSA subscription to a local farm. Community Shared Agriculture is when you pay a flat rate (usually per 10 or 12 week season) to receive a weekly box of produce directly from a farm. The box is either delivered right to your door or available for pick-up, depending on the farm. For more information, check out http://www.localharvest.org/csa/
5. Eat at farm-to-table restaurants and food trucks.
For the nights when shopping and cooking seem like too much, there’s always farm-to-table cuisine, an increasingly popular trend in restaurants. Whether you want something fast or a formal dining experience, farm-to-table chefs cook with fresh, seasonal ingredients from local farms and markets. Use websites and mobile apps like www.yelp.com or www.urbanspoon.com and search ‘farm-to-table’ in your area. Enjoy!