Buying Local Foods: It’s Not As Hard As You Think


Photo by Getty Images

Photo by Getty Images

Now that spring is well underway, there is no better time to start thinking about where to get fresh, local foods. Most grocery stores offer a great selection of fresh, whole foods, but much of it travels thousands of miles before it even reaches the shelves. Although it’s not readily apparent, there are plenty of easy ways to get ultra-fresh, delicious, locally produced, seasonal, whole foods that don’t require taking up gardening or driving 100 miles out to the farm (unless you want to of course)!

Why should you care about eating locally? I will let Michael Pollan explain. Pollan is a professor, investigative journalist, and author whose work focuses on food, nature, culture, the environment, health, and much more.

Below, I have listed some ways to get these locally produced, fresh, and whole foods that Pollan talks about.

Farmers markets
At a farmers market, a group of farmers sell their products directly to customers once, twice, or even several times a week at a designated public location. I like farmers markets because it’s a great way to meet and buy from a variety of local farmers. And, you can get as much or as little as you’d like. Some farmers markets even have live entertainment, activities for kids, or other types of non-food vendors.

Pick your own
Pick-your-own (also called U-pick or PYO) farms are what their name implies: Farm operations that allow customers to come to the farm and do the harvesting themselves. Over the summer, I really enjoy picking berries at our local farm, and they are quite affordable compared to the grocery store. Pick your own is one great resource for finding a farm near you.

Food hubs
Food hubs generally serve as a location for local farms to drop off their products as well as a pick-up point for distribution streams (grocery stores, mobile food markets, etc.) and customers who want to purchase food from local farmers. Most people will never directly purchase food from a food hub; however, it’s good to be aware of their existence because they are an important step in bringing many locally produced foods to Americans.

Food Co-ops
Food cooperatives are worker or customer owned retail stores or buying clubs that provide high-quality grocery items and many locally produced foods. Search for co-ops near you at Local Harvest and Coop Directory Service.

Your very own grocery store
Your grocery store may sell locally produced foods. Take a good, hard look next time you are at the grocery store and see if you can find any locally produced foods by checking out signs and labels! For example, my grocery store will sometimes feature local, in-season produce near the entrance.

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Photo by Getty Images

Community Supported Agriculture (CSA)
CSAs are a popular way for people to buy local, seasonal food directly from a farmer. Here’s how it works:

  • A farmer offers a certain number of shares to the public. A share is a box of produce (or other farm products such as herbs, eggs, milk, meat, cheese, baked goods, flowers, etc.).
  • People (you!) can purchase shares (and become members/shareholders) by making one payment at the beginning of the season.
  • Shareholders will then be able to pick up their shares from a designated location once a week throughout the entire farming season.

CSA operations can take many forms:

  • Instead of offering a standard box of farm products each week, some farmers allow shareholders to choose and load their own boxes on site. They then donate the “unwanted” products to a food bank.
  • In some cases, labor on the farm is accepted as whole or partial payment for a CSA share.
  • Sometimes, several farmers in a particular area will partner up and offer their products together. This offers a wider variety of products to their members.
  • In some areas, third party operations purchase products from several different farms and then sell CSA shares to the public.

I love the idea of CSAs because you get to develop a relationship with the farmer who grew your food and you get the unique opportunity to taste and cook foods you wouldn’t try otherwise (The items in CSA shares tend to change from week to week – you never know what you’re going to get!) Eat Well Guide and Local Harvest are great resources to help you find a CSA in your area.

 

Here are some resources to help you in your quest to find local flavors:

Eat Well Guide is a comprehensive search engine for all things local, organic, and sustainable including grocery stores, butchers, restaurants, CSAs, farms, bakeries, farmers markets, and more. This site also includes an Eat Well Everywhere tool which helps you find local, organic, and sustainable food en route.

Local Harvest includes a vast directory of farms, farmers markets, food co-ops, CSAs, and much more. Plus, you can actually purchase food (and seeds for your own garden if you have one) from the website directly from farmers!

Pick Your Own offers a comprehensive list of pick your own farms in the U.S. (and other countries)! This site also includes some resources for canning, freezing, drying, and other ways to preserve your food.

Local Food Directories by ATTRA offers listings of local food source directories and promotional programs that is user-friendly and searchable by state.

US Department of Agriculture Farmers Market Directory is a one stop shop for finding and shopping at a farmers market in your area.

Coop Directory Service is a directory service focused on food co-ops across the U.S.

 

Hopefully we’ve left you with a better idea of how to support your local farmers and find the freshest, seasonal products as an alternative to the standard fruits and vegetables that have traveled far and wide to your grocery store. Get out there and have fun learning about the local fruits, vegetables and other types of foods in your area! Make it an outing with your family and/or friends this summer and explore some of the resources we talked about here. Let us know how YOU get your local foods!

If you have questions or comments, feel free to ask away below!

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