Thursday, May 5, 2011

Eat Chic: Local Food Options

Living "Green Chic" means you don't have to compromise good taste to have a positive impact on the planet and your own health. Even better, living "Green Chic" can open your eyes to a bounty of things that taste good!

As you may know, grocery store vegetables often come from all over the world, often times from farms in deforested rain forest climates. The farming practices aren't the only reason grocery store produce is bad for the environment. Then consider how far that produce has to travel and all of the fossil fuels used to get it where it's going. A large amount of organic produce sold in the US comes from Hawaii, even if you live in California that's a long distance for food to travel.

It's evident that grocery store produce is bad for the environment but what about your health? If it's not organic it's been grown in soil that is not very nutrient rich and sprayed with harsh chemicals to keep away pests making the nutritional value low and the rish for exposure to harmful chemicals high. And to make matters worse produce travelling from so far away has to be picked way before it's ripe so that it doesn't rot before it reaches the store. Many foods, such as tomatoes, are chemically treated to make them appear more ripe than they are. This is why a tomato that looks red at the grocery store may still be very firm and tasteless.

What other choice do you have? Believe it or not, even if you live in an urban area, chances are there are local farms that can provide you with most of the produce you need and maybe even the eggs, dairy, and meat you want. You may even have a neighbor that raises chickens for eggs that you could buy. Local food is all around us and isn't hard to find. You can often get great prices on local food if you look in the right places, making it a better option than purchasing from a grocery store all around.

Let's go over some of the local food buying options available:

~*~Farmer's Market: These are events that are usually held weekly or monthly through out the growing season (many towns also have winter farmer's markets for crafts, cheese, and specialty food items). Several farmers get together to sell their produce and you may also find eggs, cheese, specialty foods, meat, and crafts. This is a great way to meet your local farmers and find out what they have to offer. Farmer's markets are a convenient way to shop for local foods without having to commit to any one farm. You can also often purchase bulk vegetables if you ask, especially toward the end of the growing season. If there are lots of farms around you there may be more than one market worth checking out!

~*~Farm Stand: Aside from selling their goods at farmer's markets many farms will have stands on or near their farms. If you don't drive past one in your normal travels it may require an adventurous Sunday drive to find one. Farm stands will most likely have the freshest produce as they will refill it every day as opposed to other options that are weekly. Farm stands are great for purchasing in bulk and getting deals on produce that is close to going bad. Some farms, especially those with berries, will offer a pick your own as well.

~*~CSA (Consumer Supported Agriculture): If you eat a lot of vegetables and don't mind being suprised by what you get each week then this is a great way to get lots of fresh veggies every week at a great price and it is a great way to support a local farmer. It's kind of like buying stock in a business but instead of a cash return you get great local food. You purchase a share at the beginning of the season (you may need to sign up early depending on how popular CSAs are in your area) and then each week pick up a box of that week's harvest at a set destination (often times the farm). Some CSAs offer delivery or several pick up locations so be sure to choose one that works best for you. Remember, the closer the farm is to you, the better it is for the environment. Not all CSAs offer organic produce so ask your farmer about their farming practices before you commit. Becoming certified organic takes several years and can be costly so your local small farm may have organic practices without being certified. Depending on how many people you're trying to feed you may have leftover vegetables so be sure to know ahead of time what you'll do with them. Will you preserve? Share with a friend? Donate to a soup kitchen?

~*~Food Co-Op: These grocery store-esque stores are consumer owned (you could become a member to receive a part of the profits and have a say in what is sold). They sell a variety of products with a focus on local food. Depending on your co-op it may only sell local foods or it may sell a variety of natural, organic, and "regular" grocery items. These are a good way to buy local when you can't get what you need at the other options or need the convenience. Some food co-ops do require you to become a member to shop with them so be sure to ask!

Now that you know about the different options for buying food locally, how do you know what is available near you? Here are a few tips:

~*~Check out for a comprehensive list of farms in your area and all of the services they offer. Just type in your zip code and go!

~*~Look for signs along the road advertising farmer's markets. They usually list the time and location. Sometimes they are held it parks, churches, schools, or privately owned property.

~*~Try a Google search of your zip code and "CSA", "local food", or "farmer's market". There may be online resources specifically dedicated to local food in your area. Like VitalCommunities serving VT and NH.

~*~Ask around! You never know which friends, neighors, or coworkers have a local food connection. You may even discover some hidden treasures!

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