Many New Years Resolutions center around health—from exercising to diet to other types of self improvement—because we all want to become our best selves. Eating locally is an easy and effective way to improve your health, your wellbeing and your social impact, while improving the community around you.
Most people think of fruits and vegetables as the only way to eat locally. While that is the primary way, there are many new ways to use your food dollars in your own community. From craft beers to artisanal pickles and handmade pasta, there are options all around us. As for protein sources, local dairies producing milk, cheeses and yogurts are on the rise, as are meat producers. And even local grains are starting to be grown—in DC, you can buy locally grown rice and wheat.
I understand that many of these items may cost more than a similar product at the grocery store. I get it! These locally produced items may not be for every day. Think once a week, or a couple times a month. Or choose one item that is important—like yogurt, for example—and commit to finding that item made locally.
And don’t forget fruits and vegetables! The availability of produce varies across the country, but even in New England, it is is possible to eat locally most of the year (maybe with some ‘cheating’ in the winter).
But how will this impact your health? Food made locally is often produced with less preservatives and chemical stabilizers. But the best step you can take is to make the fruits and vegetables the centerpiece of your table. In preparing the local produce, you can make healthy dishes using less fat, sugar and salt than in restaurant or convenience foods. And as you shift your food dollars from grocery store items to local foods, you may find that there are less processed foods in your pantry.
The second component of eating locally is eating seasonally. This might be difficult at first, but eventually it will become strange to eat green beans and tomatoes in the middle of winter.
I first started eating seasonally when I moved to the farm. The summer and fall were full of variety, peaches and berries and so many vegetables—and I was unprepared for the winter, when the fridge held carrots, beets, and cabbage. Eventually, though, I learned to love eating seasonally. It puts you in touch with nature, and makes those in season peas, beans and berries that much more amazing.
I also learned to preserve. For me, that has meant a lot of freezing. This year, we froze snap peas, loads of berries, zucchini, and more. I haven’t stepped into the canning game yet, but I want to someday. Canning will help you preserve many more flavors of the growing season.
While eating seasonally in the winter can be challenging, it is not impossible. Perhaps expand your thinking about what local means in the winter season. We eat lots of citrus alongside our local apples. We will buy greens for a salad if the farm is low on greens. We focus on seasonality, and good sourcing. But we always put the emphasis on what we can grow here.
Find your local farmers market and support it through the winter months. Try that weird looking vegetable. Ask the farmer for suggestions. I know that we always have several recipe ideas for each winter item, because we know that our customers might be skeptical of a celeriac.
Local Dollars Stay in Community
When you spend your money locally, that money stays in the community. It doesn’t get sent to a CEO’s bank account offshore, it goes into my pocket, or into the pocket of the producer. Then we spend it, locally of course. This effect multiplies many many times. Money spent at home stays at home and helps to build our own communities.
Support Your Farmer
Your farmer works hard all year round to grow food for you. Don’t abandon her in the winter months. That’s when her cash flow is the lowest, and when she is planning for the next season. She needs to know that you will buy her cabbage all winter long, or else she won’t grow it. If you buy it, she will grow it!
Your farmer is most likely supporting a family, or maybe dreams of leaving her part-time job to full-time farm. Your continued patronage through the winter shows her that the community is ready to buy locally year-round, and may allow her to take that risk to expand or build a storage unit, or to try some spinach in a low tunnel over the winter.
Your farmer wants to grow more for you! Let her do that, by buying what she has to offer now. Make it known that you want local food.
And in the summer, set aside a Saturday or two to preserve the bounty of the season. Freezing, canning, pickling—whatever you choose to do, make it a priority. Let your farmer know the week ahead of time that you need a case of tomatoes, or cucumbers, and he will set them aside for you, and give you a great price.
Know Your Food Workers
The recent LA Times article about agricultural workers in Mexico was a shocking wake-up call. I wasn’t surprised at what it revealed about labor practices, though. Even in this country, some of our largest farms mistreat their workers. Low pay and long hours are rampant in the industry. Most farms employ undocumented workers, because Americans don’t want the work. This may be true even at a farm local to you.
But at least you can easily find out. It may be near impossible to get a straight answer on the labor conditions behind a tomato you find at the grocery store. But a farmer at the market should be able to tell you, without hesitation, how his laborers are treated.
At our farm, we have apprentices, local workers, and H2A workers from Jamaica. They are all paid far above the minimum wage, and work hours that are long, but are not impossible. Most workers come back year after year, and feel sufficiently compensated. You can read their bios on our website, and talk them at our farmers market. We know whose hands picked those tomatoes, and we know they aren’t been mistreated.
Can you say the same about that tomato at the store in January?
Eat Local 2015
We understand that local food is sometimes more expensive, or can be harder to find. It doesn’t have to be a hard and fast rule (though we’d like it to be). But make eating locally a goal as much as you can — whether that means foregoing those tomatoes in the winter, or trying that kohlrabi at the market, or preserving some tomatoes from August — and you will find that rewards outweigh the difficulty. So, in 2015, eat local year round!