Buying local is one of those green buzz words we hear about. It simply means buying food (or other things) that were produced close to where we live. There’s a whole movement to encourage buying local and people who are pretty strict about it are called locavores.
The idea is simple. If we buy local, there is less gas used to ship the food where it needs to go, so we are reducing fossil fuel consumption, pollution, and overall saving energy when we choose local products. The food is fresher if it’s shipped shorter distances, so it tastes better and lasts longer. Food also loses nutrients after being picked. If we buy local, we’re getting more nutrients in our food. We are also supporting our local economy and helping our own area thrive.
There are arguments about whether organic or local produce is better. Many people argue that buying local is more important from an environmental stand point than buying organic. They say, if given the choice between local and organic, we have more of a positive effect by choosing local. There are those who say organic before local for our health. They argue we don’t want to eat pesticides ever, so we should always buy organic, but if we have the choice of local organic, that’s what we should choose. Then there are those who believe there are pros and cons to both, and when you factor everything in, local and organic are the same.
To make things even more confusing, some local produce may be organic and just not certified as such. The process to obtain certification through the USDA is costly and time consuming. Many small farms simply can’t do it, but they still grow their food organically.
I’m of the buy organic, and local if I can camp. I’ve been really trying to improve my local buying, however. If you’ve been thinking about trying to buy local, here a few simple ways to do it.
1. Buy In Season
With all the shipping going on, we can get virtually any produce year round. But those blueberries in the store in January aren’t local. They’re probably not even from the U.S. If it’s in our gardens right now or our neighbors have it in theirs, the produce is in season. Another way to tell is price. In season produce is less expensive than the same produce in the off season. The in season produce is often in big bins in the front of the store with sales all over. When there’s a lot being harvested, the price drops. Buy it at the store. Tomatoes are in season right now. Buy them up and can them for the winter if you don’t have them in your garden.
2. Read The Labels
A lot of grocery stores mark where the produce is from, or they have stickers on them that say where they were grown. You’ll have to decide how far is acceptable for you to consider the produce local. I live in Southern California. There’s produce around here all the time, so maybe I can choose a shorter distance than someone in New York who wouldn’t have much produce in the winter if they didn’t get it from Florida. Read the labels and walk away if it doesn’t fit your criteria for local. I passed up apples this week. They aren’t in season right now and my only option was from Chile. Too far for me.
3. Join a CSA
CSA stands for community supported agriculture. Typically it’s a farm or group of small farms that get together. You sign up and pay. Then every week you receive a box full of local produce. Frequently it’s also organic, just not certified because of the small size of the farms. If you join a CSA you’re getting local produce and supporting your local farmers.
Some CSAs require you go to a pick up location once a week for your box. I joined Farm Fresh To You. They deliver to my door. Again, nice being in Southern California where the farms can do that.
If you join a CSA be aware you don’t get to choose the produce you get. You get what’s in season and what’s growing. Sometimes there are veggies you’re not familiar with or don’t like (turnips). Try them, find new recipes, give them to your neighbors who like them, feed them to your tortoise. A lot of them are pretty good (leeks, anyone?). Also, here the CSAs are year round. They’re seasonal in places with snow.
4. Visit Your Farmer’s Market
Farmer’s markets are populated by local farmers. Again, they’re produce if often organic, just not certified. The lovely thing about the farmer’s market is you can talk to the growers. Ask them if their produce is organic. Ask them how to prepare a new veggie. They like to talk and educate the public about their farming practices. You might even score an invite to visit the farm. If they’re not forth coming, move on and patronize another farmer at the market.
Do you buy local? Any other tips to make buying local easier?