Living Green: 10 Ways to Be a Locavore
Think of the fruits and vegetables you've had in the past 24 hours. Do you know where they were grown and when they were picked?
Those are tough questions to answer if you're not a locavore -- someone who eats locally produced food, whether from nearby farms or their own backyard.
"Basically, the idea is, how can I get food to travel as short a distance as possible from being produced to my plate?" says Jesse Miner, a natural foods chef in San Francisco.
Along with supporting community farmers and lowering greenhouse gas emissions, the benefits of eating local foods are in the quality and taste, says Miner. "Just imagine what it takes to get a peach several thousand miles. They have to get picked rock hard before they ripen, and then they have to be artificially ripened. It's not the same as getting something that's been delicately (transported) 30 miles from the local peach farm."
It may seem like a lot of effort, but there are many easy ways to incorporate la vida locavore into your everyday routine. Here are 10 tips for eating locally this summer:
1. Know Your Local Produce
Learn what foods grow near you. Not sure where to start? Many areas have online resources. Miner uses the Center for Urban Education and Sustainable Agriculture to see what's growing in the Bay Area. The Eat Well Guide and the 100 Mile Diet website are also useful in determining what's "local" for you.
2. Know Your Farmer
Connect with local growers at farmers markets in your area. You'll learn what goes into cultivating your food and become a savvier shopper. Dan Sutton, who runs The Locavore Network website, suggests this handy search tool to find growers near you. He also suggests participating in dinners hosted by local growers, such as the Farm to Fork events in Oregon and Farmers' Dinners Series in Vermont.
3. Know What to Eat
"Know how to select fresh produce, know when the flavors will be at their peak, and how to store the product properly," says Sutton. Here's a comprehensive chart on the Locavore Network for vegetable selection and storage tips. Miner recommends Field Guide to Produce: How to Identify, Select, and Prepare Virtually Every Fruit and Vegetable at the Market as a basic guide to buying produce.
4. Start a Cycle
Learn what grows when, and consume only what's in season, says garden writer Susan Heeger, co-author of From Seed to Skillet: A Guide to Growing, Tending, Harvesting and Cooking Up Fresh, Healthy Food to Share with People You Love. She and her husband eat mostly out of their garden, and whatever's ripe determines what they cook. Eating according to the agricultural calendar allows you to fully enjoy food "as pleasures of their season," says Heeger. The Locavore Network allows you to select your state and see what's in season at local markets.
5. Grow Your Own Food
"If you really want to get local, put it in your backyard," says Miner. Try to grow as much as possible at home -- if not in your yard, perhaps by a window or on your driveway. Heeger suggests lettuce, herbs, tomatoes, peppers and scallions because they do especially well in pots. (The Howcast website has a how-to video on growing herbs indoors.) If your square footage is limited, you might consider window farming -- a way for city dwellers to grow food inside by using only the space near a window.
6. Think Twice
"When you're shopping at your local grocery store, think about each item you put in your cart and consider the distance it had to travel to get to you," says Aja Tahari Marsh, a natural foods chef in New York City. A few things she keeps in mind: Melons aren't intended to be eaten in the winter (unless you live near the equator), bananas will always have to travel a long distance to get to you, and packaged foods typically take many resources from all over the world to create.
7. Join a Community Garden
In addition to providing growing plots for people who lack garden space, the community aspect is invaluable, says Heeger. "Gardeners of many ages, backgrounds and levels of expertise come together to share knowledge, tips and -- often -- fresh produce," she says. The American Community Garden Association has a directory to help find your nearest community garden.
Gathering wild, uncultivated plants native to your area is another way to eat locally. Chelsea Green has a guide to edible foods throughout North America.
9. Preserve a Local Food
Just because something is in season doesn't mean you have to eat it right away. Dry apples, can tomatoes, or make strawberry jam, and you'll be able to enjoy your local produce months later. Get tips on how to ferment, pickle and store at the National Center for Home Food Preservation website.
10. Make an Investment
Sign up for delivery of a weekly or biweekly community-supported agriculture (CSA) box of vegetables from a local farm. For busy people who want to eat local, "a CSA is the best bang for your buck," says Miner. "You pay a farm upfront and invest in them as a business." In return, you'll receive whatever is growing at the farm that week. He and his family receive their CSA box from Eatwell Farm in Dixon, Calif. Lately, they've enjoyed strawberries, lettuce, fava beans, kale, chard, spring onions, and green garlic.
Keep in mind that eating locally doesn't always mean saving money. "Sometimes you'll have to pay a little bit more because you're supporting someone who doesn't have a mass scale of operations," says Miner. He says the trade-off is more quality control, better-tasting food, and a lower toll on the environment.
Keep reading: From the Neighborhood Farm to Your Kitchen Table
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