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Buying your food local is a great way to source your food. Locally grown food is fresher and often just tastes better. Test it for yourself, compare locally grown fruit or vegetables to the same items found in a grocery store that has been caught up in the transportation process and had to ripen during this process instead of in the field.
I have heard from a nutritionalist who does this exact test with cucumbers in her nutrition classes, one is from a grocery store and the other is from a local farmers market. She does this to show her students that healthy food does taste good, but where and how it is sourced can make a big difference.
Buying locally helps to support local businesses which directly helps to build your community. And it has a smaller impact on the environment since there is a shorter amount of transportation involved, which results in lower amounts of fuel needed and emissions from various transporting vehicles. It also reduces the transportation costs, which can add to savings for you when it comes to the price of whatever you are purchasing.
Another thing I love about buying locally is being able to get to know who I am getting my food from and how they raise or grow it. I shared in my post, The Pursuit of Wellness, how I use a local farm for my grass fed beef. This is not certified organic but the farm’s practices meet my needs when it comes to purchasing beef.
Depending on the time of the year and where you live can make a big difference in the availability of locally grown food. In the Northeast USA, where I live, it is much harder during the late fall and winter months to find much locally grown produce that my family consumes on a regular basis. During these seasons I am thankful to be able to still purchase fruit and vegetables that are shipped into my grocery store. However, I love the Spring and Summer months when we have access to so much variety and amount of freshly grown produce.
There are many ways to find and buy items from your local farms and gardens, especially with being able to search online. You can find produce, meat, eggs, cheeses and other dairy products, honey, jams, canned or pickled items, wine, personal products and much more. These options listed below for where to buy local might vary for you, depending where you live and how rural or cosmopolitan. Here are some of my top ways to find and buy local items.
Shop at Farmers Markets or Roadside Produce Stands
To purchase local produce you can go to a local Farmers Market and usually find a number of local farmers selling their goods. It is a great place to compare prices and be able to ask questions. I have also received a number of recipes and cooking tips too, especially for a fruit or vegetable I am not accustom to using. And there are deals that can be found or maybe even made with negotiation depending on the quantity being purchased, how ripe an item is and how close to closing time it is depending on the farm.
Many Farmers Markets have websites where they list all their vendors, sometimes with a map to their locations in the market. This is a great way to look into the farms to learn more about their growing practices or how they raise their animals before even visiting their stands.
There are times where a farm will offer bulk savings when they need to move ripe produce that will go bad if they hold onto it much longer. Take advantage if you can find one of these deals, especially if it is an item that you can easily freeze or potentially can. I recently purchased 2 boxes of organic blueberries that totaled approximately 9.5 pints for just $10! I would have only been able to get 1 pint for that much at my local grocery store at this time of the year. They were amazing, we ate them by the handful and had oat blueberry pancakes for dinner. I made a simple sugar free blueberry compote to have with them. Then I froze the rest so we can have organic blueberries whenever we want. For that price, I almost wish I had bought another box. Random blueberry tip: If you freeze blueberries without washing them first they hold up better, without getting overly mushy, when thawing.
Some Farmers Markets also have auctions for different types of products, including produce. It is definitely an interesting experience to be able to bid on a large quantity of produce. A friend of mine recently got a huge box of organic celery for $2.50! One tip I received at one of these events was to scout the items being auctioned to determine if the freshness and quality is worth the bid you might make. These items can be fully ripe or just past their prime and is where the farmers are looking to recoup anything on the produce before having to get rid of it.
There are a number of farms that are large enough operations that they have their own farm market. These can vary in size and emphasize what is grown and/or raised on their farms. Many will partner with local farms in the area that grow items or make products that they do not do themselves, so that they can offer a great variety to their customers. Some even have bakeries or small restaurants that make amazing goodies with all the fresh local ingredients that they sell.
Get to know where the best roadside produce stands are located in your area. It could be a large and formal looking spot or a small stand at the front of a farm or someone’s house with a money drop box.
Some of the small operations are the best, often the produce is picked that day. One of my favorite experiences is a cute place that is near my old house. I stopped one day to buy some summer squash and they did not have as much as I wanted, the women said to wait a minute and came back in with some she just picked from behind the stand. Talk about fresh! These stands can definitely be the next best thing to growing it yourself.
Purchase a Community Agriculture Share (CSA)
Another way to shop and support local farms is through a Community Agriculture Share (CSA). This is often purchased before the beginning of the harvest season, they tend to do Spring through Fall in my area of the country, roughly 20 weeks or so. It is a set cost and you get a share of the crop.
This helps the farmers to pay for the upfront costs of planting and tending to the crop before they are able to sell it. It also helps smaller farms lift some of the uncertainty of some crops, since the larger group helps to share in the risk as well as the reward.
Most times you will received a weekly share of all the produce grown and harvested. There can be different share sizes to allow you to pick the one that is best for your family size and eating habits. Some CSAs will allow you to shop for the produce you prefer based on a point system.
You either pick up your share at the farm, farmers market or another pickup location that has been arranged. These are often on set days and at set times.
There are a few CSAs that will allow you to work at the farm. One I saw near me was a certain amount of hours needed to be worked throughout the growing season and ALL produce was free. That really is the “work for what you eat” concept being put into practice. There are also ones that will offer a reduced share price for a specific amount of time that is worked.
Be sure to read all the terms of whichever CSA you decide to use to ensure that it will be a situation that will work for you and your family. And that the growing practices meet your concerns and expectations. Also, check what produce they expect to provide so you can determine if you will need to supplement your share with other produce items that are staples for your family.
Pick Your Own
There are a number of farms and orchards that specialize in Pick Your Own for the fruits and vegetables they grow. Some of our favorites to pick are strawberries, blueberries, apples and pumpkins.
Often you can save some money by picking it yourself. You also get to determine the quality of each item you pick. It can be a fun activity and tradition with the family to go pick together as well as making all the homemade goodies later.
Shop Local Natural Food Stores
There are many natural food stores all across the country that find farms to source their products from that are usually local and either certified organic or naturally grown. These stores tend to provide access and more convenience to the healthier foods you desire without the need to go to your local farmers market during their set days and times of operation.
Most Natural Food Stores have very knowledgable staff that can help with any questions you might have or direct you if you have any health concerns on what natural remedies can be found in the store. They tend to value educating their customers as well as providing the natural foods and products you are looking to purchase. Some even make their own food that can help with dinner on a busy night, instead of stopping by the nearest fast food restaurant.
Also, they can be a great way to try out the products of a local farm before committing to a CSA for 20+ weeks or purchasing part of a cow or pig. My friend that recommended the farm we purchase our beef from actually found them through a local Natural Food Store that sells their beef.
Shop Grocery Stores that Source Locally Grown Produce or Healthier Food Choices
Some grocery stores in my area have been including locally grown items in their produce section. These are clearly marked and even marketed during the summer months. This might be a way to start to incorporate locally grown items into you diet instead of relying on what has been transported all over the country to make it to your grocery store.
Many grocery stores are also carving out floor space or even full aisles that are dedicated to organic or healthier food options, such as Non-GMO Project Verified. We are seeing a growing trend in what people want and expect to have in the quality of the food they are consuming.
If looking for healthier pantry type items, shopping online can give you a great amount of variety and even some savings, as mentioned in my previous post, Make Your Organic Dollars Count. There are places like Amazon and Brandless (new customers get $6 free when spending $39, which qualifies for free shipping) that can be great places to find organic or healthier versions of some of the things you are already buying at better prices.
There are many different ways to shop locally for your food. Some options may be more convenient for your schedule or might require a little bit of planning.
It can be interesting to find new things to try when looking to buy local, even if out of your comfort zone. But when you find what works for you it can be a rewarding gem that you get to rediscover over and over again!
What do you do to shop locally, especially if it is something I have not tried yet?
Disclaimer: For informational and educational purposes only. These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. If you have a health concern, a medical condition, are pregnant or breastfeeding, or are taking any medication please consult your healthcare provider.