2.14.2019

Plan to Eat Local Food


I live in a small Midwestern town, and this part of the world can grow amazing food.  There are gardeners and farmers nearby selling food that is fresh, flavorful, and grown with consideration for the environment.  I also have a home garden.  I consider it my mission to feed my family well.  It takes some doing, but you can take your own local food journey too.  Maybe you're already on the road.  Let's walk awhile together.  
 
My little home vegetable garden and our fruit trees provides some of the food my family eats in a year, but we rely on our local farmers to keep our pantry stocked.  Learning how to put food by, eat what's in season, and cook with what's available locally is a way to support the health of my family, community, and the environment.  

The best place to start buying local food is the Farmers' Market.  There you will find both folks who care about eating local food and the people who grow and sell it.  There's a whole community in those stands and booths.  A fun exercise, is to bring your market bag or basket and look for all the makings of a meal.

It may seem like late winter is a hard time to eat local, and that's true there isn't as much available; your Farmers' Market may even be shut down for the year. Instead of trying to go all out, 100% locavore this week, now is the time to make a plan.

I should note, my family doesn't eat 100% local. We probably vary between eating 50-80% local depending on the time of the year. I have two children and the convenience of box crackers and tubs of yogurt are things I have yet to step away from. Local food doesn't have to be all or nothing. I say this to you, but I am also saying it to myself, it is okay to not have every meal be local. Being 100% local isn’t always feasible, but that doesn’t mean that doing what you can doesn’t make a difference. Every bit counts and what you or I are able to do year to year will vary. There is grace in accepting this, while still striving to find farmers nearby that work for your situation.  Be ready to take local food opportunities when they appear. Do what you can and make it work for you and your family and next year will be different. Learn as you go. It will get easier with experience.



Low hanging fruit - Simple changes that you can implement today



Before I figured out preserving food, I would make purchase like this every couple weeks from a local farm store: potatoes, onions, garlic, lettuce mix, Delicata and butternut squash, carrots, eggs, and meat. 

A weekly trip to the farmers' market or co-op is a great way to get committed.  Prioritize in-season items.  Focus your meals around what's fresh.  There are certain staple items that always seem to be available in some form: onions, salad greens, potatoes and eggs.  Make a commitment to yourself to buy as much of your grocery list at the market before moving on to a big box grocery store.  And going as long as you can between big box visits will help you plan better and reduce your dependency on imported foods.  


Some of the local food in my pantry: cornmeal, honey, black beans, black walnuts,
lentils, popcorn, maple syrup, wild rice, rolled oats and wheat flour.  


Stock up on dry goods: things like dry beans, flour, oats, honey, corn meal and popcorn can often be bought at the market or straight from the farmer.  Work towards filling your pantry with locally available options, especially the those most used items.  


Lard


Switching to local fats was a hard step to get my brain around, but in effect it was easy.  L
ocally available fats for us are sunflower oil and lard.  Lard is my favorite for high temperature cooking, sauteing veggies and frying eggs.  It is important to know your farmer, and buy lard from pasture raised pigs, who aren't being fed chemical laced grains or growth hormones because those things concentrate in fat.  There are other animal fats like tallow, smultz and duck fat that are also delicious and maybe available.  Many farmers don't advertise their fats, so you might have to ask.  Animal fat isn't great for all culinary uses; I still buy high quality, organic, olive oil for making salad dressings.   



Get yourself in the right head space  



Accept that some food will go bad before you eat it.  You will get better at managing that.  When you buy food weekly from a grocery store, you can be diligent about eating what you buy.  However, this ease is because the store is taking on the burden of dealing with the spoiled food.  And they are not doing a good job.  A report from April 2018, shows grocery store food waste in the chart below. "An estimated 40 percent of the food produced in the United States is wasted every year." 
Find the whole report here. 


Understand, you will do your best to eat the onions before they start growing, and drink fresh milk before it sours, and eat all that zucchini you froze.  Anytime I add a new food preservation method to my repertoire it takes a bit to get it right and working for our household.  I over-cooked my first round of maple syrup, had a bushel of potatoes grow roots two feet long, and made salsa so spicy it couldn't be eaten.  It's part of learning and that's why I have a compost pile.  (BTW start a compost pile.)  Know that whatever your food losses are, they are probably better than what the grocery store is doing. 




Plan to eat local



I approach dinner with the goal of one protein, one green vegetable, one grain/starch, with a fruit at the end. And that is very possible to do with local food when I plan.  It is a matter of combining what's available with what my family will eat.

Some of our staple dinners are: 



Local snacking/lunch:
Breakfasts:


How to get a started 


Graduating from eating fresh produce only in its peak during the summer to year-round, is a matter of planning and preparation.  It requires wading into home food preservation and storage.  I have a series on this blog showing how I made my first Plan to Preserve it has three parts: 1, 2, and 3.  If you are looking for a detailed "how to put food by", check it out.

If you are a beginner, start looking for the tools that will make preserving local food easier like a chest freezer, dehydrator, pantry shelving, and a pressure or water bath canner. (Space saving tip: many pressure canners can double as water bath canners.)





Having ways to preserve produce and a place to store food is key to eating local every day of the year.  It doesn't have to be fancy.  I've store sweet potatoes under my desk and jars of tomatoes on top of the refrigerator.  Most of the supplies I acquired over the years second-hand from my local thrift stores and Craig's List/Facebook Market Place.  And old fashion kitchen gadgets like food mills and counter top grinders can be found much less expensively on eBay than Amazon.



Many foods are easily stored frozen.  A chest freezer will also buy you time; freeze things until you can process them for canning.  There are some very efficient freezers out there; look for ones with energy star ratings and the chest style, over upright freezers.  If you freeze mostly for winter, consider only running your freezer in the seasons when you are storing the most food (usually late summer into fall) and consolidating your freezer items to unplug the extra freezers as you no longer need them.  Also, to consider, freezers use less energy when they are full, so filling up empty space with cooked food like beans, broth and precooked meals is being a smart locavore.

All of this, plus another bushel of sweet potato and the kombota squash and pumpkins, were put in my cellar (i.e. coal shoot) this fall.  

Root cellaring is one of the most eco-friendly ways to store food.  There's no energy used to boil or freeze.  Just using the natural coolness and humidity of the earth, food will hold for months.  I use the old coal shoot in our basement as our cellar.   I have also used an unheated room in the house.  The most common place I hear people using as a cellar are attached, unheated garages.  I've also heard of folks using an old well, or a five-gallon bucket dug into the earth, below the frost line and covered with a bale of straw.  The main requirements are cool (40-50 degrees F), dark, and high humidity.  If you are using an in ground earth cellar these requirements will naturally be met.  Winter squash and sweet potatoes prefer slightly warmer conditions (55-65 degrees F). I've have held pumpkins and winter squash on my dining room sideboard for ten months with no problems.  Root cellaring is surprisingly easy and useful!



A good place to get your feet wet, is to make something you know your family will enjoy eating.  Might I suggest going to a u-pick berry place and then making jam.  If you don't have a water bath canner, you could make freezer jelly. You only need a large pot and a stove.  The packets of pectin are sold with recipes for most fruit preserves and offer several ways to make jam and jelly.

As tax season comes up, one of the things you could do with your tax return is set yourself up to eat more local food.  You could invest in a CSA share, Milk or Meat Share. Or consider buying half a hog or quarter beeve to have high quality meat in your freezer, or maybe this year, just buy the freezer.  

Ways into the local food scene


A lot of eating local depends on making connections in your community.  Knowing your farmers, your growers, your co-op managers by name is valuable.  Not just because they will let you know when there is a good deal to be had, but they will be your friends and allies. 

Attend your area's Local Food Forum to meet fellow locavores.  Hopefully some of you made it over here to my blog because I met you at the Northeast Indiana Food Forum or FED Expo.  Hello!

Farmer's Market - Again I think this is one of the best places to see what's happening around you.  If the seller isn't too busy, ask them questions about what they are growing and why.  How the weather is effecting their crops.  Ask if they will sell you quantities for canning or preserving, or for specific items you might need for a recipe.  If you know you are going to make pickles next week, ask if they can bring you a handful of dill flower buds.  




 

Workshare at a farm - I cold called a farm when we first moved here and asked if I could work for food, they were happy to have me work one day a week in exchange for veggies.  The second farm I work for, I met at the Farmer's Market and another I met through Master Gardeners.  I have weeded, harvested, washed, packaged and mostly weeded in exchange for meat, eggs, grains, veggies and fruit.  It's been a great way to get gardening experience and a wonderful bonus is farmers often give me veggies that are over-ripe, a little damaged, or wouldn't hold to make it to market.  That's how I get all the peppers I freeze for winter.  Another place many farms need help with is selling at market.  It is much easier to set up and tear down a booth at market with at least two people.  Especially when there is lots of heavy produce to move in August - September, farmers are often grateful for extra hands.   

Go to on the farm events - many farms have regular farm tours, or you can schedule a tour for your group or school.  Farms also host fundraising meals, summer pizza nights, hoop moves, or mixers.  Farmers need their local community and they actively work to grow it. 




Visit farm stores and roadside stands - In Indiana, on-the-farm stores are a practical way for small farms to sell their products.  Especially if there is a stand on your way to another place you frequent, stop by and get a dozen ears of corn, some meat for the week or a dozen eggs.  Most of these farm stores only accept cash or check.  You can see who's around you on Local Harvest.



Extension services from your state - if you are looking to learn more home food preservation skills, your county extension agency is a useful resource.  They are up on all the current USDA recommendations and their advice will be tailored to your location.  Extension programs like Master Gardeners, Master Naturalist and 4-H Programs are full of people who care about local food.

The National Center for Home Food Preservation at the University of Georgia's website is a place I frequent for recipes and instructions on canning, freezing and dehydrating.  




Use social media to find other like minded folks - I don't feel so alone in my local food journey when I look at my Instagram feed.  It is full of folks near and far who care about eating local.  The most interesting accounts are run by people who live in my region.  I particularly watch the farmers and gardeners just south of us because they are usually operating a couple weeks ahead seasonally, and I can see when they get their first tomato, or dig their potatoes, or take their first berries to market.  And Facebook is often where my local farmers will announce new arrivals in their stores,or let me know I need to get to market early if I want a bag of lettuce this week.  Plus they often share recipes and how they are enjoying the season's bounty.

To find these folks, search regional hashtags and look up your regional aggregators.  For instance if you have a regional Edible Magazine, they will often highlight local food and if your farmer's market or co-op runs an account those are good places to follow. 

You can follow me at FoyUpdateBlog on Instagram and FoyUpdate on Facebook.  :)  And we can keep walking down the local food road together.  


At the risk of putting too many links in this post, here are some additional articles on my blog that might be of interest:

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