Did you know that the average piece of produce travels 5,000 miles to get to your supermarket? Yep—your lettuce could qualify for more frequent flier miles than you do.
If you’re less than excited about this fact, it might be time to consider eating locally (and no, I don’t mean getting take-out from the Chinese restaurant down the street). While it may seem that local food is the latest foodie trend, there are actually a lot of good reasons for this practice to stick around. Choosing food that has traveled fewer miles (and therefore used less fuel) is good for the environment, while eating food that was grown organically and without harmful pesticides does your body good, too. Plus, supporting your local farmers ensures that they’ll stay in business for years to come.
If you’re a little wary of straying from your usual supermarket routine, don’t worry—there are many easy ways you can start enjoying the delicious rewards of local eating.
Shop at a Farmer’s Market
Probably the most obvious way to eat locally is to stroll down to your local farmer’s market. You’ll help support small farms, which usually use organic farming methods, and you’ll get to choose from a vibrant array of fresh, seasonal produce. Farmers markets will often stock a variety of other grocery items as well, including bread, dairy products, and free-range meat and poultry. And though markets have a bad rap for being pricey, studies show that farmers market produce is often less expensive than grocery store produce.
Added bonus: None of the fluorescent lighting and obnoxious elevator music that you’ll find at the supermarket. The friendly atmosphere of a farmer’s market really can’t be beat!
Want to find a farmer’s market in your neighborhood? Check out this guide.
Join a Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA)
If you don’t feel like adding “Sunday morning market” to your weekly list of activities, consider joining a CSA. It’s kind of like the Birchbox of delicious produce—for a flat weekly or monthly rate, you receive a box of fresh, local, seasonal produce. Some CSAs will deliver right to your door, while others have specific pick-up sites.
If you buy a “share” of a farm’s seasonal harvest (the traditional CSA model), it’s usually between $400-$700 per year ($8–$14 per week), and you get a regular cut of whatever the farm grows that season. Many CSAs also offer half-shares or trial options, or serve as a collective between multiple farms. Some CSAs even give the option of trading work on the farm for your share—in exchange for a few hours of helping with harvesting, weeding, or other projects, you can get a free share of produce.
Want to give it a try? Do some comparison-shopping to find a CSA that best suits your needs.
Eat Seasonal Food
Thanks to modern food distribution methods, East Coast shoppers can buy mangoes in January. But just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should. On the other hand, buying foods when they’re in season means that they’ll taste better, because they’ve been picked when they’re at their best (and haven’t been shipped thousands of miles). Plus, not only will you get to taste food at peak deliciousness, but you’ll also force yourself to get creative with recipes and try things like butternut squash mac and cheese.
Since produce that’s in season is more likely to have come from a local source, shopping seasonally can be a good way to try and find more local options at your usual grocery store. Check out this guide to find out what’s in season, then hit your local supermarket and take a look at the produce labels—you may be surprised to find that a lot of the seasonal delights were grown close to home.
Freeze Nature in its Tracks
Now, if the idea of enduring a winter without raspberries is just too much for you to bear, consider freezing your favorites for later months. Simply stock up on your favorite fruits when they’re still in season and store them in the freezer for a winter full of fresh, summery delights. Berries are particularly easy to freeze—just wash and dry them, place them on a wax paper-lined cookie sheet, and stick them in the freezer. Once they’re frozen solid (usually about 12 hours), put them into a Ziploc bag and stick them back of the freezer til winter!
Seems pretty simple, but once you’re enjoying juicy berries mixed into your oatmeal on a cold winter’s morning, you’ll feel like you’ve magically discovered a way to stop time.
Vegetables can be frozen too, though they require the extra step of blanching prior to placing them in the freezer. Check out this guide to learn more.
Grow Your Own Food
Author and farmer Novella Carpenter wrote about her experiences doing a “100 yard diet” challenge in her book Farm City. For an entire month, she only allowed herself to eat food that grew within 100 yards of her home—most of the food being produce she grew in her backyard in Oakland, CA.
While this might be a little extreme for most of us, you can take small steps toward growing your own food by starting an indoor herb garden. Growing herbs is an easy way to get started with gardening, and if you find you like it, you may want to work your way up to growing vegetables and more.
These small steps can be a great way to combine support for local farmers while supporting your health by enjoying fresh, flavorful food. It’s like killing two (free-range, organic, grass-fed) birds with one stone.