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Thursday, June 4, 2009

Are you a locavore?

Beautiful heirloom vegetables:
Locavore is a new term, defined below courtesy of Wikipedia:

Local food (also regional food or food patriotism) or the local food movement is a "collaborative effort to build more locally based, self-reliant food economies - one in which sustainable food production, processing, distribution, and consumption is integrated to enhance the economic, environmental and social health of a particular place" and is considered to be a part of the broader sustainability movement. It is part of the concept of local purchasing and local economies, a preference to buy locally produced goods and services. Those who prefer to eat locally grown/produced food sometimes call themselves "localvores" or locavores.

100 years ago, everyone was a locavore. Our great-grandparents would have laughed at our desire to eat lettuce in January.

There are so many reasons to eat locally. Here are just a few, courtesy of http://www.eatlocalchallenge.com/:

1. Eating local means more for the local economy.
2. Locally grown produce is fresher.
3. Local food just plain tastes better.
4.Locally grown fruits and vegetables have longer to ripen.
5. Eating local is better for air quality and pollution than eating organic. (This one bothers me a bit because it's very possible to eat local organics.)
6.
Buying local food keeps us in touch with the seasons.
7. Buying locally grown food is fodder for a wonderful story.
8. Eating local protects us from bio-terrorism.
9. Local food translates to more variety.
10. Supporting local providers supports responsible land development.

For greater explanations of these 10 reasons, please visit http://www.lifebeginsat30.com/elc/2006/04/10_reasons_to_e.html.

On a more personal note, I'll give you my reasons for eating local foods whenever possible. It makes no sense to me to buy carrots, grown in California, from a grocery store when there is a struggling local farmer who will sell me fresher, tastier, more exotic carrots for the same price.

Having lived my whole life in the rural midwest, and seen our economy slide downhill, I can tell you firsthand how important it is to keep our money in the community. There is the study that shows for every $1 you spend locally it generates twice as much for the local economy. For example, I give $1 to a local farmer who then spends his/her money on items in our local stores, property taxes, other farmers, etc. When businesses are not owned locally, money leaves the community at every transaction.

My two oldest boys and I shelling locally-grown peas, 2008.

I was raised eating locally. This was definitely unusual for the 1980s, but my farm-raised mom would always buy fresh foods from farmers. We also have distant cousins around who farm and we would support them whenever possible as well. Our community has always had a farmers market. My mom would put up food each summer. This usually included sweet corn (which she cut off the cob and froze) as well as canning tomatoes. Some years also green beans, rhubarb, applesauce. There is no substitute for local tomatoes. The tomatoes in the grocery store should be left there. Seriously. They're poor substitutes for the real thing. They were picked before they were ripe, shipped thousands of miles. Plus the variety sold in grocery stores was chosen for it's thick skin (helps when shipping them, doncha know). Yuk. Grow your own. If you don't know how to can, toss them whole into freezer bags and freeze them for winter. Or support your local farmer's market! You can find your local market here: http://www.localharvest.org/ or contact your local university extension office.

Back to my mom. She taught me how to can and freeze foods. As her mother taught her. On and on backward through the generations. My family has never skipped a generation of local eating and food preservation. I'm very thankful for this, and hope to pass my knowledge onto others who may not have had the benefit of growing up this way.

My two oldest boys eating local sweet corn at a farm get-together about 1 mile from where it was grown and picked earlier that same day, summer 2008.

We also ate local meats growing up, as my family does today. You can buy directly from the farmer with other families (each purchase a quarter cow, half a pig, chickens, etc) and have them processed at your local meat locker. Your local meat locker also sells meats purchased from local farmers. Many of these farmers raise organic, grass-fed animals. Just ask.

Another way to find local foods is through your nearest food cooperative. Ask around, you may have one nearby. This consists of a group of people who order natural foods together to receive a reduced price. These foods are usually ordered from a corporation who sells to grocery stores, so they may not be local. However, as co-op people tend to support local foods there will probably be local foods available at your food pickup. Things such as local raw honey, fresh free-range eggs, meats, grains, fresh produce. The co-op I belong to in my small town offers all these and sometimes more.

As for taste and health, there is no substitute for eating local foods. Fruits and vegetables taste so much better when fresh and in season. Have you ever tried eating a grocery store peach in January? Leave it there. Buy some fresh, local peaches during the summer and can or freeze them instead. Same goes for all vegetables and fruits that are grown thousands of miles away and out-of-season. They just taste.... bland. Tough. Dry. Old. Not fresh.
Healthy? Not as much as a local vegetable. The vitamins are more intact the fresher the produce. Plus, if you know the farmer and maybe you've even visited or helped out on the farm, you know how it was grown. You know what they are or aren't putting on their crops. You will know if there is a non-organic disgusting mega-dairy next door that may give nasty runoff and pollute the crops (think e-coli).

Studies consistently prove that free-range eggs and meats are healthier than their corporate-farm counterparts. Tastier, too! Yum!

4 generations of my family putting up bushels of sweet corn picked that morning, summer 2008.

A recent phenomenon is heirloom vegetables. These are unique varieties of vegetables that have awesome tastes. Heirloom means the seeds have been passed down for generations. These vegetables have superior qualities. However, they usually don't make for good shipping... so they can only be bought locally. Want to try some? Find a grower at farmers market.

Local farmers also aren't likely to hire illegal immigrants for pennies on the dollar to harvest the crops.

Eat local! Support your local farmers!

One of our chest freezers full of local foods for winter, summer 2008.

If you are at all interested in this sort of thing, a great book to read is "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle" by Barbara Kingsolver. Although it is a non-fiction work, Barbara is a famous novelist. Thus, the book reads more like a great work of fiction - it's not boring or dry at all.


(I planted some of the lima bean variety shown on the front cover! They're so beautiful. They're growing well and I can't wait to taste them.)






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