No matter where you live, eating seasonally and locally offers a different way of thinking about food. While some areas of the country are relatively blessed to have locally grown fruits and vegetables for longer seasons, such as California and Florida, even these regions still have strong seasonality as to when each type of produce is at its best.
Locally sourced and seasonally raised foods taste better. They spend more time in the fields ripening – developing sweetness and flavor – because they don’t need to be picked under-ripe for shipping thousands of miles away. Picking under-ripe vegetables also reduces the nutritional value. Farmers can grow more diverse varieties, bred for quality and flavor rather than long shelf life. And though a region may experience a drought or unusually cold weather for a season, the fruits and vegetables still grow at their optimal time, ensuring the best possible taste. Picking under-ripe vegetables reduces the nutritional value.
Buying local also benefits the environment and economy. When we reduce our “food miles,” the distance our foods travel from farm to table, we reduce our carbon footprint – the impact of transportation, refrigeration and packaging needed to carry produce around the country. With each local food purchase, you ensure that more of your food dollars go to the farmer and local economy in the form of revenue and taxes. Buy local food keeps your dollars circulating in your own community. In Massachusetts alone (where I live), if every household purchased just $12 worth of farm products for eight weeks (basically the summer season), over $200 million would be reinvested in our local farmland.
Here are 25 tips for eating local without going crazy.
Out and About
1. Shop at the Farmers’ Markets
This is the most obvious: the farmers’ market is the best place to find local foods. Here in Boston, you can find year-round markets. The summer months are brimming with greens, tomatoes, melons and other veggies. And the winter is bright too – with green house veggies, storage roots, and plenty of meats, dairy and grains.
2. Circulate the Farmers’ Market before you buy
Cooking with what’s available locally requires a little more flexibility. When you get to the market, look around and see what’s available. This will help inspire ideas of what you can prepare.
3. Shop at your local grocery store
Getting to the farmers’ market isn’t always possible. Schedules with work and kids can get in the way. You can still support the local economy, if not by purchasing local food, by purchasing at local markets. You are still keeping more of your food dollars in the local economy.
4. Eat in restaurants that support local agriculture
Now-a-days, more and more restaurants are supporting local farmers. Check out The Chefs Collaborative website for restaurants that support local ag.
5. Store your produce well
Often times, it seems that produce from the grocery store only lasts a few days before it wilts and rots. Properly stored, you’ll have more time to use everything you buy. You’ll be making fewer trips to the market, and spend less.
On a budget
7. Eat the whole vegetable
Don’t throw away the beet tops or radish tops. They are great in soups and stews.
8. Subscribe to a CSA
Probably the most economical way to get the freshest produce available. For about $25/week, you will get a variety of what’s in season. Find a CSA on the Local Harvest website.
9. Cook at home
You know where your food is coming from and it’s cheaper
10. Avoid processed foods
There is nothing local (nor sustainable) about high-fructose corn-syrup. If you want prepared foods, buy what is made in the grocery store, instead of a plant out in the middle of nowhere.
11. Ask for seconds
Locally grown produce, from small production farmers, tend to have more lumps, bumps and bruises. It still tastes great, even if it doesn’t look perfect. Farmers’ will often discount the “seconds.”
12. Get to know your farmer
They can help you figure out what’s most economical and best tasting. They can also offer tips on how to cook up the lesser known items.
13. Learn to cook with cheaper cuts of meat
Free range meat is more expensive, there’s no way around that. But you can stretch your food dollars by buying the less expensive cuts. They tend to have more flavor, but also require special attention when cooking. Ask your farmer the best way to cook each cut. Some are better for stewing. Others are good grilled after a good, tenderizing marinade.
Either at the farmers market or at the farm. You can get the best, freshest food, for the cost of a few hours of your time.
15. Can sauces, pickles and tomatoes
Produce is cheapest (and of course most flavorful) when it’s in season. Take advantage and stock up. Preserving food by canning is a great way to extend the tomato season, and create your own specialty pickles.
16. Freeze herbs, corn and leafy greens
Some items freeze better than canning. Herbs should be washed and dried well before freezing. Leafy greens should be cooked. Corn can be frozen cooked or raw.
17. Buy in bulk
And freeze. You can usually get a discount, and you can have your favorite foods year round.
18. Eat nutrient dense food: you’ll need less food
I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve felt hungry even when I don’t need food. Just as often (and probably more), I’m hungry for nutrients. When I eat nutrient dense food like legumes or kale, I feel sated quicker and eat less.
19. Cook enough for left-overs
Cooking at home is the best way to ensure you know where all your food is coming from. But cooking 3 meals a day is laborious… and honestly… who has the time? Cooking enough to have left-overs takes only a few minutes more and can save hours every week.
Keeping it Interesting in Winter and Year-round
20. Use Condiments
Especially in the winter time, root vegetables and grains can get a little dull. Spice up your meals with chutneys and other condiments. Most grocers will carry a stash of locally sourced jams, pickles and other condiments. Have fun!
21. Experiment with new recipes
Of course, my cookbook is a great source for new recipes. And there are plenty of recipes out there. Rutabagas and kale don’t have to be boring.
Get a second life out of our food scraps. By composting, you are creating soil to put back into the eco-system. Better still, you will become more aware of what you are wasting. It can help you become a more conscious shopper, cook and eater.
23. Start an herb garden
For the same price as a package of fresh herbs, you can buy an herb plant (and use your compost to fertilize it). A little bit of fresh thyme or basil will brighten up any dish.
24. Purchase seasonally
Food tastes best in season, has the best nutrition and is the most cost effective. Learn what’s seasonal in your area. To learn about what’s in season in your area, go here.
25. Think beyond produce
With the exception of folks living in California and Florida, it’s hard to eat 100% local, year-round. But you can do better if you think beyond produce. Meats, grains and dairy are all available locally and year-round. Do what you can.