Livin’ La Vida Local
© Frances Fruit | Dreamstime.com
Mommy, where do baby carrots come from?
Whether your home is urban, suburban or rural, getting fresh, locally grown food is becoming easier than ever. While supermarkets boast organic products shipped in from all over the world, more and more Central New Yorkers are getting friendly with the idea of local foods as staples in their diet.
Author and food sustainability activist Barbara Kingsolver has written about her family’s experiences with local eating in her book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life (Harper Perennial; paperback; $14.95). Kingsolver and her family attempted to eat only food they raised themselves for one year. They discovered that although there was work involved, there were also huge payoffs in terms of simple elegance, joy, and learning to be self-sufficient at a time when food travels an average of 1,500 miles to get to our table.
Locally raised fruits, vegetables, meats, eggs and dairy products are readily available through food co-ops, farmers’ markets, family farms with community-supported agriculture (CSA) programs, community gardens and even your own back yard.
Some complain that local food is more expensive, but with the high cost of transportation ahead, local food may well become the favored alternative. Another source for learning about local foods is Plenty: One Man, One Woman, and a Raucous Year of Eating Locally (Harmony; $24), by Alisa Smith and J.B. MacKinnon. The book jumps into the deep end when the authors pledge to eat nothing produced beyond 100 miles from home. The book notes that people pay a premium for certain foods because it has traveled a great distance or is out of season. (Imagine: eating fresh strawberries in winter—they sure don’t come from around here!)
The authors of the book (which is also called The 100-Mile Diet in some editions) insist that by buying from local farmers in bulk and putting the foods away for later—by canning or freezing—you are helping your winter food budget. You can also create your own “fast food” by freezing meals that can be defrosted and reheated later.
For those who value the convenience of getting all their grocery shopping done in one place, local food shopping may seem like more trouble. Getting foods from local sources does take time, but the experience is richer than going to a big-box store to mechanically shop for food. The authors of Plenty ask, “What if we spent more time on self-sufficiency, and less time at the office?”
Skaneateles mother Christine Briel was initially driven to go local by the quality of produce grown around her home. “Freshness is the biggest thing,” says Briel, who has one child in college and one in high school, “but the connection with people who actually grew the stuff is really important, too.”
She doesn’t always find time in her busy schedule to stop at the weekly farmers’ market in her town. “If I miss the market, I will go to a local farm foods store like the Borodino Market,” Briel says. “Especially with our long winters, I find it really valuable to get fresh produce during the summer months.”
What they don’t buy from local farmers, the Briels grow in their back yard. This year, they will get radishes, lettuce, Brussels sprouts, tomatoes, beans and peas from their garden.
What are ways you can ensure a fresh, healthy supply of local produce? Many family farms are going with CSA programs that are essentially partnerships between them and local consumers. The consumer buys a “share” of the farm’s produce, the farmer receives an amount that supports his or her operation, and the consumer receives a weekly allotment of produce during the growing season. CSAs help small farms remain viable and enable consumers to get to know the farmers, visit the farm and even participate in “pick-your-own” crops and other on-farm events.
Or go the do-it-yourself route. You don’t need an acre of land to grow food at home. Container gardens make excellent (and portable) gardening spaces, provided they are large enough and drain properly. Use five-gallon buckets with holes punched in the bottom, either with a large nail or drilling the holes, or buy large plastic planters with drain holes. Fill with organic potting soil mix or light, rich soil and add your favorite plants or seeds.
Spring is the time to start planning ahead for summer vegetables as most plants can be started indoors while it is still too cold to plant outside. Tomatoes, peppers and beans are easy container plants and different varieties can be mixed in the same planter.
Locally raised foods do more than provide the freshest ingredients: They give consumers a direct connection to the source of their nutrition. If you’ve never smelled a tomato still warm from the vine, or tasted the crispness of snap peas, head over to your nearest farmers’ market or farm stand for a truly natural experience.
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Local Farmers Market
Syracuse-area farmers’ markets are plentiful and operate from early June to late October.Downtown Syracuse Farmers’ Market. Tuesdays, 7 a.m.-4 p.m; South Salina and West Washington streets.
Syracuse Eastside Neighborhood Farmers’ Market. Thursdays, 2-7 p.m.; Loguen Park, East Genesee Street and Columbus Avenue.
Central New York Regional Market. Thursdays, 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Saturdays, 7 a.m. – 2 p.m.; 2100 Park St. at Hiawatha Boulevard.
Camillus Farmers’ Market. Fridays, except holidays, 8:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m.; Camillus Municipal Building, 4600 Genesee St.
Skaneateles Farmers’ Market. Thursdays, 3:30-6:30 p.m.; Skaneateles Community Center on State Street.
Thirteen Lucky Reasons to Eat Local
(Excerpted from Plenty: One Man, One Woman, and a Raucous Year of Eating Locally)
1. Taste the difference. At farmers’ markets, vegetables are picked at the peak of the season and are usually less than 24 hours old. It comes to you ripe, fresh, and full of flavor.
2. Know what you’re eating. Does your food contain pesticides? Is the corn genetically modified? Are your chicken and eggs free range? Meet the farmer that raised it and you can find out.
3. Meet your neighbors. Eating is social. Shopping at a farmers’ market makes you 10 times more likely to meet and speak with friends and strangers.
4. Get in touch with the seasons. When you eat locally, you eat what’s in season. Food is flavorful and tastes of the season for which it is intended.
5. Discover new flavors. Eating locally will expose you to a diversity of produce, and will encourage trying out new vegetables and fruits. Small farms grow heirloom varieties and step outside the supermarket box.
6. Explore your home. Visiting local farms is like being a tourist on your own home turf, with plenty of snack stops.
7. Save the world. An Iowa study showed that a regional diet consumed 17 times less oil and gas than a typical diet based on food shipped across the country.
8. Support small farms. Many people dream of having a family farm, and in areas with strong local markets, they’re making it happen. Isn’t that better than a job at Wal-Mart or a fast-food chain?
9. Give back to the local economy. Keeping food dollars in the local economy keeps it strong and healthy.
10. Be healthy. Will you lose weight on the 100-Mile Diet? Yes, but more importantly, you’ll eat more vegetables and fewer processed products, sample a variety of foods, and eat more fresh food at its nutritional peak.
11. Create memories. Spend time with friends making jam, canning pickles, making homemade pizza. Better than a night with a Blockbuster movie.
12. Have more fun while traveling. Once you’re addicted to local eating, you’ll want to explore it wherever you go. Trying the local fare of whatever new place you travel will bring a world of fun and flavors.
13. And always remember: Everything about food and cooking is a metaphor for sex.