A How-To Guide to Local Eating

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(HealthCastle.com) It seems that these days, everyone is talking about local eating, including our First Lady, Michelle Obama, who has started a vegetable garden on a patch of White House lawn. There is something inherently appealing about eating foods that are grown or produced close to where you live. However, the reality is, many of us don't live near farms where food is actually produced; our idea of getting food is paying for it at the grocery store or restaurant. If you are new to the idea of local eating, here are some ideas to get you started, even if you live in the middle of the city.

4 Ways to Find Local Foods

  1. Be a label-reader. This is the quickest way to get started: check the country of origin labels on your produce and grocery items. With consumers' growing interest in local produce, many stores identify where the food is produced or grown. Avoid foods imported from other countries. (Note that organic does not automatically mean local; large corporations have organic farms that grow fruits in places as far away as Chile or Guatemala, for example. Getting fully certified as an organic operation is expensive, and many small-scale local producers may not be able to afford it, even if their farming practices are sustainable and "organic-like.")
  2. Visit a farmers' market. If you haven't already, find a farmers' market in your area. According to the USDA, in 2008 there were close to 4,700 farmers markets operating across the country. Chances are you will be able to find one fairly close to where you live.
    • LocalHarvest.org provides a directory of farmers' markets across the country, searchable by zip code. You can even plan to visit farmers' markets when traveling to other cities.
    • EatWellGuide.org allows you to map your destination and links you to farmers' markets or stores that carry local produce.
  3. Buy CSA shares. A CSA or community-supported agriculture model connects the average food consumer with a farm or farmer. In a CSA, the consumer purchases a share (usually by prepaying a set amount of money to the farm or farmer) at the beginning of the growing season. This allows the farmer to purchase seeds and any other growing equipment needed. In exchange, the member will receive locally-grown/produced foods throughout the growing season as the crops are harvested. Some farms may require the member to work a few hours during the season. Both LocalHarvest.org and EatWellGuide.org provide a searchable directory of farms that offer CSA shares for purchase.
  4. Grow (some) of your own food. The ultimate commitment to eating local food is to learn to grow some of your own. This doesn't mean having to farm acres of land or raising livestock; even container gardening (with herbs) is a good starting point. If you are completely new to it, grow only a few select plants that you know your family will eat, and seek out lots of advice from experienced gardeners among your family or friends. There are also many gardening sources on the web. For example, GardenABCs provides multiple resources for parents and teachers to get started and maintain school gardens. A site out of the UK, GrowVeg.com, provides lots of free articles on common gardening questions. And, of course, check out the cooperative extension program at your local university for free publications or fact sheets on food gardening. Many universities or colleges also offer gardening workshops or classes to the community for example, check out the following links at:

The Bottom Line

Making the switch to a mostly-local diet is possible, but does not happen overnight. Set yourself up for success by adopting local foods gradually; pick a place in the spectrum that works for you and your family (that way you are more likely going to stick with it). Think of it as a positive challenge: it will require some pre-planning on your part because you will have to feed your family based on what is in season rather than what recipe(s) you want to cook from during the week. Fortunately, you can find a recipe for just about any food item nowadays on the Internet, a few mouse clicks away.

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HealthCastle, founded in 1997, is the largest online nutrition community run by Registered Dietitians. Information on this site is provided for informational purposes and is not meant to substitute for the advice provided by your own physician or dietitian. Information and statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.