Guide to Finding the Fresh, Local, and Green
Spring is slowly awakening here in Minnesota. I started a new job on a farm on Monday, which is why I haven’t posted until today. It has been nice to get outside and feel more connected with the earth. We’re supposed to get snow tonight, but planting seeds means that spring really is going to come one of these days. I don’t know if you are planting seeds of your own, visiting farmer’s markets or still waiting for spring, but I wanted to point out some of the options that are available if you are eager to eat more fresh and locally grown. I know I’ve written on each one with some length, but I wanted to describe them as well as I could. I’ve added links and resources, too. If you have other ideas for finding farms and markets please share!
CSA – Community Supported Agriculture is a system that many farms use. Farms offer a share (which might feed 1 person or could be enough for a whole family) of produce for the farm season and members pay the full price up front. It is kind of like investing in a farm — you pay a certain amount at the beginning of the season which gives the farmer capital to order seeds and get started. In exchange, the farmer provides you with a regular supply of vegetables. While most of the focus is one what you get from the farm, the beauty of the CSA system is that you are giving to the farm, too.
Many CSAs simple provide a weekly box of produce, others give members credit so they can pick out what they want. Some CSAs include eggs, milk or meat and still others focus on fiber or fruit. Some farms also do winter shares so you can keep getting locally grown food during the colder months. Although it may seem like a big investment at first, your investment will stretch much farther when you are dealing directly with a farm instead of shopping for produce at a market. Keep in mind that the although most farms provide a wide variety, they are limited as the what they can harvest at different times of year. It is a great way to get in touch with the seasons of a farm and to learn to use a variety of vegetables.
Farmers Markets – Some CSAs allow members to get their produce at the market, but generally a farmer’s market is just for retail. Many farmers bring their goods to sell (usually produce, but also baked goods, flowers, meat, dairy products and artisanal specialty foods) and you can pick out whatever you like. The prices are probably higher than at the grocery store, but the quality is better, too. Farmer’s markets are also a great way to meet the people who grow the food you eat. When you eat local food like this, you can get to know the growers and ask them questions about how they grow it, what they grow and how to use the products that they sell. Local Harvest is a great website to find markets near you.
Farm Stands – I’ve lived in some rural areas where farms or sometimes smaller growers have a stand or spot by their house where they place the produce for sale. Sometimes the stand is attended other times it is based on the honor system. You take what you would like and leave money in a can. I love stopping at these little spots along the road, you can find some great very fresh food and it is nice to support the people in your community who care for the land and protect undeveloped open spaces.
Grocery Stores – Since interest in and demand for growing local food many grocery stores and co-ops stock their produce section with locally grown. It’s not the same as buying directly from the farmer, but it is always good to take advantage of the locally grown food that is available.
Community Gardens – If you want to grow your own food, there are plenty of options, too. Community Gardens can be found in urban and suburban areas. Different places do it differently. Often it is an area of land sectioned off into plots that you pay a small fee to use for the season. Sometimes the garden is completely communal and members work together to grow all of the food. Community Gardens usually provide guidance and information for new gardeners and there are usually seasoned growers around to make suggestions or give advice. Sometimes the gardens have rules about what you can or cannot grow and how you plot should be maintained and they also have tools and lots of other resources to help you get growing. The American Community Gardening Association can help you find a community garden near where you live.
Your back yard – Before you start digging up the lawn, make sure to get the soil tested. This will give you information about what you might need to add to the soil and will also warn you if there is lead. Many urban and suburban areas have lead in the soil but that is not an insurmountable obstacle. Your yards is a fabulous place to grow food that is as local as possible. Kitchen Gardeners International is a good place to look for ideas, resources and other back (or front) yard gardeners.
Your front steps, porch, deck or fire escape – I don’t have land to plant in myself, but I am planning to grow a few vegetables and some herbs in pots on my back porch. I hope to get this started very soon (once it stops snowing for good!). I’ll be sharing my porch garden exploits here, but this book also looks like a great way to get started.