When We Source From Elsewhere It Will Be From People With Whom We Strike Up Conversations And Form Relationships. They Are People Who Care For Their Own Piece Of The Earth.
Before my internship at Side by Side Farm, I never thought much about who grew my food.
It wasn’t a necessary question. The things we buy at grocery stores have pretty anonymous sources, usually no more than an indication of country or state of origin…or company of origin.
But I began my internship at Side by Side with the sense that there had to be another way to approach the foodsystem. Now I am a firm believer in mindfully grown food; food that was grown on a spot of land not too far away from me, by people who I can share a conversation with, if not a meal. That kind of food quite often tastes better – I can’t explain why exactly. The vegetables and eggs I took home with me each week of my internship changed my palate like nothing else before or since. Then of course, there are the ecological and economical reasons for eating locally…
However, I’m not here to talk about why. (Other people have done that far better than I can.) I’m here to talk about how.
You don’t have to intern on a farm to tap this source. In fact, my internship was the long way around.
Finding local food is probably easier than you think. Take a peek around and you’ll see that the “buy local” mentality is catching on. And thank goodness.
Farmers markets are popping up all over the place. A growing number of small towns have a weekly, usually seasonal market that may be no more than a few booths or large enough to seem like a weekly festival. They can be inside, outside, at grassy parks, or on parking lots. Search them out. If there isn’t one in your town there may be one nearby.
Or if you’re really enthusiastic about local food and your town doesn’t have a farmers market, start one. I don’t see why you have to be a farmer to be part of a farmers market. Make connections, reach out to local farmers and local government/ordinance people. Find a place to host the market, raise funds, meet with farmers. If you’re not sure where to begin, look at some online guides and band together with like minded people.
CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture. It’s a form of farming that’s really becoming popular. At the beginning of the season, people pay a farmer for a share of the season’s bounty. They become “members” or “shareholders.” Then regularly during the season they get a box or bag of goods from the farm. In this way, the risk is shared but so is the bounty. And the bounty could be a range of things: typically, CSAs give out mostly vegetables. But there are also fruit CSAs, milk CSAs, bread CSAs, fish and meat CSAs, and full diet CSAs. Additionally, some CSA farms allow members to pay for part or all of their share through weekly labor.
Side by Side is a CSA farm. I’ve written more on the subject of farming and CSAs over here.
And if you want to learn more about community supported agriculture I suggest you take a look at Sharing the Harvest.
Look for stands or carts long the sides of the road. Often these can be found, unattended or attended, out in the country. Farm stands may carry a variety of products, depending on the season: honey, maple syrup, vegetables, fruits, hay, pumpkins, flowers, bird houses, cookies, etc. If you don’t see anything you like one week, try returning to the stand a few weeks later. There’s a good chance the bounty will have changed.
Local orchards aren’t hard to find. However, if your priority is organic rather than local, there’s a chance the nearest orchard may not accommodate your preferences. However, investigate.
Money can be overrated. Try bartering with people you know. If you have a friend who grows tomatoes but you only have space for potted basil, see if you can strike a bargain. Tomatoes for a bunch of basil. Or a bouquet of zinnias for a bunch of kale. Or eggs for a batch of homemade granola. Or a box of peas for an afternoon of weeding…
Befriend a Farmer
If you aren’t already acquainted with a nearby farm and farmer, I suggest you seek one out. Check online and if you find one that peaks your interest, ask them for a tour of the farm. Or strike up a conversation with a farmer at market. More likely than not, they’ll be happy to talk to you. (And if not…well, consider that they may have been up since 5am harvesting the shallots and carrots you’re buying. Try to be friendly again next market day.) I haven’t yet met a farmer who didn’t want to talk about the foods they were growing or raising. It is their livelihood but very often it’s also their passion. Farming isn’t easy; if they get into it and stay, it seems to me they’re probably pretty convicted.
There are some excellent resource sites for finding farms, farmers markets, CSAs and other places that purvey foods that haven’t traveled far.
Just a few days ago, I happened about this quote by Brenda Schoepp:
“My grandfather used to say that once in your life you need a doctor, a lawyer, a policeman, and a preacher but every day, three times a day, you need a farmer.”
Sounds about right to me.