Finding Local Food
Finding locally grown organic food can be a fascinating treasure hunt, but it also can be time consuming, especially at first. Here are some food finding tips to help jumpstart your locavore lifestyle:
1. Start close to home.
You may have noticed that I mention some farms more frequently than others. That’s because they are the best sources I’ve found close enough to my normal errand routes to be convenient. My goal is to find the quality I want as close to home as possible. I go to Half Acre Farm for u-picking vegetables, but you may be able to locate a u-pick you like closer to where you live.
2. Use local farm directories.
A free Whatcom Food and Farm Finder booklet is published each year by Sustainable Connections. Download it online, or pick up the booklet at over 200 local businesses (such as Community Food Co-operative, Village Books, etc.), county libraries, or farmers markets. It contains farm directories by food category, information about individual farms, and a map so you can locate them. Most of the sources listed in this blog are included in the Farm Finder booklet.
Another good farm directory is the interactive map found on the Northwest Farms & Food website. Search there by farm name or by type of product you want to find. The map is always linked under Resources in the right sidebar of this website so you can get to it easily.
3. Shop local grocery stores.
Get familiar with the local foods offered by nearby grocery stores. If they don’t carry local food, let them know you would like them to do so. The advantage of grocery stores over other sources is that you can pick up a lot of your food and pantry items all in one stop.
In or near Bellingham, I recommend starting at Terra Organica, the Community Food Co-operative stores, and Haggen grocery stores.
Everything at Terra Organica is organic, and the origin is plainly and accurately labeled. Produce, dairy, and bulk bins contain a lot of locally produced foods.
The two Co-op locations have both organic and non-organic products. In the produce section, look for white labels that identify products grown nearby, though that doesn’t necessarily mean in Whatcom County. Take along your Whatcom Food and Farm Finder so you can look up the farm name shown on the white label to see if it’s a Whatcom County farm or not.
Haggen stores offer some locally grown produce, too. When you get there, ask one of their staff what local foods are currently available.
All three of these grocers make a real effort to support local farms. Let them know you appreciate it whenever you can.
4. Visit farmers markets regularly.
During the season when the farmers markets are in operation, they are the place I go first for fresh fruits and vegetables. Vendors have usually just picked what they are selling, so if you go early you can get the freshest, ripest, highest quality produce imaginable (short of growing your own). You can also meet the farmers face-to-face and talk about their farming methods, find out what varieties will be available soon, and hear about what’s doing well this year and what isn’t. When you visit their booths each week, you gradually get to know the people growing your food, and you can’t put a price on that.
Don’t be confused by fresh produce markets made to look like farmers markets. Many of them are selling the same imported factory farmed food you find in traditional grocery stores. When in doubt, ask what is local and what farm produced it.
5. Shop at farm stands.
If I can’t find something at the farmers market, or I’m shopping on a day the market isn’t open, farm stands located right on the farm are the next place I go. Some farms sell only through their farm stores. Going to the farm stand also gives you a chance to see the farm itself and the care going into raising food for you.
In Everson, several farms have joined together to create one stand called Field of Greens. Located at Kale & Everson Road, they are open Wed-Fri 2pm-6pm, Sat. 10am-4pm, and Sun. Noon-4pm.
I also go to farm stands when I want a better price or more unusual varieties than the grocery stores can offer. Buying farm direct is almost always less expensive, though you have to take transportation into account.
6. U-pick produce.
For the best prices or to buy in quantity for canning and freezing, u-pick farms are a great resource. When you pick the food yourself, you get just the ripeness you want. There’s also no substitute for experiencing the connection between the land and your food that u-pick allows. Take the kids and make it a family affair!
7. Purchase Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) shares or subscriptions.
If you don’t want to spend a lot of time shopping, purchasing a CSA “share” in late spring or early summer may be a good solution for your produce needs. By paying about $200-$400 up front to a farm offering a CSA program, you “subscribe” to a weekly bag or box of fresh produce. The season for CSAs usually lasts from roughly mid-June through mid-October. Some CSAs also include eggs, meat, or other options–even flowers! April is usually a good time to choose your CSA.
8. Grow a garden, or trade with someone who does.
For the freshest, most local food of all, nothing beats a home garden. You can choose your own varieties, and pick food moments before you eat it. Gardening takes time, especially when you are first getting one started. My friend Pamela says the answer to all questions about how to do something in a garden is, “Work!” However, it’s work that can be very satisfying, and I’ve found it soon falls into a rhythm of planting, weeding, and watering that is fairly manageable. Besides, gardening burns more calories than almost any other kind of exercise! Think of it as your new fitness plan.
My advice is to start small. Salad vegetables (lettuce, kale, salad mixes, etc.) are easy to grow and don’t take much space to feed a family. In fact, a windowbox or pots on a sunny deck are sufficient for enjoying fresh salads. Plant a few seeds every two weeks so some will be ripe continuously during the season. When you harvest some, plant more in that space for later.
A good book on all aspects of vegetable gardening is Growing Vegetables West of the Cascades by Steve Solomon. You can buy it online from Village Books through our online bookstore. Other recommended gardening titles are also listed there.
If you simply don’t have time to grow a garden, often you can trade with someone who does. For example, I moved last year and didn’t get a garden started at our new home until this spring. I was able to trade some computer work with a gardening friend for some of her surplus fresh asparagus. We were both delighted with the arrangement. Other times I’ve canned fruits or pickles and split the finished jars with the gardener who raised them.
In fact, this week’s menu was created as a result of a very large, homegrown red cabbage given to us by a friend of my daughter. The recipe linked below was delicious, we’ve also enjoyed some coleslaw from it, and we’ll probably get a couple of other dishes from the same cabbage. Talk about abundance!
Menu for a lunch or light supper: