Locavores are people who eat only locally grown food as much as possible. Personally, I try to eat only food grown in Whatcom County.
If you want to give it a try, here are some things I’ve learned over the past two years that may help you get started.
Most important, start slowly. When I first tried to make the transition, I thought I could switch to local foods overnight. I would walk into the Community Food Co-op, Terra Organica and Haggens, buy my local food groceries for the week, and that would be that.
I quickly found out it’s not nearly that easy. It took days just to find out what was available and where to get it. I realized that I needed to start over with more reasonable goals. I decided to aim for just one local food meal per week. That turned out to be workable.
Next, consider your food priorities. What is your definition of “local”? Is it Whatcom County? A 100-mile radius of where you live? A 50-mile radius?
Do you want your food to be 100 percent certified organic, or are you willing to eat food that is grown without toxic chemicals but is not certified?
What about packaging? Do you want your dairy products to be in returnable glass bottles, or is recyclable plastic acceptable?
Some of your choices may change as you learn more about local farming methods, but it’s good to think about the possibilities now.
Pick up a free copy of Whatcom Food and Farm Finder, a booklet published locally by Sustainable Connections. The 2012 edition will be available at the opening day of the Bellingham Farmers Market, on April 7. After that, you can find it at the Community Food Co-op stores, local libraries and other business locations. (Update 4/12/12: It’s now available online.)
Think about the foods you eat and look them up in the booklet. Most produce will be easy to find in season, but you’re not going to find coffee, chocolate or olive oil, for example. They don’t grow here. Will you try to omit those ingredients?
Will you buy from local producers who use fair trade imported ingredients, such as Chocolate Necessities or Bellingham Bay Coffee Roasters? Again, you don’t have to make all of these decisions in advance, but it’s good to spend some time thinking about your priorities. (See my blog posts for some possible strategies.)
To jumpstart your local eating, you may want to join a CSA (community supported agriculture) program. This is an ideal time of year to do so. In a CSA, you pay some money to a farm in the spring when farmers have heavy cash demands (buying seed, for example). In return, you get a box of farm fresh food every week or two throughout the growing season. The WFFF booklet can help you locate farms offering CSAs.
There are many CSAs for produce, but you can also get eggs, dairy, meats and poultry, and even baked goods or flowers in some CSAs. Prices vary considerably, so it’s worth shopping around to try to find exactly what you want.
As a beginning locavore, a CSA makes it easy to get most of the food you need with just one stop to pickup your weekly box. CSAs are a good way to save money on your food budget, too. Since the farmer’s products are pre-sold, they don’t need to spend as much on marketing and can reduce their prices. As with any investment, when you purchase a CSA share, you also share some of the risk. If weather causes a particular crop to fail, for example, you won’t see it in your delivery boxes. Since CSAs are rarely based on a single product, though, you may not even notice what’s missing.
Acme Farms + Kitchen is a new kind of CSA. I’ve written several articles about them recently, so check out their website, acmefarmsandkitchen.com, and read my articles (introduction, packaging, expansion) on this blog.
One important note–if you participate in the SNAP program, don’t think you’re excluded from enjoying healthy local food. Many vendors at the Bellingham Farmers Market accept SNAP payments, as do some farm stores. Also, work/trade opportunities at farms are sometimes possible. Look in the online 2012 Whatcom Food & Farm Finder.
Check out your options. Spring is a great time to begin your transition to eating as a locavore. Farmers markets will be starting in several Whatcom communities, farm stores will be opening for the season and the bountiful flow of amazing Whatcom food will be plentiful. I’ll be hoping to see you out there soon. If you have questions, feel free to contact me.