Let’s be honest. There are some downsides to trying to eat as a “locavore” (a person who eats locally grown foods as much as possible), even here in Whatcom County.
First of all, it’s not usually “one stop shopping.” There’s some extra time involved going to farm stores, Terra Organica, one of the the Community Food Co-op locations, or the Farmer’s Market–sometimes all of the above.
Secondly, without some careful planning local food can cost more. Those organically grown, hand-packed, non-GMO veggies are labor intensive to produce, and the price reflects that.
Thirdly, there’s the seasonality. It takes a little more thought and preparation to create variety in your menus when there’s not much local food reliably available in the winter except root vegetables and maybe a little kale.
True, harvesting your own produce at a u-pick farm, shopping at farm stores, or purchasing a CSA–Community Supported Agriculture–subscription can help reduce the cost. And canning, freezing, pickling or drying produce during peak season for later use adds a lot of variety in winter. Still, those all add to the time and effort required.
So why bother? I’ve been at this for almost a year now, and here are a few of my personal reasons for keeping at it. This isn’t an exhaustive list, but it includes the reasons that are most important to me.
- Number one (and this was the biggest surprise), it’s really fun! For example, one beautiful sunny day last summer we went u-picking at Half Acre Farm. My daughter and one-year-old grandson were exploring dirt and grass around the edges of the gardens as only a one-year-old can. I was harvesting beans when I noticed a friend I hadn’t seen for a couple of years over in the basil row. It turned out she was gathering leaves for a big batch of pesto. We had a nice visit surrounded by the appetizing fragrance of sun-warmed fresh basil. A little later, a friend and her family from Ferndale arrived unexpectedly on their bicycles to pick some vegetables for their meals the following week. It was a hoot! We all had a great time.That’s just one of the wonderful memories from the past year I can attribute directly to seeking out local food. There have been many more–driving a golf cart through BelleWood Acres orchards, a spontaneous serenade by an unseen fellow u-picker among the Boxx Berry Farm raspberry canes, a hilarious and talented juggler at the Farmers Market, the sensory delight of tasting dozens of apple varieties at Cloud Mountain Farm, and so on. I can’t remember the last time, if ever, that I’ve had so much fun buying groceries before this year.
- My second reason is simple–I feel better when I eat local food. Fresh picked food grown in healthy soil is alive in a way food picked weeks earlier and grown in sterile soil can’t begin to match. You can literally see the vibrancy in the produce itself. Living food supports life, and I don’t need science to prove it for me. I know it’s true from experience–I feel energized and nourished in a completely different way when I eat local fruits, vegetables, and meats.
- My third reason is all about people and community. I know how hard the farmers work to grow the food I buy, because I’ve seen them on their farms and talked to them about what they do. I know how committed they are to raising high quality, healthy food even though it’s not the easiest or most lucrative way to farm. They have an integrity about their work that I admire and applaud in this world of Enrons, legal toxic additives, and global fraud. There’s something deeply satisfying about knowing my food purchases are helping to support these wonderful families. My extra effort to buy from them is one way I express appreciation for their extra effort. Furthermore, our local food transactions can sustain our community in some very fundamental ways that can serve us well through both good times and bad. In a very direct manner, a reliable source of good healthy food grown using practices that protect the quality of our groundwater is our most basic form of “homeland security.”
- Finally, I never cease to be amazed, astonished, and transported by the deep, rich flavors of local, ripe fruits and vegetables, grass fed beef, eggs from pastured chickens, and naturally raised pork. There is simply no comparison to factory farmed food that has been genetically altered, treated with various chemicals and pharmaceuticals, force fed unnatural diets, raised in conditions that are sickening to even consider, and then shipped halfway around the globe before you buy it. Local food flavors caused me to develop a penchant for sunchokes I never had previously, and my daughter commented that she felt she’d discovered apples for the first time this fall. For this single reason alone–the fact that it tastes really good–I would continue making the extra effort required to eat locally produced foods. I could never go back to eating the tasteless, bland products I used to think I enjoyed. I simply had no idea what kind of flavor I was missing.
I’ve found these benefits (and more) far outweigh the occasional inconvenience required to serve local foods to myself and my family. Also, the longer I do it, the more skills and strategies I’m collecting to make it easier, more affordable, and faster. In short, the difficulties are gradually disappearing.
Let me be clear. I still don’t eat 100% locally grown food. I haven’t overcome all the hurdles yet. Every week I get a little closer, and as the local percentage of my meals rises my satisfaction does, too.
I hope you’ll give local eating a try, if you haven’t already. Start slowly, perhaps with just one meal a week. Be forewarned–it’s easy to get hooked!
Here’s a tasty local foods winter menu for you to try:
- Shiitake and Cheese Omelet
- Fresh apple (for breakfast) or Roasted Beets With Shallots (for lunch or dinner)
It’s good at any time of day!