Living the Local Life – An 18 Point Guide (2015 Version)
Variations of this post have been around over the years. It’s our basic manifesto. Why 18 points? Seems like a nice round number. What’s written before mostly remains apt, but we’ve updated a few things here and there.
- Familiarize yourself with what is local and in season. You can’t begin to eat local without knowing the local fare. Typically, there is more local foods available than realized, including local meat, eggs, and grains. Also, know when to expect foods. Charts on seasonality may be wholly inappropriate for your area. Find out what is actually in season, when. Pay special attention to new potatoes, tomatoes, peppers and grapes. The seasons for these can really vary around the country.
- Adjust your tastes and your expectations to those foods that are available. Instead of focusing on what you won’t be eating, learn to love what is local. An easy reward because the fresher and more vibrant local will easily out-taste the old. Moreover, you will find better versions of standard foods not bred for shipping and uniformity, like the many heirloom tomatoes. Finally, you will find a world of foods that you forgot about or never knew existed like regional nuts and rarely grown fruits like the gooseberry.
- Cook and bake. Local eating may require more effort in the kitchen. Local foods need to be stemmed and peeled and seeded and otherwise handled in ways unfamiliar. Learn to cook or bake better to best take advantage of local foods. A strong side benefit of local eating is that the greater emphasis on cooking, leads to a greater emphasis on meals together with family and friends.
- Do not make yourself nuts trying to eat local. You do not have to give up on foods that are basics. Wake up with coffee, diet with olive oil and survive with salt. Two good rules to follow: if you can get a product locally, then only get it locally; favor the local over your non-local food. The former means do not touch that asparagus after its season ends. The latter means eat apples and oranges, but depending on where you live, eat more of one vs. the other.
- Likewise, make small changes first. Does every part of your diet have to be local? Start somewhere and grow as you learn to manage local eating and find local food sources.
- If possible, invest in an extra fridge or freezer. Ideally, a budding locavore will have both. Either will do, and they both serve purposes. Freezing is a great and easy way to preserve fruits and vegetables. Freezer space allows the purchase of local meat in bulk, saving a lot of money. An extra refrigerator allows for stocking up each week, but also serves as a great place to keep many foods during the off-season.
- Subscribe to a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) or at least develop a strong relationship with a local farmer. Buying into a CSA means buying into a farm. It provides a farmer critical capital at a time when he or she needs cash. It ensures a steady supply of local food, and it commits you to local. With a CSA or a strong farmer relationship, you can learn about how your food grows. You can be privileged to special deals. You may be able to get food when no one else can, like in the winter. You become part of the food chain. We’ve collected many of our CSA articles in this post. Our 2015 list of CSAs is here.
- Find a farmer’s market close to you. There are farmer’s markets in every state. It’s not easy keeping up with markets, and our most recent list is only from 2013. We hope to have an updated list up soon. Another source to try is Localharvest.org. Farmers markets bring seasonal fruits and vegetables to the consumer, so you see and taste what is local. Follow the changing colors to see what is in season. Farmer’s Markets also offer an array of local products from cheese and other dairy products to meats to even local wool. You cannot go wrong shopping for local at a farmer’s market. And you’d think that there’s no more markets in the Chicago area, but there are all sorts of options for winter markets.
- Read labels and ask around. It is easy to find local foods at a farmer’s market or in your CSA box, but where else can you find local foods? One place is on the label. If there are no labels, ask. An imperfect rule of thumb is, produce without labels is more likely to be local.
- Support local markets that focus on local foods. Entrepreneurs, seeing the demand and the need for available local food. Order online from Irv and Shelly’s Fresh Picks our shop at the several places focusing on local foods.
- Buy local when you see it. The Warehouse giant, Costco may sell tons of foods that are not local, but you may still find things there that can be defined as local. Whole Foods is trying to identify and support local foods. Many regional supermarket chains are carrying local foods–many always did. Support these efforts. Where ever you see food that fits you idea of local, buy it. You will be surprised where you find local foods if you look.
- Ask for, nay, demand local foods. When there is no local specialist and the area grocery stocks no local, see if you can change their minds.
- Eat local year round. It is possible to eat local even in Northern areas for two reasons. First, you can store food by freezing, drying, canning and finding cold places. Second, there are farmers growing year-round and markets selling local year round. You can find local food always.
- Grow your own food. Nothing is more local than food from your yard. Just a bit of gardening can supplement your needs. Urban dwellers can use window boxes and rooftops.
- Travel and learn your region’s food. There are small town butchers still making their own sausages from local meat. There are hidden grist mills long forgotten but still operating. Find dedicated canners and preservers selling jams, jellies and pickles. Roadside stands offer things that never make it to markets. Farmstead cheeses sell their wares for amazing prices. Explore.
- Take advantage of online resources. The world wide web is filled with people who have already taken the locavore plunge. See how they have done it. Also, there are many sites to identify markets, CSAs, etc. In addition, join the discussions. Encourage each other and assist each other.
- When you eat out, eat out at restaurants featuring local foods. All around the USA, there are chefs, at fancy restaurants and neighborhood cafes who are dedicated to making their places as local as your homes. Seek these out.
- Have fun eating local. It is in an inspired choice that can affect the planet in big ways and small. Reduce energy consumption by closing food miles, but also contribute to you local economy, supporting area businesses. Along the way, you will eat better than you have ever eaten before. In the end, focus on what you have, local food instead of wanting the foods you once had.