Friday, April 29, 2011

Eating Local

By choosing locally grown foods, we are benefitting local farmers, our local economy, the environment, our health and our tastebuds. Sounds like an easy choice to me. So, where do we start?

Farmer's Markets

Seems like every town in our area has it's own weekly seasonal Farmer's Market, in addition to the State Farmer's Market in Raleigh which is open daily year round. There certainly are plenty of options.

Farmer's Markets are a convenient way to find local produce, locally raised meat and eggs, and other handmade goods with one-stop shopping. And since every dollar spent at a Farmer's Market goes directly to the farmer, rather than a middleman, you are supporting the local economy and getting fresh, quality food, too.

Seasonal Farmer's Markets should be opening within the next week or so in this area – usually operating May through October. Check the Local Harvest website here to find a market near you. 


CSAs (community supported agriculture) allow members to have a more direct relationship with local farmers and their food. In a traditional CSA, members purchase “shares” of a farm, receiving a portion of the harvest in return. Typically, payments for a whole season of produce are made in full prior to the Spring planting.

I belonged to a CSA while living in San Diego. The quality of the produce was excellent, as was the camaraderie among members, but there were a couple of drawbacks. On more than one occasion, I was unable to get to the pick-up location at the appointed time to get my box of produce. And since the harvest is usually equally portioned, there isn't any choice in what produce you will receive.

You can find local CSAs listed on the Local Harvest website as well. And on the State Farmer's Market website, you will find a chart showing when your favorite fruits and vegetables are in season in North Carolina. 

Third-Party CSAs

While doing some research into CSAs here in the Raleigh area, I came across a number of CSAs run by third-party organizations or groups of local farms. This type of set-up offers CSA members the added benefits of more variety, choice in assembling your weekly box of produce, and even delivery to your doorstep in some cases. Convenience is important to me, so we decided to go with a third-party CSA, Papa Spuds, which offers milk, cheese, eggs, meat and seafood in addition to local organic and conventionally-grown produce.

However, you do have to be careful when choosing a third-party CSA. Do some research ahead of time into what the offerings are, what farms they work with and reviews of quality from current members. I also came across some warnings online about concerns with how some organizations treated the farmers they work, and when you are joining a CSA as a way to support local farmers, this is an important factor.


Probably considered more of an attraction than a shopping destination, U-Pick farms allow the public to come into the fields and fill their own buckets of fruit or produce. Pick-your-own berries are the especially popular, and the strawberries are already ripening in this area. I can tell you from experience that they are much sweeter than anything currently in the supermarket.

Look for farms that allow you to pick your own fruits and vegetables on the Pick Your Own website here.

Grow Your Own

You can't get any more local than right in your own backyard. Here you have full control – over what to plant and how much, how to fertilize, and how to treat for pests. If you are considering planting your own vegetables for the first time, first check online to see what types and varieties of veggies grow well in your area.  I referenced NC State University's Vegetable Garden Planting Guide often.

You can also get advice from the employees of your local garden store or nursery and there are plenty of seed catalogs to peruse for ideas. The time for planting is now, so start planning right away. (More about my family's attempts at square foot gardening coming soon.)

Want to know more about Square Foot Gardening? Check out the website here. Need some tips on what to grow in your backyard and how? See this web site on backyard vegetable gardening

Any one of these options, or a combination of them, will get you started in the local eating movement. But, if you want to challenge yourself further, take a look at the Eat Local Challenge here. Originating in Portland, Oregon in 2005, the challenge has been modified for year round use by EcoTrusts Food & Farms Program, and an official scorecard can be downloaded to get you started. The goal is to spend 10% of your grocery budget on local foods, to try one new fruit or veggie every day, and to preserve some fruits or veggies for later use. Try it. I think you'll be surprised by what you discover. Good luck!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Greening Our Eating

Step one of our greening project is to take a closer look at something very personal - my family's eating habits - and to explore how the choices we make affect others and the planet.

It's no surprise that the typical American diet is bad for your health, but bad for the environment? I never stopped to think about how my food decisions may impact the world around me. Besides wasting less food, and starting to eat those leftovers in the fridge before they turn into a whole other kind of science project, what changes could my family make in order to green our eating? I identified six areas that will take priority when making food decisions for our family.

1. Eat Local
Did you know that the average food product travels 1500 miles to get to our plates? Starting with my morning coffee, bananas for the baby, juice boxes for the big boy and Dad's sushi addiction, most of what we consume daily could not be considered local. But choosing locally grown foods eliminates the need for long-distance shipping. This ensures that food gets to your plate faster, making it fresher and better tasting. Cutting down on the number of miles food products travel also cuts down on emissions and fuel consumption, the amount of packaging necessary, and whatever chemical additives might be needed to guarantee a longer shelf life. Knowing exactly where your food comes from also gives you peace of mind if there is a food recall. You'll know immediately whether or not you should be concerned.

2. Eat Organic
There is still much debate over what level of risk might be imposed by the use of pesticides in conventional farming methods, but whether or not the chemical residue negatively affects humans (and I'd rather err on the safe side), it does have a significant environmental impact - on nearby water supplies, on soil quality and on biodiversity. Choosing organic foods certified by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and bearing a label that says "USDA Certified Organic" is the best way to make sure the food you are eating has been produced under strict organic guidelines. However, eating locally offers the benefit of knowing the people who are producing your food and being able to ask questions. Some local farmers in our area are not applying for organic certification because of the burden of record keeping and the additional paperwork necessary, but are still practicing organic farming methods. Others will let you know their produce is pesticide free, although not technically organic.

3. Eat in Bulk
No, this doesn't mean we're shopping at the warehouse clubs. But, we are purchasing more foods from bulk food bins, like those in food markets like Whole Foods, in order to avoid unnecessary packaging and create less garbage. Our four-year-old was the first to feel the pinch of this modification when we stopped buying juice boxes. (We're also working on eliminating all individually wrapped snacks.) Just remember to bring your own reusable bags with you when you hit the bulk bins to avoid filling your kitchen with more non-recyclable plastic bags. And if you can't find a store with bulk bins near you, buying staples such as rice in large bags reduces wasted packaging - just make sure you will eat it all.

4. Eat Sustainably
This is particularly important when choosing fish. The Seafood Watch program of the Monterrey Bay Aquarium publishes a pocket guide of recommendations so consumers can choose to eat fish that are caught using responsible fishing methods that do not lead to overfishing, bycatch (catching unwanted species with broad fishing practices), or ocean habitat destruction. And for those of you with iPhones and Androids, there is also an app to help you make the best seafood choices in restaurants and sushi bars. Read more about Seafood Watch here.

5. Eat Humanely
While we are lessening our consumption of animal products, when we do choose meats, we look for labels that indicate humane practices such as free-range, grass-fed and hormone-free. These methods are not only healthier for our consumption but the conditions are better for the animals and the environment. This is something we'll be researching further in the weeks to come.

6. Eat Compassionately
When food items cannot be purchased locally, as is the case for my beloved coffee, we will be making the commitment to buy fair trade. Even though this is more of a social movement than an environmental one, buying products with the Fair Trade label promotes sustainable practices among producers in developing countries.

My family is currently practicing these six points in varying degrees, but as we move forward and delve further into the research pertaining to each category, I will post our findings, our successes and our failures. Read more about our local eating pledge and our experiences with CSA's on Friday.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Earth Day Experiment

Being green is becoming more fashionable, but the movement as a whole is still fairly easily ignored in a culture that values convenience and the bottom dollar above all else.

I've always been attracted to the concepts of living simply, getting back to basics and going green. I read a lot about them, but it usually ends there. I'm guilty of looking for the easiest way to get things done, so the principles haven't often found their way into my daily routine until now. Starting today, I will be making a conscious effort to apply what I learn.

Inspired by Colin Beavan's year-long experiment chronicled in the documentary, No Impact Man, I knew I had to conduct an experiment of my own. And what better time to begin than on Earth Day? Today,  I publicly commit to gathering information about sustainable living and to apply as much of what I learn as possible to my family's daily living.

The goal is to push out of our comfort zone in order to see what changes we might be able to make long-term. But, I am realistically going into this knowing that we are not radicals and that not everything we attempt will stick. The project is more about finding "our own shade of green". Not all of us are called to be environmental activists, but everyone can take a look at their own lifestyle to see where changes should be made. Keeping myself aware of the problems and potential solutions is the first step.

Like Beavan, we will tackle topics such as conserving energy and natural resources, eating sustainably, and reducing consumption, waste and our overall carbon footprint. Unlike Beavan, we won't be giving up toilet paper. (That was my husband's biggest concern.)

Our foray in to the ecologically-savvy unknown should at least be entertaining if not informative. And in the end, we hope to have a clearer idea of how we fit into the bigger picture and what it means to establish our own shade of green.