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!

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