Seven ways to eat more local food

I admire Rob Marqusee, whose vision and persistence have expanded organic farming and local food networks in northwest Iowa. I saw on the Woodbury Organics site that he is taking a "local food challenge":

Rob Marqusee, Director of Rural Economic Development for Woodbury County, will eat only food grown within 100 miles of the Woodbury County Courthouse for the entire month of June 09 (and no meat will be allowed in the diet).

I'm not as ambitious as Marqusee, but I try to buy local whenever possible, to support small businesses and reduce my carbon footprint.

After the jump I've posted seven suggestions for people trying to eat more locally-grown food. The first two mostly involve changing the way you think about food, and the others are about how you acquire food.

1. Commit to eating fresh fruits and vegetables in season. You don't have to do this all at once. I made gradual changes over several years. The first step is to read country of origin labels on produce before buying. Another step may be to stop buying fresh food that comes from a different continent.

For me, eating seasonally started out as a conscious effort not to buy certain foods at certain times of the year. But as I adapted to the mindset, I developed new appreciation for fresh foods as they became available. The first fresh berries or melons or asparagus or broccoli taste so much better when you haven't eaten them for a while. I'm not much of a salad eater for most of the year, but in June and July I love the mixed greens that show up at farmer's markets.

2. Make an effort to cook from your refrigerator, not from your cookbooks. A friend who used to be an organic farmer changed my attitude when she gave me this advice a decade ago. Once you stop treating recipes like operating manuals, it's easier to substitute local foods for ingredients that would send you running to the supermarket.

For instance, many casseroles work well with different kinds of cheese, so try that local farmhouse variety instead of what's in the cookbook. Most Asian stir-fries or Indian curries can be adapted to whatever seasonal vegetables you have on hand. If the recipe calls for green beans, peas and cauliflower, chances are you can use carrots, zucchini or broccoli.

3. Shop at a farmer's market regularly. If you live in a mild climate, you may have these available year-round. In Iowa they only last from May through October. On the plus side, Iowa has more farmer's markets per capita than any other state, and that doesn't count the numerous roadside stands where you can buy produce.

4. Produce your own food. Grow some fruits and vegetables if you have a sunny spot in your yard, or access to a community garden plot. Our yard is too shady to do this, but many of my friends grow a lot of food in surprisingly small gardens.

Some people (even in cities) keep chickens for a fresh egg supply. Here's some good advice if you want to try that.

5. When food you love is in season, freeze or can large quantities so that you can enjoy it year-round. Alternatively, try to buy frozen fruits and vegetables that are packaged locally (or at least not halfway around the world).

6. Join a farmer's buying club or CSA (community-supported agriculture) farm. Depending on the business model, you may receive a box of produce, eggs, meat or dairy every week, or you may get regular e-mail reminders about times to order and pick up food. Either way, you will be in regular contact with a farmer, and it will be easier to establish a habit of buying local.

Some people are intimidated by CSAs because they receive some food they've never eaten before and would never buy in a store. Here's where your cookbooks come in handy. You won't find a vegetable in your CSA box that isn't covered somewhere in Madhur Jaffrey's World Vegetarian, Diana Shaw's Essential Vegetarian Cookbook, or the New Basics Cookbook by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins.

7. Join a food cooperative if there is one in your area, or shop at an independent grocer who makes an effort to supply local food.

Please share any relevant thoughts or advice in this thread.

Bonus points for anyone who provides a recipe using ground beef that my kids will eat. I have a good supply of local, grass-fed organic beef, but so far no luck feeding it to my kids.

  • gound meat

    "Wok Surprise"  This started as "potato" surprise, back when I had 3 kids to feed and not much money.  

    1)Take stock of your vegetables, separating the longer-cooking (potato and other roots, broccoli, squash) from the quick (cut corn, peas, onion, leafy greens, etc.)

    2)Cut (1/2 to 1-inch pieces) and pre-cook the long term veggies (steaming or slow simmering prevents them from breaking up) and remove from heat when almost cooked, drain.  Cooking shouldn't take more than about 15 min. after simmering starts if you cut them up, faster for steaming.

    3)About 8 min. before the veggies will be done pre-cooking, heat some oil in a wok or big skillet.  Put the ground meat in the oil and stir, breaking it up as it browns.  Add flavorings the kids like - teryaki, garlic, peanuts(!)

    4) By now, the solid veggies should be pre-cooked and the meat should be brown.  Turn up the heat, throw in the soft veggies and stir fry 2 minutes.  Dump in the pre-cooked veggies, give a quick stir, reduce heat to low and cover the pan (it should have a cover that came with it or an old plate/bowl that will hold in the steam).

    5) In 5 more minutes, all should be cooked and hot.  At this point, you can add shredded cheese, vinaigrette or other dressings, hot sauce, fresh herbs or lemon - whatever you (and more importantly the kids) like to finish it off.  Scoop onto plates or into bowls, top off and serve.

    This actually worked great every time with my kids, possibly because they got to put whatever they wanted on top before eating.  Add some bread/crackers and a drink - it's a meal (and the leftovers are often even better).

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