The farmer’s market is the place to see and be seen in my hometown. Yes, it’s a place to buy local foods, but it’s also a place to meet friends, have coffee or listen to some great music. On Wednesdays and Saturdays in Los Angeles if you’re not at the farmer’s market, you’re missing out. But eating local is about way more than just hitting up the farmer’s market. Dive a little deeper into your local foods community.
1. Join a CSA
Community Supported Agriculture, or CSAs are a great place to start. At the beginning of each season, you can buy a share of the harvest. While it’s more expensive when you’re getting started, buying produce in bulk like this is a more economical way to go. Organic CSAs are available as well if you’re concerned with the use of pesticides.
CSAs give farmers the support they need to thrive in your local community. CSAs also help educate you on what’s really in season locally. When it’s stone fruit season you can uncover and test every applicable recipe and when there’s a bumper crop of squash, you learn how to put the excess to work in your kitchen.
2. Join an Animal Share
In addition to CSAs, if you’re a conscious carnivore, you can also become a member of an animal share. When an animal is slaughtered, you split a portion of the meat with other community members. This way, you’re eating the animal from head to tail and not letting any of it go to waste. What’s more, you’re supporting the producers that raise animals. And by getting to know your farmers and producers personally, you can learn firsthand how your foods are grown and raised. You can ensure that animals are raised humanely, lived a happy life (hopefully on the open range) eaten their real natural diet Mother Nature intended them to eat and not given hormones and antibiotics. I’ve even heard of fish shares in some oceanside communities where you pay a fisherman upfront for a certain lot of seafood. In return, you get a certain amount of points and when the catch comes in, you pay with points. The amount of points you pay depends on the price of the fish.
3. Learn to Cook Like a Locavore
Farmer’s markets and harvest shares give you access to great local food, but learning how to prepare your local eats is crucial. I started off by simplifying the recipes I choose and letting what’s available locally dictate the menu, rather than the other way around. Local eating is more than fruits and vegetables, it’s about eggs, honey, herbs, butter, milk, and so much more.
Not only should you simplify recipes, learn to cook in big batches and freeze the rest for next month. Soups and casseroles are great for freezing. What should you do with the huge batch of heirloom tomatoes? Think creamy tomato bisque. What about some turnip green casserole? Enjoy it tonight and in a month’s time. It means you don’t have to cook and you’re not wasting the local bounty.
4. Grow a Kitchen Garden
Supplement what you can’t find at the farmer’s market or in your CSA with a kitchen garden. Your kitchen garden can be home to all kinds of herbs so you don’t have to waste cash at the grocery store on those tiny plastic containers of basil and mint. I also recommend growing at home what’s expensive at your local market like lemons (If your growing zone will support it).Your pocket book will thank you and it’s incredibly rewarding!
5. Preserve, Preserve, Preserve
Freezing is the easiest way to preserve a bumper crop. If you have tons of melon from your CSA, cut it up and freeze for a smoothie down the road. But the ultimate way to preserve an over allotment of produce is to can it. My friends and I have canning parties where one friend who is well versed in how to can, shows us how to get started. That way, it’s not so intimidating.
6. Support Restaurants That Buy Local
When you go out to eat, remember to support restaurants that support your community as well. Farm to table restaurants are more common than over. A restaurant in Los Angeles is taking it a step further. Forage has a program that allows you to get certified as an approved food source for restaurants and markets so you can bring in food that you’ve grown at home and get paid for it. If you bring in a huge batch of melons, Forage will give you money toward a meal at the restaurant. It’s a win-win for all involved.
Local eating is about celebrating your local eats and the changes that the seasons bring. It’s also about investing and supporting your local community farmers and producers. And it’s one more excuse to love where you live.