Can't Grow Your Own? How to Shop Locally and Seasonally
After we shared our annual Reader Survey last month, I noticed that a lot of you were saying your biggest issue with getting your homestead started was the lack of space that you had. I also have been receiving messages left and right asking about container gardening. I always feel badly on this one , because, while I think container gardening is awesome and definitely should be considered if you do not have the option to grow in ground, I really do not specialize in it at all. I think one of the best things I heard a fellow Master Gardener say at a recent meeting was that, "Every time someone asks me a gardening question, they assume I know everything!" It made me laugh. Each person specializes in something different, and while I try my hardest to stretch my knowledge, I have not grown in containers! So I don't know a whole lot about it. But I do know that there are so many amazing resources out there where you can learn more about it - I have heard that using those mesh planting bags is far superior to, like, a big plastic bucket. They let the plants breathe a lot better and don't dry out or get too hot as quickly! Something to look into?
But what about all of you that want to eat more seasonally, to get rid of the processed foods and embrace naturally grown things, without growing a garden? Where do you start shopping? I think that's a big decision to make and wrap your head around. When we first decided that we wanted to only eat whole ingredient foods, the kind where we know exactly what is being put in and transformed, it was overwhelming. I have not written much about the process to change over because we are still learning exactly how to do that! Though I do know a pretty excellent way to get started and that is to think about eating in seasonal terms. We are not always perfect at this practice as a family (because I like lemons! those don't grow here...). I have noticed that over the winter we have been eating a lot more of the foods that we preserved from over the summer. It's been really nice and has saved us a chunk of change.
Why Eat Seasonally?
For one thing, it will probably save you a lot of energy, money, and time when it comes to planning a meal for your family! Eating seasonally means that you eat a food around the time that it is harvested in the place that you live. A great way to do this is to shop at your local farmer's markets and food co-ops. Of course, that can be difficult if you live in a place where the winters are harsh and not much is growing - this is the case for our family, too. Because we grow our own food, we have the opportunity to preserve a lot of it for the winter months. This also means that we are not eating as many greens as we would like, but you can still purchase these items from local farms who grow in a greenhouse!
Food that is grown seasonally is more fresh and more nutritious than food that has had to travel many miles and months to grace your table. For instance, if you are enjoyer of blueberries then the best time to eat them is usually in mid to late June here in Iowa. Most larger corportation grocery stores are beginning to see that the local food movement is growing and are beginning to offer locally produced fruits and vegetables. Ask if your grocer offers any programs like this and when to expect stock to arrive! I always say that if your grocer already does this, let them know how much you like it. Incentive is the best way to make sure that those growers can remain supported.
You may also notice that strawberries produced locally are not as large and beautiful as those at the grocery store, but don't they just taste 1,000 times better?! I am amazed at how much flavor a local strawberry can have. That's because strawberries sold at the grocery store all year round are harvested early, way before they begin to ripen, to ensure that they are ready and ripe while on the shelves. This does not allow them to taste as fully flavored as a strawberry allowed to mature naturally.
Don't forget, too, that when you purchase locally sourced and seasonally grown produce you are supporting the local economy, a grower's big dream, and the lifestyle choice to create a more sustainable planet. Eating food that is allowed to grow naturally is taking a stance on less pesticide and unnatural growing practices. All of this to say that eating seasonally allows you to be able to embrace a lifestyle of knowing exactly where your food comes from and how it was grown and raised. I think this is something so many of our readers are passionate about and interested in. It doesn't mean that it has to be more expensive, though growers who are selling from their own farms generally do have to ask for a higher price... and I honestly am in the same boat of wondering why it has to be that way. Why do we have to pay more for good food that uses less equipment to produce than food that has been sprayed and treated and pumped and colored? It's not an easy decision to make when you start to consider the financial aspect, but we have greatly noticed that by eating seasonally, we are not spending hardly as much as we used to on produce.
Where to Shop?
There is no doubt that the local food movement is growing! Farmers and markets alike are beginning to use social media to their advantage to make sure that good, wholesome food can make its way to your table. I read an interesting quote the other day that even though food is labeled as organic in the grocery store, that doesn't always mean the entire process was organic... like say you had an apple tree and the soil was certified organic but the tree itself was not. That makes this entire process difficult to figure out and navigate. As a farmer myself (eek!), I can only hope that the people I feed know that I am working to use an all natural process and also that they are welcome to come over and see the operation themselves. Everyone deserves that right! But what about your local farmer? The best thing to do is ask! Get to know them at the farmer's market; ask if their food is certified or what kinds of practices they use. I will always tell someone that growing your own food is the best option because you get to control what happens! But direct buying from a farmer is probably your best bet. Most farmers going to a market or hosting a CSA (community supported agriculture) program are on the small scale.
My new favorite way to get farm fresh, seasonal food? Join a CSA! My friend Cara of Wild Farm Soap and I just started our first program this year. CSA's are awesome because you get to have an up close and personal relationship with your farmer. Most have you come pick up your weekly share (usually a box full of produce, meats, eggs, and more!) at the farm where you can see how production is looking, learn exactly what will be ready when, and maybe even get to help out. You'll have a great look at how exactly the farm works to make that food happen for your family and others. Don't have a farm with a CSA program near you? Try looking for a Community Garden! These are great if you like working in the garden, but are a bit hesitant to start one all on your own. Most community gardens allow you to pay an up front cost along with helping maintain the garden itself for the reward of taking home weekly veggies. Because you'll be working to help grow everything, you have a personal tie to what will be available to eat throughout the season. Don't have a community garden in your area? There are still options, but a great place to go is to your local county extension office and let them know that you would be interested in starting one or having the local Master Gardeners start one!
If you are on the hunt for a farmer's market, CSA, or community garden in your area try checking out LocalHarvest. They can help you find a great program in your community! Our CSA program is on there (:
No farmer's market, CSA, or community garden near you? No problem! What about a local food co-operative? If you live near us, there's always New Pioneer Co-Op which has a great selection of seasonal, local produce. They do a great job of connecting with local farms! If there is nothing like a co-operative near you most health food stores are trying to make a leap at hosting local farms' produce throughout the season in special spots of their produce section. We have a few fun health food stores in Iowa City like Lucky's Market, Natural Grocer's, and Trader Joe's (though I am not sure if they provide local...). I have never been inside a Whole Foods, but they might have a great program, too! Ask your grocer if they sell any seasonal, local produce.
Now it's time to learn what is considered seasonal in your location! I was going to share a new digital download for you to grab, but as I started working something out, I realized that it was becoming too big of a project for one sheet of paper. Besides, it couldn't be very personal or unique to your location... it's easy to say what's in season where I live. But what about where YOU live? Vegetables grow differently all over the United States! Not to mention that there are many unique native plants that are harvested in different regions. I wanted to share a fun resource with you all here on our website, where you could use it during any season of the year, and figure out what foods your local farmer may be offering. I really hope that you enjoy it! This section of our website is called Live by The Seasons and I am hoping to add more blog posts and such to it as well to help you navigate the seasons in your garden, home, and more. Click below to select the region you live in and see what might be growing right now in your area!
Here is to another great year of eating straight from the garden and living sustainably alongside nature. I am dreaming of garden fresh tomatoes, peas, beans, and lettuce. Only a few more weeks!