Mar 18

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Fresh Is Best (Eat Local!)

The sun is shining and even here in the Midwest we are beginning to anticipate the upcoming growing season.  Well prepared gardeners are watching their early indoor seeds sprout and are eagerly wishing they could predict when the last frost will come and go.  As the season progresses there will be a bounty of locally grown foods all around us.  Yet many people will continue to buy foods which have travelled hundreds, even thousands, of miles to get to market while the fresh stuff all around them is distributed miles away through wholesale supply chains.  Many make this choice out of habit.  Others would like to eat fresher foods but believe it is more convenient and economical to buy this food that has been gathered and redistributed over the many miles.

But eating local, fresher foods doesn’t have to be a daunting or expensive venture.  Here are a few ideas for bringing fresher, locally grown foods to your table.

Grow your own fruits and vegetables.

There is very little more satisfying than eating real, home-grown foods.  Even if you have no gardening experience you can grow fresh vegetables for you and your family.  Start small – grow peppers in pots or tomatoes in hanging baskets – to introduce your family to the rich flavors in truly fresh foods.  Or, if you have the room and inclination, start your own raised bed garden.  The seeds and plants are a small investment for the amount of fresh, real food you can bring to your meals.  (Not to mention the investment in your health and well being!)  PlantStrongMommy is busy planning her organic garden, and I for one hope she keeps us all posted here at Eating Real on how that new venture is going for her and her family.

Real Food Convenience factor: The level of convenience will depend on how much time you have and how much you have to learn about caring for plants.  Gardening together can be a wonderful family experience as well as a learning experience for children.  And once you get better at it, the process of caring for a garden can be a therapeutic activity.

Real Food Economic factor: Grow only the things you know you will consume or store and this is a very economic way to eat fresh, locally grown foods.  Not convinced?  Let’s do the math: suppose you like red bell peppers.  You can buy a pot, a pepper plant, and potting soil for less than $10.  This plant will pay for itself with less than 5 peppers harvested.  Start with seeds and the cost analysis becomes even more favorable.  Don’t need all the seeds that come in one package?  Find other people in your area and split the packages and the cost.

Let others grow for you

Before you know it the outdoor farmer’s markets will open for the season and delicious locally grown fruits and vegetables will be available to bring nutritious, sustainable fare to our tables.  This can range from a single vendor stand in a parking lot to large community farmer’s markets with possibly hundreds of vendors bringing their available items to sell.  If you like a wide variety of fruits and vegetables this is a great way to get just the right amount of what you want.

Real Food Convenience factor: This varies depending on your schedule and the times the markets are open.  We make Saturday morning farmer’s market shopping a weekly ritual.  This not only makes it convenient but also turns the process into something we look forward to.  It is also a great way to try new items as you can ask the vendor how they prepare their unusual fruits and vegetables.

Real Food Economic factor: Individual items at farmer’s stands generally cost only a little if any more than their well travelled cousins at the grocery store.  We find shopping at the market keeps overall costs down because we don’t wander the aisles and stock up on non-perishables that sit on our shelves for months.  Also, we generally go to the market with a list of items we have a specific meal plan for.

Fresh food roulette

Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is a growing trend in connecting those who grow food and those people in their community who wish to consume fresh, locally grown foods.  CSA members buy a share of a small farm and reap the weekly bounty of fresh fruits and vegetables which are grown there.  I liken it to roulette because with this model there is some chance involved.  What you receive every week is not under your control.  CSA members receive a box (size depending on the CSA and the type of share you buy in some cases) full of what was ripe during that week’s picking time.  This can depend on the region, weather, what the farmer planted when, and other factors beyond the control of the consumer.

Real Food Convenience factor: Most CSAs I’ve explored make it fairly convenient for members to pick up their produce.  Some have varying locations for pick-up, and even varying days.  If you adequately prepare by asking these questions up front and choosing the CSA which best fits your pick up abilities this can score high in convenience.  Learning to cook some new unusual foods may take some planning as well (such as learning recipes before an item comes in season.)

Real Food Economic factor: This is another area of chance for CSA members.  The fees are generally up front, and the cost analysis is a wild card as the overall price isn’t adjusted for the variables in the growing seasons.  This means that you pay the same price for a lousy growing season as for an overly bountiful one without knowing which you are getting into.  Don’t let that scare you away from this model, however, as it is an excellent way to know exactly where your food is coming from while receiving the benefits of well trained growers who know how to maneuver through most growing challenges to make sure your share is worth the investment.

Meat eaters have choices too

If you are a carnivore there are benefits to choosing fresh, locally raised meats and animal products.  They are fresher, for one thing, and by knowing where the meat comes from you can make more informed choices on how humanely the animals were raised and killed for your consumption.

Real Food Convenience factor:  Unless your farmer’s market is one of the larger ones with produce and meat vendors, you may have to shop in separate places for these items.  While perhaps less convenient than an all in one grocery store, this isn’t any more than a slight deviation to our former routine.

Real Food Economic factor:  Knowing where our meat comes from and how the animals were treated means something to us, and we were willing to pay more for this knowledge.  What we found, however, is that prices aren’t as high as we had guessed.  In the case of beef, the prices are lower at our local meat shop than at our grocery store.  So we have access to fresher, cheaper, humanely treated beef and at the same time can support a string of local businesses including those who raised the animals and those who processed them.  If you are already buying and consuming meats then what’s not to love about this arrangement?  Chicken, on the other hand, is slightly pricier at the local meat shop.  Well worth it to us, however, for the reasons mentioned above.

Permanent link to this article: http://eatingreal.com/blog/2012/03/fresh-is-best/

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