Eating local without putting the miles on

Written by contributor Donielle Baker of Naturally Knocked Up

During the month of August we’ve begun trying to eat only locally grown foods, and I very quickly realized how much I was going to miss our supermarkets. It seemed that I was in the van every couple of days looking for for food.

It’s such a foreign thing to have to drive multiple places while buying groceries when I’m used to finding everything I need from just one store. And I can even buy paint and clothes and tools there too.

One week in to our Eat Local challenge and I began thinking that we were going to have to win the lotto to fund my gas tank. But after two weeks now, I’ve finally found a few tips that have drastically reduced both my time spent and miles driven.

Four tips for buying local foods

1. Research first

Spend some time checking out sites like Local Harvest and Eat Wild to find farms in your area that supply the general public with produce, dairy, and meat. Call the farms and see if they have drop off points (many do) where you can pick up your order from a farmers market or local health food store.

Ask friends where they get some of their food items; ideally you’ll have friends who also support local farms and will have this info. If you aren’t lucky enough to have one of these friends, just ask around anyways. You’ll never know that the uncle of the family you sit next to in church or see at play-dates raises beef and chickens. Everybody knows somebody, and once the word gets out that you’re looking, you may just have more leads than you do room in your freezer.

Natural health professionals may also have some leads for you since they will most likely also be buying locally raised meat and produce.

And when all else fails, find some virtual friends and do some googling for naturally minded groups in your town, search through the Meetup site, or look for a Weston A Price Foundation chapter in your area.

eat local
Photo by Donielle

2. Try a CSA or farm share program

Having the option to get most of your local foods in one pickup is a huge plus! Joining a community supported agriculture program allows you to pick up a box of produce each week, and many offer things like beef and eggs as well.

This year it might be a bit to late to sign up for one (unless you can find a fall/winter or year-round CSA) but when you look, try to find one that offers as many food items as possible. Because even if a farm is a few more minutes from your house, it makes it well worth it to find everything you need in one stop.

If you’re interested in buying fresh, unprocessed milk, many states require you to do so through a milk share program. If you go this route, try to find a farm that offers more than just milk as many will also offer meat and eggs to the farm share participants.

3. Visit a farmers market

By far, the best place to find a variety of locally grown food is going to be at the farmers market. It may take some time to find the one that best fits your needs if you have multiple markets in your area, so either ask your friends which one they go to, or try calling the organizer of the market to see which farms go every week.

I’ve been able to find a farmer’s market about fifteen miles from my house that includes plenty of produce (both fruit and veggies) and pastured meats as well. Being able to pick up most of the items I’ll need for the week in one morning really helps me keep my driving to a minimum.

It’s also best to look for a farmers market in close proximity to the stores where you already shop. This way you can get everything you can from the market and fill in with extra pantry staples or items that were not available from the farms, without driving to the other side of town. The market I decided to go to each Wednesday is around the corner from a supermarket and just a few miles from a health food store.

4. Take where you live into consideration

Do you live right in the middle of the city? The suburbs? Or maybe you’re like me and live out in the country. Really taking a look at where you live can help you decide where to go for food.

If you live in town, plan your errands or play dates at the park on days where you can also go to the farmers market on the way home. Whereas if you live out in the country, try and find a local farmer that has a veggie cart stand by the side of the road.

I had been trying to make it into the market or visiting local stores to buy all of my produce and ended up driving at least fifteen miles one way to get food. A couple of my friends finally reminded me that we have veggie stands all over right now where I can drive less than three or four miles to find produce.

It has taken me a bit of time to consolidate my “food runs”, but I think I’m finally getting there. This week I made just one stop in town yesterday to visit the farmers market and health food store and stopped by to pick up our milk (from a milk share) on the way home.

Do you buy a lot of local foods? How do you keep your driving to a minimum?

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  1. I am blessed to live in Amish/Mennonite country in South Central PA (a couple hours west of Lancaster, we’re not a touristy area at all!) I have a great year round farmers market where I can get fresh produce, milk from a great local dairy and hormone free (though not exclusively grass fed/pastured) meat and chicken all year round.

    Obviously, I’m completely spoiled. My mom and I also make a twice yearly trip to another local farm to stock up on grass-fed beef and butter which I store in the deep freeze (my mom knows what I like in my stocking at Christmas ; ) I love your tips though, because, unfortunately, I don’t think we’re going to be living here forever!

  2. Dan Bowden says:

    Check out this website: it’s an “online farmers market” that takes all of your locally-produced, online-purchased food and delivers it to a weekly drop point. This particular site is for Southern Oregon only, but it’s a program that is being replicated in communities across the nation. Perhaps your community has something similar, or perhaps you know some folks who could get something like this up and running.

  3. Lisa Imerman says:

    I understand, this issue comes up frequently for me when friends say “well you drive so much for your food, they seem to think that negates the environmentally friendly aspect of buying local”, but what I try to educate them on is that the food from the grocery store has many more food miles on it and isn’t produced in the best ways to begin with. My food may have a lot of my food miles on it, but it doesn’t have as many miles overall as the grocery store food.

    I do belong to a CSA, so I only go once a week to get the majority of my produce for the week. I do hit a local farmers market on Saturday morning to get my eggs and a few other things, but it is very close to my house. I also get beef once a year, I do have to drive 3 hours round trip to pick it up, but it is only about once a year. I get poultry locally and pick up each month June-November but it is at our CSA too, so not too far. I do also get a few things from another local farm (different meats) but I only get it a couple of times a year and I do have to drive about an hour, but again, I stock up when I go.

    I don’t mind driving for my food, it takes planning and some forethought to make it work, but it is definitely worth it.

    Great Article.

  4. Planning and forethought is definitely key – I can’t quite just “stop and pick something up” anymore. I really have to think ahead!

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