University Farmer's Market

I have had several questions over the last few months about how to find local food. I thought I’d answer them here, so those of you who are wondering can learn, and those of you who know can add to this list! Please do add any resources and thoughts in the comments – thanks!

Top 10 Benefits Of Eating Local, Seasonal, Organic Food

1. Supporting local farmers & local food diversity will be increasingly important in an economic crisis, as energy prices rise due to peak oil, as our climate continues to change, and as our food supply continues to become threatened by a loss of biodiversity.

2. Eating local food also allows you to have more power as a consumer to monitor where your food comes from, and how it is grown and raised. You also have a strong voice in the local government, so you can make a difference in food legislation.

3. If you eat seasonally, you will reduce the amount of energy used to store your food.

4. If you eat organically, you will reduce the amount of energy, pesticides, and herbicides used in growing your food. This has benefits for your health as well as the climate, our food and water supplies, and the natural environment.

5. If you eat locally, you will reduce the amount of energy it takes to transport your food.

6. The flavors and nutrients of local and seasonal food are generally much richer and more complex. The French have a term for the flavor of wine grapes that comes from growing conditions, soil, water, and place – called terroir. I believe all fruits, vegetables, dairy, meats, nuts, etc. have such potential. We just recently sunk our teeth into a local butter which was divine, with hints of cool, wet, luscious northwest clover. Just amazing.

7. If you grow your own or you purchase from local farmers, you may discover many varieties of different vegetables and fruits you’ve never heard of. This is how we found tayberries for the first time. Until recently I’d never seen kohlrabi in the stores, but I knew the taste well from my grandfather’s garden. In Geyserville, our carrots had multiple levels of complexity – some were spicy, some sweet, some with many other flavors I’ve just never tasted in a carrot.

8. When you buy from local farmers and grocers, your money remains within your local economy. Generally, your money will remain within your local economy much longer as it passes from that farmer to the local hardware store or the local feed store, and beyond. Whereas when you buy from a national or international chain, generally your money leaves your local economy as soon as it leaves your hands. In addition, more of your money goes directly to local farmers, so that they receive more of a living wage.

9. If the economy continues to get bad, a relationship with local food producers and sellers will become essential. Maybe one week you won’t have the money to pay for your produce, but a local farmer may just accept a barter for something you can offer him or her in exchange. And maybe some day a drought hits California, or an oil crisis makes trucking produce too expensive. By supporting our local economies now, we will have these systems in place when we really need them, and we will be able to support one another during difficult times.

10. Buying from local people encourages important personal connections within your community. I’ve learned so much more about my local region, having searched for local food providers. And what joy it is to talk with a local farmer about her particular variety of greens, to learn from another farmer about a new way to protect your tomatoes during heavy rains, or to discuss a new law that may be passed that will affect your local food supply. The stories that come from these interactions just make our lives so much happier, healthier, and more beautiful.

And lastly, it is important to remember that while some things may seem slightly more expensive to buy locally and organically, in the end, eating locally, seasonally, and organically is much less costly to your community; our air, water, energy, and natural environment; and the safety of our children’s food supply. We can reduce economic costs by shopping only for seasonal local produce, and by growing whatever we can in our own yards.

Locally Harvested Wild Edible Mushrooms

Where To Find Local Food

  • Farmer’s Markets

  • Locally-owned Groceries

  • Natural Food Co-ops

  • Organic produce delivery services

  • CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture – generally a farm you buy into so that you receive produce from it each week)

  • Local farms – they may sell to you, or tell you where their products are sold

  • Farm Stands (generally adjacent to your local farms, or located somewhere near the local farming district)

  • Produce Stands (often located in city neighborhoods, where several farmers sell their goods to a central produce seller)

  • Restaurants and Cafes Serving Locally-produced Food

  • U-pick Farms

  • Gather wild berries, greens, nuts, and other foods (Do be careful of those things that have been sprayed – check with your city parks department if you don’t know; and make sure you know what you are picking – if you aren’t absolutely sure what it is, do not eat it!)

  • Grow food in your own backyard

  • Grow food in a community garden, a friend’s garden, your parent’s garden

  • Barter with other gardeners (trade apples from your tree for lettuce from his garden, for example. Or even barter for a service, if you don’t grow food of your own – can you help prune or pick apples on the tree, or bake a pie, or help build something for your neighbor?)

  • Food Banks, if you are in need of extra food (Don’t be afraid to use this service if you need it – it’s very important for you and your children to eat fresh fruits and vegetables, and that’s what the system is set up for.)

If They Don’t Have It, Ask For It

Don’t forget the power you have as a consumer to ask for things you want to buy. If your store doesn’t carry something you want, ask. If one of the store’s distributors carries it, they’re likely to try out a product you ask them to carry. And if it doesn’t carry local food, tell them how important it is to you, and have your friends do the same. This is the only way it will change!

Squash at University District Market

How To Find These Resources In Your Area

  • Organic Consumers Association
  • Local Harvest
  • Eat Wild
  • Phone Books
  • Google search
  • Google’s local directory
  • Other local food bloggers – many local food bloggers have resources like this for their local regions.
  • Word of mouth – ask friends and family, ask other moms and dads at school, call your Chamber of Commerce, ask local farmers where they sell their goods, ask local restaurants where they buy their local produce, ask anyone who might know… or anyone who might know someone who might know! Don’t give up!
  • Please add to this list in the comments! There are lots of readers from other countries here, and I don’t know any international resources, so please let me know of any resources in your country.

If You Don’t Have One, Build One

No excuses! If you don’t have any of these things, it’s time to form one. Past time. You will not be alone in wanting to bring local foods to your area. And some of your local farmers are probably very anxious to find a local niche. So gather your courage and do it!

Find or form a local group of people interested in helping you create a local food system, and start on it now. You can begin by forming a local community garden system, or by creating a farmer’s market once a week, or pushing local groceries to carry products from local growers.

There are many programs out there that exist in other regions, so you don’t have to reinvent the wheel here. Call a farmer’s market that does exist in a nearby city or town, explain what you’re trying to do, and ask them how they started. Contact a co-op in another area and ask them what works for them, what advice they can give you. Meet with them if they will give you the time. Call the Seattle Department of Neighborhoods and find out how their matching funds work for setting up our local community gardens, and what other incentives they’ve given Seattle residents. Also find out where they get their funding, and how they were able to create the program.

Don’t forget that just about everyone who is working on their communities is busy – and many doing this as a volunteer – so make sure you respect their time by have a prepared list of questions, thoughts, and issues you’d like to address. Most likely they will be very happy to help you start, and will be honored that you’re using their program as a model. But just make sure you are respectful!

Seasonal Food at Local Farmer's Market

Seattle-Specific Resources

I encourage you to create a list like the one below, full of local food sources in your area. And then publicize it – on your blog, in your community newsletter, your local newspaper, give it to your friends and family… anywhere that people might find it useful!

Some local food companies we patronize for daily food:

Fresh Farmer's Market Saturday Lunch

What Else?

What have I missed? What other resources are there for finding local food? Please feel free to add specific programs in your neighborhood, so that anyone here from your region can find them, and so we can all find more examples in case some of us have to create our own!