During the recession, I saw a lot. I mean, a lot. I saw people whose ex-employer told them that they’d not only be fired, but they wouldn’t be receiving their final checks, either. Their companies were already so far under, that when the banks couldn’t get the money to give out loans, the company couldn’t get approved for the loan necessary to pay their employees. Legal issues aside, I got lots of web design clients simply because they were desperate to get their businesses off the ground and make money for themselves.
Speaking of making money for themselves, I loved the number of tiny boutiques – and tiny is not an understatement – and family shops I saw in Brooklyn. I didn’t recognize a single brand name or company name, simply because there wasn’t enough space for anybody’s big box store to come in and wipe out everyone else’s business. I also suspect there’s a commerce board working damned hard to keep it that way, too.
That’s a big part of why I’m a huge supporter of farmer’s markets. Not only do you get the home-grown fruits and veggies; not only do you get the grass-fed beef, cage-free eggs and organic milks; not only do you get the locally collected honey (a win for someone like me with atrocious allergies)? But you get this:
An abundance of families with their own product lines at the market! Making their own condiments using locally-raised fruits and veggies? I cannot tell you how much I love this! The direct opportunity to help support a local family and put some (extra?) cash in their pockets while still getting what I want? I’m in heaven.
Needless to say, on my vacay – since, as I’ve written before, I’m a weirdo who likes to peruse other cities’ groceries and farmer’s markets – I was dying to hit up the Union Square Green Market in Manhattan… and I could’ve melted in that bright, colorful batch of radishes. Beautiful stuff, here.
Don’t get me wrong. The farmer’s market in Indiana that I fell in love with was full of people with Belgian waffle makers and macerated strawberries, homemade pastries from my favorite pastry chef (who wound up teaching me a ton about baking), and jams! Jams, jams everywhere. It’s not that way at my farmer’s market in Miami, and it’s something I missed.
This is la vida locavore, or “the locavore life.” (This is also the name of a pretty awesome blog, by the way.) Being a locavore, quite simply, means doing what you can to eat foods that are grown as locally as possible. It’s not just for the environment, it’s for your health, as well. In Miami, you find lots of hot, sweet or spicy peppers for sale during certain parts of the year, usually when it’s the hottest. This isn’t a coincidence – if you’re a locavore and you find ways to fit those spicy peppers into your dishes, they help you handle the hot weather better over time. Local environments are best built to grow the things that the locals need to survive.
Doing what you can to purchase locally-grown foods is also better for your wallet. As I’ve written before:
Let’s say that you live in… some place that gets snow. Snowville, USA. Provided you don’t have some awesome locavore or CSA network that you’re affiliated with (more on those later), you’re probably getting your produce from a grocery. That grocery knows that its patrons complain when they can’t have their beloved strawberries in the winter, so what does the grocery store do? They call up their folks in Florida, and ask them to ship some strawberries up north!
Florida then puts on its cape and tights, and says “I’m on my way!” Before you know it, a giant truck is on it’s way from Florida to Snowville to make sure that this grocery store has its strawberries for their patrons to enjoy. Remember, we’re Capitalists – the grocery store doesn’t want you to go elsewhere to get your strawberries, because they know that out of convenience, you’ll just keep shopping at your strawberry place for everything else.
When you pay for strawberries out of season, you’re paying for labor – it takes effort to get strawberries from Florida to Snowville – as well as the fuel used to drive them to you. Yes, you’re paying for the gas. That cost has to be passed on to someone, and why not the customer who insists on having strawberries out of season?
Remember the great gas hike of 2008? Remember how the news kept saying that it affected food prices, but no one understood why? We were paying for the extra cost of the food being shipped to the store. The grocery store for darn sure wasn’t going to pay for that. Interestingly enough, those people who were buying their produce locally and in-season were relatively unaffected by the hike. They weren’t paying for produce shipped a thousand miles away from where it was grown… or the gas bill that comes with it.
Buying in season means that the spring time brings you lots of lemons, spinach, turnips, strawberries, kale, lettuce, celery, peppers, peas and onions. The summer gives us artichokes, broccoli, cherries, peaches, sweet corn, cucumbers, honeydew melons, raspberries, tomatoes and watermelon. We can look forward to the fall for pears, plums, pumpkins, garlic, carrots, apples, squash and zucchini. The winter might not offer too much, but as for new veggies? I’ve grown to appreciate my collard greens, brussel sprouts, radishes and cabbage.
So, basically, being a locavore not only means you save money on groceries, but since less gas is being used to transport less vegetables across the country, you’re also sparing the environment.
Going to a farmer’s market and building a relationship with the person who makes your ketchup, grew your heirloom tomatoes (yes, that’s what the hell is in that picture) and watched over your lettuces also means they’re that much more likely to give you a better deal on what you’re getting. The number of times my favorite Miami vendor has thrown in “an extra bag or two” of fruit for Mini-me because she pointed to it and asked about it… let’s just say I’m glad my daughter is so inquisitive.
The opportunity to support someone’s financial independence, build a relationship with someone who is just as local-focused as I am as well as get some damned good fruits and veggies in the process? Sure, you might not have your winter strawberries, but that’s all the more reason to learn about how to make preserves, right? I wrote, last year, about my visit to an Indiana farmer’s market where I met a Black family – the only Black family there, really – selling barbecue and fries. Obviously, I couldn’t eat any, but I supported by buying their BBQ sauce. Any way I could support and still get something I wanted out of it, I’m down. Not because it’s my obligation, but because I cared.
Being a locavore isn’t an all-or-nothing venture. While hitting up that farmer’s market is a big part of it, there’s also a few other tips you can follow to be a friend to both your local economy and environment. From PBS:
Lobby your supermarket. Ask your supermarket manager where your meat, produce and dairy is coming from. Remember that market managers are trained to realize that for each person actually asking the question, several others want to know the same answer. Let the market managers know what’s important to you! Your show of interest is crucial to help the supermarket change its purchasing practices.
Choose 5 foods in your house that you can buy locally. Rather than trying to source everything locally all at once, try swapping out just 5 local foods. Fruits and vegetables that can be grown throughout the continental U.S. include apples, root vegetables, lettuce, herbs and greens. In most areas, it’s also possible to find meat, poultry, eggs, milk, and cheese—all grown, harvested and produced close to your home.
Find a local CSA and sign-up! Through a CSA—Community Supported Agriculture—program you invest in a local farm in exchange for a weekly box of assorted vegetables and other farm products. Most CSA programs provide a discount if you pre-pay for your share on a quarterly or yearly basis because a pre-payment allows the farm to use the cash in the springtime when money is needed for farm equipment or investment in the farm. CSA programs take the work out of buying local food, as the farmer does the worrying for you.
Find out what restaurants in your area support local farmers. You can do this by asking the restaurants about their ingredients directly, or by asking your favorite farmers what restaurant accounts they have. Frequent the businesses that support your farmers.
Buy from local vendors. Can’t find locally grown? How about locally produced? Many areas have locally produced jams, jellies and breads as well as locally roasted coffee and locally created confections. While these businesses may not always use strictly local ingredients in their products, by purchasing them you are supporting the local economy.
Ask about origins. Not locally grown? Then where is it from? Call the producer of your favorite foods to see where the ingredients are from. You’ll be amazed how many large processed food companies are unable to tell you where your food came from. By continuing to ask the questions we are sending a message to the companies that consumers want to know the origin of ingredients.
Now, I’m a hippie, so the locavore life was an easy sell for me. It’s not all-or-nothing, and every little purchase helps – and yes, that includes getting your cupcakes from one of those billion cupcakeries instead of a big box store. What about you? How do you “buy local?”