In her book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, author Barbara Kingsolver recounted a year in which she and her family resolved to consume virtually no food that wasn’t produced within an approximate 60-mile radius of their new home in rural Appalachia. The benefits to doing so, which she detailed and supported through the pages of the entertaining and enlightening book, were many.
By eating only what was in season or that which could be canned or otherwise preserved and stored, they expanded and enriched the diversity of their diets. They also became part of a network that supported the small, local farmers and local economy. And by reducing reliance on out of season or exotic foods and the expensive, energy consuming packaging, manufacturing and shipping system required to preserve and deliver them thousands of miles from where they were grown, the family were choosing a more environmentally sustainable way of living.
If you think you’d like to increase your family’s use of locally produced foods, there are many ways to make it happen. Here are a few.
Grow Your Own
Several sources have noted a significant increase in interest in vegetable and fruit growing by gardeners. The Garden Writers Association publishes a trends survey every 6 months, and recent surveys have cited vegetable gardening as one of the fastest growing segments of gardening. Chip Tynan, Missouri Botanical Garden’s “Answer Man” says questions regarding vegetable gardening and fruit growing, particularly brambles such as blueberries and blackberries, are up significantly in recent years.
Want to start your own vegetable garden? All you need is a sunny location, with soil amended with compost, manure and other rich organic materials. Raised beds can be built to overcome particularly poor soils. If space is limited, you can even grow many vegetables in containers on balconies, porches and patios.
There are many resources to help get started and answer your questions. Start by visiting your local independent garden center. The professionals there have vast amounts of experience and knowledge to help get you started with the right seeds, plants, tools and materials. To find a nursery or garden center near you, go to The Gateway Gardener website, and check out the locations in your area that carry our magazine.
Master Gardeners answer horticulture hotlines at Missouri Botanical Garden, and St Charles County Extension Center and University of Illinois Extension. They not only have personal knowledge, but also have access to vast resources to help you succeed in growing whatever crops you choose.
Local garden clubs are another valuable source of information. To find one near you, check out our Upcoming Events page in every issue. The internet is also a great source of information provided you search selectively. To make sure you’re getting information pertinent to our region, try to focus on local content. In Missouri a good place to start is the Lawn and garden at University of Missouri Extension.
The University of Illinois Extension has similar information available at Hort Corner – Horticulture and Gardening Resources. Missouri Botanical Garden’s website is another great source of valuable information.
Go to the Market
Of course, most people can’t subsist on home-grown produce alone. But locally grown food is usually never more than a few miles away. Just check out your neighborhood farmer’s market. There you’ll usually find a vast cornucopia of in-season produce, meats, nuts, and other foods from which to choose.
Typical farmer’s markets are open-air shelters with a number of stalls, each stocked and operated by a different local farmer. To satisfy many customers’ desires for one-stop shopping, some might offer produce that has been shipped in (bananas, for example); but most of the food you’ll find has been grown or processed by the stall operators themselves. Look for seasonal items such as cool season leafy crops in the spring, delicious tomatoes, peppers and squash in the heat of the summer, and more cool season crops plus gourds, melons and other late crops in the fall.
One local grocer who has long supported and promoted foods from local growers was recently bought out by them. The Missouri Farmers Union took over ownership of the Sappington International Farmer’s Market in Marlborough, Missouri, earlier this year, dropping the “International” from the name and promising to increase even more the store’s offering of locally produced food, including a greater selection of organic, natural produce and other foods. The new owners plan to feature certain products each weekend, and will invite representatives from local farms and businesses to host demonstrations at the store.
Let the Market Come to You
Too busy to stroll through the market each week? Well, you can skip the strolling and let the market come to you. Several local farmers are, either individually or in cooperative groups, beginning to offer subscription services called CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture) that allow you to sign up for weekly deliveries of fresh produce and other foods directly from the fields to a convenient nearby location. One such operation is called Family Harvest, a cooperative between Lee Farms in Truxton, Missouri, and Yellow Wood Farms in Hermann, Missouri. As with other CSAs, Family Harvest offers a subscription service whereby members pay a fee to receive weekly selections of in-season, freshly picked produce. Cost for a 20-week season is $550 for a “Family Share” (approximately 20 lbs. Of produce/week) or $350 for a “Half-Share.” Food is delivered to a convenient pick-up spot.
On the Illinois side, Biver Farms has been operating a CSA from its Edwardsville farm since 1996, and offer organic produce across a wide selection. They also have stalls at several area farmer’s markets, including those in Clayton, Tower Grove Park, Edwardsville and Maplewood.
CSAs have become extremely popular, so much so that some problems have included long waiting lists to join, and sometimes limited and sold out selections. To counter some of these frustrations, an organization called Fair Shares was developed to combine the harvests of a larger group of individual CSA farmers into a single membership cooperative. Called a “Combined CSA” (CCSA), Fair Shares not only allows for increased availability and selection to its paying subscribers, but also donates it profits to promoting improved availability of nutritious, locally grown food to low-income urban families.
Dine Out on Local Food
Finally, you don’t have to leave your 100-mile diet behind when dining out. More and more local restaurants, including Schlafly Bottleworks in Maplewood, Missouri, and Riddles Penultimate Café & Wine Bar in St Louis, are promoting menus featuring the harvests of local farmers. The University of Missouri has a program called the Food Circles Networking Project that helps chefs and local growers communicate more efficiently to make it easier for restaurants to provide this local support.
So, no matter whether you want to get dirty and grow your own, or get cleaned up and dine out, there are many ways you can improve your diet, improve the economy of local agriculture, and contribute to a better environment. Eat local!