We’ve all heard the statistics; the food on our plates every day has traveled farther from the farm to our table than most of us did on our last vacation. Nutrition doesn’t hold up well over that great distance; nor do texture or taste, and there are multiple tolls on the environment. So how can we improve what we’re eating on all of these levels?
Here are some easy ways to incorporate food less traveled into your diet this summer.
• Visit a farmers’ market or farm stand once a week – buy your weekly produce and other ingredients at the market and then fill in any gaps with a quick trip to the grocery story (bonus: less time in line at the check-out!)
• Purchase food in season – eating seasonally is more sustainable, less expensive, and just plain tastier. For a list of what’s in season when in our area click on the “Winnebago Local Foods Initiative” at The University of Illinois Extension website.
• Purchase regional foods – blueberries or cherries from Michigan, peaches from Missouri, pecans from southern Illinois; these are all better choices than the same from California or elsewhere.
• Add one meal a week or one item a meal – challenge yourself to make one whole meal each week entirely local or at least one food item at every meal. Slowly work your way up to more.
• Tell a story – my father loves to eat at my house because, in addition to good food, he gets to hear the story of where it all comes from, who grew it, and how I obtained it. It makes meals with family and friends even more fun!
• Plant your own – start a garden, even if it’s just in containers. Planting just a few items you love is easy and so rewarding. Whether you have space for a big garden or just a few pots; herbs, tomatoes, peppers, greens, or anything you like are fresh and ready at your doorstep (and cheaper too!).
• Pick you own – not inclined to grow your own? Go pick what you love at a local farm. Check www.localharvest.org for a list of pick-your-own options in any zip code.
• Teach children – your own, your grandchildren, or someone else’s; show them the importance to you of eating wholesome, locally-grown foods and they’ll continue the tradition in their adulthood.
• Support restaurants using local food – attend one or more of the upcoming Openfields Local Foods Dinner Series, patronize restaurants who feature local foods, and ask for locally-sourced foods in restaurants that don’t.
• Shop locally-owned – many smaller markets (320 Store, Bushel and Peck’s, Eickman’s, Choices, Nature’s Pantry) stock local items year-round. And because they’re owned by a local and not a faraway corporation, they’re more willing to show you around and help you find the local foods you’re looking for.
• Join a CSA – even though the growing season has begun, there is still time to become a shareholder of a local Community Supported Agriculture farm. Check www.localharvest.org for CSAs near you.
• Preserve – learn or revive skills to freeze, can, dehydrate, ferment, or cellar foods so they last into another season. It’s incredibly rewarding (and delicious) to enjoy your own jam in January or sweet corn in March!
• Inform yourself – read up on local resources at The U of I Extension or pick up a copy of The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Plenty, or Animal, Vegetable, Miracle to learn more.
Like changing any habit, converting to local foods takes a little time but small changes can lead to bigger ones and you’ll never regret the fresher, tastier foods on your plate and the food dollars kept in our community.