LocalHarvest Newsletter, February 24, 2009

Many times each month, people ask us exactly how they can begin to eat locally. The questioner invariably understands the ‘whys’ of the proposition, but is daunted by the ‘how.’ So this month we offer a short primer on eating local food, with emphasis on the notion of transition. Let’s start there. The first thing to remember is that eating locally is a continuum. If you allow yourself to get drawn into an all-or-nothing mindset, the proposition will seem impossible. You will get derailed by the list of the imported foods you think you can’t live without. Bananas. Coffee. Chocolate-covered yum-yums. Don’t start with those things. Don’t even put them on the table the first year. Eating locally is about doing what you can. It is about making the most of your region’s agricultural strengths. It is about beginning to pay attention.

Where should you start? Focus on whole foods first. Highly processed foods are made with many ingredients that are shipped from afar, processed, and shipped again. It is simpler, not to mention healthier, to put your efforts into simpler foods. Start with one or more of these food groups: produce, meat, dairy products and eggs. In many cases, you can buy these foods directly from farmers, which is often a highly satisfying experience in and of itself.

A few years ago, a friend whose family loves chow-mein hotdish and Cheez-its asked me what three things she could do to better her family’s diet without triggering a lot of grumbling. She was clear: she was not ready to take on the whole pantry, and neither was her family. Sound familiar? She knew that if she felt overwhelmed, the changes wouldn’t stick. But three things seemed reasonable to her.

After talking more about her food buying habits and priorities, we came up with this: Buy high quality chicken. Get organic milk. Shop at the farmers market when you can. Now, we live in Minnesota, where small-scale farmers make good meat and quality milk readily available, but the growing season is short. Other places in the country will have a different list of logical first steps. My LH colleagues, for example, live on the Central Coast of California, where gorgeous fresh veggies are available almost year round, but meat and dairy from small farms is a little harder to come by. For people there, just committing to shop at the farmers market or to join a CSA would bring local foods into their diets much of the year. Another regional difference concerns food preservation: neither my colleagues in California nor my friends in the South spend much time canning and freezing. Here in Minnesota, we do, because that is the way to enjoy local produce in the long winter. Getting to know what grows well in your state – and when – is a valuable part of your education as a locavore.

As you begin to dig more deeply into your region’s specialties, you will find that some of these cost more money than their anonymous counterparts at the supermarket. If you are one of the many Americans experiencing real financial distress, this may dissuade you from choosing them. But it is important to remember that there are ways to work around price if you have some flexibility in your food budget. For example, you might choose to buy high quality meat and cheese, but eat it less often, and instead eat more lower-cost whole foods like grains, beans, and in-season produce. Check out the LH blog for a close-up look at the home economics of my family’s local foods-based diet.

Finally, it pays to remember that for most human beings, change is difficult. Food is so fundamental to our sense of well-being that changes in that arena may be met with a lot of resistance. If that is the case in your house, go slowly and look for small windows of opportunity. For example, enjoy lots of local strawberries when they are in their glory. If you can, go out to the farm and have fun picking some of your own. Really pay attention to how good – and how different – they are. Acclimate your taste buds and over time your family may decide that the local ones are worth waiting for. You may even decide to throw a few bags of berries into the freezer for later. And you’re on your way…

In sum: Start with whole foods. Don’t make it too hard. Study your region’s agricultural strengths, and play up to them. Look for ways to be creative with your budget. Be gentle with your self and your family as you try out new habits. Do these things, and you will set yourself up for a highly satisfying adventure in local eating, and a deeper connection to your food.

Erin Barnett
Director, LocalHarvest

From the LocalHarvest Store:

In the last two weeks, LH farmers have received over 2000 orders for seeds from home gardeners. Now's the time to get your order in for your spring garden. We have over 1200 kinds of seeds to choose from!

And if people aren't ordering seeds, they are signing up for a CSA! We are really excited about the growing interest in CSAs. Many farms have joined our catalog so that their members can purchase a CSA subscription online. Look here for a CSA near you!

Need a little sweetness in your late winter? Our beekeepers are selling a lot of honey right now. From orange blossom to buckwheat, we've got just the honey to keep your toast happy.

Cookbook Winners!

Over 1400 people signed up for our cookbook giveaway last month! Congratulations to our winners, who were chosen at random: Audrey from San Antonio, TX, Jennifer from South Pasadena, CA, and Matt Thomas from Homosassa, FL. Thanks to all who entered! We’ll try to have another giveaway soon.


I think most of us believe there is an abundance of calcium in our diets considering many of us consume a great deal of dairy products. Interestingly, however, this is not the case! It turns out that calcium deficiency is extremely common. The average dietary intake of calcium in the U.S. is well below the recommended levels. You may ask yourself how can this be so after all of that Ben & Jerry's? Well, it just so happens that consumption of dairy products such as milk, cheese, ice cream and yogurt are only a small piece of the puzzle when it comes to calcium. Many factors affect the absorption of the calcium in our diets, and even more surprising is that calcium is actually more absorbable in foods such as dark green leafy vegetables—something many of us are sorely lacking in our diets!
(Read on...)

Food from the Farm: the LH recipe column

As promised, this month we introduce our new recipe column, featuring favorite recipes from our farmers and farmers markets. We are excited about this new column, and look forward to sharing many great seasonal recipes with you over the months to come.
(Recipes and More...)