Here are 5 ways to prioritize local food in your daily life:
1. Join a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture)
CSAs have been around for decades and have grown to serve cities and towns across the country. In a CSA, farmers ask for a financial investment from residents in their area who then receive regular deliveries of produce from that farm during the harvest season. Data from the USDA indicates that at least 12,617 farms across the United States have some sort of CSA system in place (and that data is from 2012 so I’m guessing the number has grown since then). Chances are, there is a CSA option near you. A CSA offers a way to not only enjoy fresh locally grown food on a regular basis without a trip to the grocery store, but it also provides a connection to the farmers growing your food. Many CSAs invite their members to visit their farm, help out on big harvest days, and share meals. The CSAs I’ve been part of in the past sent out newsletters with their deliveries, offering updates on the growing season and even recipes for the veggies included in the week’s haul. These days, I encounter more and more CSAs that are also selling eggs and meat as optional add-ons to the regular produce deliveries. You really could do most of your food purchasing through a CSA.
Right now is a great time to research CSAs in your area because many are taking sign-ups for the 2017 harvest. I’m in the process of signing my family up this week. You can look up your nearest CSA using this national database, or through an easy google search.
2. Visit a local restaurant
Local restaurants that prioritize using locally-produced food are another good way to support your community’s food system. Restaurants may be able to access food that you, as a regular consumer, are unable to purchase because you’re not buying in bulk or you don’t have the relationship with the farmer that a restaurant can have. Many restaurants in my city now proudly list their local suppliers on their menus or on the walls of their cafe, and I’ve seen it in other cities too. Even if something’s not publicly listed, it’s always worth asking about at your favorite spots.
As a bonus, a restaurant can provide an entry point to a local farm for an individual consumer. It was through a dinner at a Milwaukee-based farm-to-table restaurant called Braise that I learned about the farm where I recently purchased a quarter pig and am now planning to join a CSA. Braise has actually pioneered an RSA (restaurant supported agriculture) which supplies other area restaurants with locally produced food. How cool is that?