Finding and buying fresh fruits and vegetables has never been easier. Here are five ways you can get the freshest ingredients for your table at home.
1. Try community-supported agriculture (CSA)
Signing up for a CSA is one of the easiest ways for consumers to buy local, seasonal food directly from a farmer. Though details of each CSA vary, the essentials typically remain the same: A farmer offers a certain number of “shares” to the public, and interested consumers can buy a certain number of shares. A share is essentially a membership, and once a consumer has signed up and paid for his or her share, that person receives a box, bag, or basket of seasonal produce each week throughout the farming season. In addition to vegetables, some CSAs offer opportunities to purchase shares of eggs, meat, fruit, and beans at additional costs.
To those used to eating all types of produce from a grocery store, a CSA will certainly be an adjustment. Because the model typically requires that you pay upfront for shares, members won’t be reimbursed even if a farm’s crops have been damaged and pickings are slim. It can also be difficult to prepare meals with crops you’re not used to. But by committing to a CSA, you’ll most likely save money, eat locally, and help support local agriculture by ensuring farms receive money to keep operating.
2. Check out farms, farmers markets, and farm stands
For those not interested in committing weekly or annually to a CSA, local farms offer a wonderful alternative for buying locally. Most will make an appearance at farmers markets, have farm stands on the road, or even welcome visitors to their farm and sell directly from the source. Because you’ll generally save money buying what’s in season, buying from farms is a cheaper, healthier alternative.
Getting to know a farm and its employees is always a good thing, too, and it can help you learn more about crops, get “insider” discounts, and even buy in bulk. Uncertain about how to use a certain vegetable that’s in season? Chances are the famers will have a pretty good idea. Visit Local Harvest to find a farmers market, farm stand, family farm, or a U-Pick area near you.
3. Know what’s in season
This may seem like a simple tenet, but it’s an important one. By knowing what’s in season in your area, you’re more likely to know which items at the market are not from your given region. You’ll also know what to expect when visiting farms and farmers markets, and can frame your recipes around what’s in season. Another primary pro for buying in season revolves around taste: When food is not in season locally, it’s either grown in a hothouse or shipped in from other parts of the world, and both affect the taste. Supply and demand also illustrates that when things are in season and more abundant, they’re significantly cheaper.
4. Plant a garden
Gardening doesn’t have to be overwhelming: All you need are a few square feet of land, a little bit of time, and a dependable water source. Besides ensuring you eat extremely locally, having a garden has added benefits. Primarily, having a garden is cheap. A packet of seeds can cost less than a dollar, and you can always save seeds from your best producers, dry them, and plant them the following season. You can also help reduce your environmental impact, get outdoors, and stop worrying about where your food came from and whether it’s been contaminated. Even if you lack significant space to garden, you can always dedicate some window or patio space to growing a few fresh herbs and vegetables.
5. “Vote smart” at your grocery store
In the 2008 documentary Food Inc., people interviewed in the film liken a trip to the grocery store to one of voting, saying that every time you buy something, you’re sending a message to the food industry about what sells and what consumers want. It’s an interesting analogy, and one that holds merit.
With this in mind, learning how to shop at your grocery store is an important skill to have. If you have a choice of several markets and stores in your area, do some research to see which stores label food origins — the closer, the better. If none do, then don’t be shy about expressing interest in locally grown products or asking that such products be labeled. As a general rule, also try and stick to the perimeter of the store, where the freshest foods (e.g., produce, meat, dairy) are typically located. To skip out on unnatural and unhealthy preservatives necessary to keep food “fresh,” look out for organic labels, too.