Saturday, August 24, 2013

Local Loot

With our warm weather slowly slipping away, the bloom of summer produce continues to fill the sights along the roadsides of Southern Maryland. Rows of field corn near their harvest and open fields of soy beans begin producing perfect pods as summertime begins to fade. Tomato plants and zucchini vines flood with produce as they offer their last hoo-ray of warm weather offerings. Toward the end of August, a golden brown dryness begins to creep up all the stalks and vines as the summer heat beats down on the fields. Soon enough, the cool fall air will bring another harvest of the more hardy produce and in the blink of an eye, little orange pumpkins will begin to pop-up in all the same roadside fields.

All of these wonderful natural reminders have compelled me to focus my energy on trying to adopt a more local diet. Each year that passes, I walk down the aisle of the grocery store and watch prices grow higher and higher. As a twenty something on a budget, it becomes increasing difficult to eat well on a commoner's salary, especially while being mindful to our planet. This morning was the absolute perfect morning to wander the farmer's market. Southern Maryland gets this wonderful breeze in late summer that carries the smell of seasons changing. It is impossible to put into words; the sort of thing which only experience can fulfill. Driving down a back road, surrounded only by open fields lined with towering trees, gives an intoxicating freshness to the air. It is almost comparable to the smell of sweet corn after a soaking summer rain. Almost. 

"Buy Local" is something that we hear often; I think I speak for most when I say that we never really stop to think about what that actually means. Well, I have done a bit of marinating (haha) and I believe that I have come up with a brief review of why I think it is important to buy and eat locally.

1.) Economic:

Amish baked goods are the BEST!

  • The less your food has to travel, the less it is going to cost you.
  • Buying local keeps your community feeling "local." For me, this means keepin' it rural. Each year, we see another farm fall vicitm to development. If more and more people buy local, we will increase the demand for the goods that those said farms produce which makes them less of a target for development. Keeping the community feeling "local"also comes with the farmer's market shopping experience. Bumping into people you haven't seen in a while or maybe even meeting someone new. Local produce stands elicit a small town hospitality that you just can't find in a franchised store. 
  • When you invest money in your community, you invest yourself. I like to keep my purchasing as local as possible because I then reap the benefits of a thriving community. By keeping small business alive, we get to experience their growth. This means new products and more variety.

2.) Environmental:

  • Being "green" is dropped on the daily. Shopping local is the epitomy of adopting such a lifestyle. 
  • Did you know that the top three states to produce our fruits and vegtables are California, Florida and Washington? That means that on average, our food has traveled at least 1300 miles to reach our table. If you have ever been on a family roadtrip, you know that getting to and from these states takes time, gas and money. What does this mean in terms of produce? It means the produce is picked prematurely and treated with a pleathora of chemicals to preserve its long haul to your table. When you purchase your produce locally, you can get the exact hour it was picked. 
  • If you build a relationship with a local grower, they will actually grow special food for you. I have some friends who bring seeds from India and have local growers actually plant and grow them. This elminates the drive time (carbon footprint reduction) to specialty stores that carry your favorite unique products. 
  • You will definitely find your food with less preservative chemicals when you buy local. The best example of this is cucumbers. Have you ever bought a cuke from the store and felt the thick layer of wax on its skin? I think its gross! You won't find that a local produce stand because it isn't necessary to preserve the produce in the fashion.
  • I picked up local honey today. It is rumored that consuming local honey from where you live will actually help allievate/prevent allergies. I can't verify that it is true but I still like the idea of eating the product of my very own bees.

3.) Eclectic:

  • The farmers market provides an interesting mix of people, products, smells, sights and sounds. It is an experience. You learn something each time you visit. I can vouch for this. Today I learned that "chow chow" is deliciously paired with kale. I bumped into a lady at the Amish canning stand and we struck up a conversation about what to do with it. She and my Mom talked about how everyone ate it back in the day but it is rare to see people still making and eating it. 
  • Today, I met a man who had a pet raccoon; now, that ain't something you see everyday and even futher, that definitely ain't something you would see in a chain grocery store. 
  • You find varieties of produce you won't see in an average grocery store. Such as these "fairy tale" eggplants and massive yams. I swear, these were as big as my head. 

I hope you have found something in this post that has encouraged you to reach a hand out to your local community by shopping from farm to table. 

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