Finding local produce - and why you should make the effort!
One very popular method of acquiring local produce is through a CSA farm. CSA, which stands for Community Supported Agriculture, is when a farmer sells seasonal shares in the foods he produces. You put up the money early, say late winter or early spring (and this money becomes, literally, seed money) and for a certain number of weeks in the summer and fall, you get a share of the produce this farmer grows. While it's really fun and eye opening to get all sorts of different produce throughout the summer and fall, you do have to plan ahead. In fact, if you are not part of a CSA and would like to be, start researching CSAs now, so when sign-up time for next season comes around, you'll be ready.
Another somewhat obvious source for local produce is farmer's markets. But beware! Not all farmer's markets, and not all vendors at farmer's markets are created equal. Some farmer's markets are "farmer's" markets in name only; they have more vendors selling more kitsch crafts than actual farmers. And some produce vendors are not farmers at all - there are some people who buy wholesale produce from standard supermarket vendors, and try to pass it off as local at farmer's markets. Feel free to ask a vendor about where particular items are grown to get a handle on how well the vendors knows the produce - and whether he or she actually grew it or not. National directories such as localharvest.org are a good place to start when looking for a local CSA or farmer's markets.
Yes, even your local mega-mart
With the rise in popularity of local produce, even the mega-marts are getting in the act. Regional supermarket chains are allowing - well, encouraging - individual stores to get some produce from local growers. This produce likely will be displayed separately from the standard produce, and if you don't see any, ask for it. You may not get the best price on the local tomatoes once the store gets its cut, but you can't beat the convenience.
Keep your eyes open when driving around your neighborhood, town and region. You never know when you'll come across a roadside stand selling the freshest of the fresh corn, lettuce, peppers, zucchini or cucumbers. Don't just stop and get some - note where it is and make friends with the seller. Learn about what other items might become available, and take that route again.
Why you should make the effort
Finding local produce is terrific, but you should also know why it matters. Choosing local produce is not only choosing the freshest and most nutrient rich produce you can find (and often also the tastiest), it's supporting your local economy. Local farmers are part of your local economy and the money you spend with local farmers and producers is more likely to stay in the local economy. Local produce has a lower carbon footprint. It takes less fuel to bring your local produce home than it does to bring the same item all they way from another state or even country to your mega-mart. Finding local produce may take more of an effort than you are used to, but it is a worthwhile endeavor. Not only will you have some delicious food on your table, you'll be supporting the local economy and reducing your carbon footprint.
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