Ecologically minded consumers understand how important their food choices are when it comes to helping the environment. The items that we choose to eat and where we get them from have a major impact on pollution, greenhouse gas emission, and more. One of the most important things that individuals can do to reduce their impact on the environment is to buy locally. However, local produce is only an option when nearby farms get the support that they need to continue growing. Thus, it is critically important for individuals to show their support to local farmers. The following are some key ways to support local farms and farmers:
Farm-to-table restaurants have grown more popular in recent years and are easier to find than ever before. While these restaurants may charge slightly higher prices for their food, the dishes generally taste better because they make use of the freshest produce. For the most part, the food from these restaurants will be free of hormones, GMOs, antibiotics, and other harmful chemicals found in traditionally sourced foods. Before eating at a restaurant that makes a farm-to-table claim, it is important to investigate what the establishment actually means by this statement. Ideally, you will be able to find out exactly which farms work with the restaurant and which products come from each of them. If a restaurant cannot answer these questions, then there is an issue. Sometimes, restaurants only use a small portion of locally sourced products when the claim to serve farm-to-table food, so it is important to hold owners accountable.
Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is a program that allows individuals to buy into a farm before the annual harvest. Individuals typically pay a flat fee upfront and then pick up a box of produce each week from a local farmer. Sometimes, farmers will deliver the boxes directly to consumers. Supporting CSAs is a great way to support local farms because it guarantees them an income for the entire season, even if a specific crop fails. Often, CSA income allows farmers to experiment with new crops, which ultimately benefits the participants by exposing them to new vegetables, as well as heirloom products. CSAs are not always limited to fruits and vegetables. Often, individuals can also opt for eggs, dairy, and even meat.
Major grocery store chains mostly get their crops from larger, commercial farmers, although some exceptions do exist, especially with ecologically motivated businesses such as Whole Foods. A better option for finding locally produced food is local grocers, many of whom will partner with nearby farms to bring the freshest fruits and vegetables, as well as other products, to the store. Frequently, these establishments also offer other products that are made at farms, such as jams, canned goods, and even prepared foods. Visiting these stores is a way to circumvent the challenges of farmers’ markets, which generally have limited hours and can sell out of popular items quickly. Another option is for people to put pressure on chain stores to support more local farmers. When managers know that this will bring people in, they may begin to form partnerships.
The most obvious way to support local farms is by going to a farmers’ market to buy produce. In recent years, demand has led to an increase in the number of these markets in many areas, although some planning may still be required before visiting one. A farmers’ market is the ideal place to learn about new produce that individuals do not frequently use to cook with since they can hear straight from the farmers how best to prepare the items. Often, farms have prepared recipes that they will hand out to people who ask. The markets are a great way to begin developing direct relationships to farms that can open up new avenues for support. Generally, individuals should aim to arrive at a farmers’ market as early as possible in order to get the best produce. However, many farms will offer discounts on the produce left at the end of the day, so coming late is also a valid strategy.
People often do not realize how much power they have when it comes to promoting local businesses. Making a post on social media or even simply writing a review on a site such as Yelp can help an area business immensely. When people are particularly impressed with a business, whether it is a farm with a stall at the market, a grocery store that stocks local produce, or a wonderful farm-to-table restaurant, they should share that information with the world. The strategy can prove particularly meaningful when individuals can also offer some insight about how much eating locally can make an environmental impact, from reducing the miles that the food travels to encouraging more responsible growing strategies than those employed by commercial farms.