One of the most important things I’ve learned in the last few years is the importance of knowing where your food comes from. We have made concerted effort to getting our food from sources that are as close to home as possible. Not only does this help you understand what is in your food and how it was grown, but it gives you a stronger connection with the people in your community.
Finding Local Producers
One of the easiest ways to find local producers in your area is to go the farmer’s market. Most large city’s and even many small towns will have a farmer’s market once per week where you can find locally grown produce, locally raised beef, chicken, or pork, and a variety of other items such as honey and herbs.
Most local producers are very proud of what they do and will be more than happy to offer as much information as you might want about the practices they use in raising their particular products. More than likely you can even get a tour of their farm if you have such an interest. For many of these people this is their main livelihood so they take it very seriously. They want their customers to understand what they’re getting and what set’s their products apart from other mass-produced goods.
The easiest way to start with getting local goods is to find a farm share or CSA in your area. A great resource for finding farm shares is http://www.localharvest.org. Here you can find a wide variety of different programs in your area from vegetables and meats to raw milk or eggs. Typically you can spend as little or as much as you want depending on the size of your family.
You will often find that buying produce and meat this way is a good deal less expensive than buying it at the supermarket. One major plus is that you know exactly where all of your foods are coming from.
One of our favorite things to do each year is to get a cow share. We essentially team up with another family to purchase one half of a cow. Generally this works out to about 175lbs of meat. You will definitely want to get a large chest freezer before making this purchase as you will never fit this much meat in a standard kitchen freezer.
Talk to others that have joined the group before to find out the quality of the meats. Typically the best is going to be grass-fed and all organic. This means that the farmer doesn’t use any pesticides or fertilizers on their pastures.
You can have the meat butchered into steaks of specific sizes. If you have a family of four, you can even request that the butcher put four steaks per package. This makes thawing them extremely easy. Make sure you also specify what fat percentage you want in your ground beef. Typical would be 85% lean and 15% fat. Going too lean can make the meat very dry, so don’t go beyond 92% lean.
If you ask for larger cuts, just make sure that your kitchen knives are in good shape so that you can cut it down into more reasonable sizes. Here’s a great resource for how to sharpen kitchen knives. Knowing a bit about how and where to cut particular steaks can be very helpful. The right cuts actually help steaks cook better.
Depending on where you live produce might be available for anywhere between 4 and 12 months per year. Southern climates such as Florida will often have fresh produce year round, while other climates such as Oregon or Washington will have a shorter harvest season.
Don’t be shy about asking growers questions about what crops are best right now. They want you to be happy with what you buy and should be willing to give you great advice on what to buy.
There is an amazing diversity of produce out there compared to what we typically see in our grocery stores. You’ll find that even in your area there are specific types of produce that are available nowhere else.
This is especially worthwhile if you are on a restrictive diet that requires you to eat many of the same foods on a regular basis. It can provide some much needed variety.