U-pick (Your choice)

For the last month or so I’ve been reading Barbara Kingsolver’s latest book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life about her family’s attempts at changing their food habits in such a way as to buy only locally grown food, grow the food themselves, or learn to do without. I’m only just half way through the book so I don’t know how their experiment with eating locally turns out, but already I find myself becoming more aware of the food choices I make. I haven’t made any changes in my food-buying routine yet, but this book has me thinking.

I’m mentioning this today because I had one of those oddball experiences that make you stop and scratch your head at how illogical things can be. I stopped during my lunch hour at a hugely popular orchard/garden center/gourmet food place with the idea of buying some loose strawberries. I like to buy them that way because I prefer the smaller local berries over the humungous, but tasteless, prepackaged berries that come from California. Parking my car I noticed a sign for u-pick raspberries at the back of the lot and was excited at the prospect of fresh raspberries instead of the half moldy ones that come from California. Of course I didn’t have time on my lunch hour for picking raspberries, but assumed there’d be pints of berries available for purchase inside the market. You know what they say about assuming, don’t you? All I found for sale were the prepackaged raspberries from California, despite the acre or two or fresh and locally grown berries in the back lot! Did I buy them? No, of course not. On my way home, I stopped at the farm stand around the corner and bought raspberries from the farmer who is my neighbor. The farmer whose berry fields had woodcock this spring and who waves at me from his red tractor when he has to drive it through the neighborhood, past the Hummers and McMansions that are the norm here anymore. In addition to the gourmet fare this area seems to demand that he provide, he also makes an effort to support other local farmers and artisans; he sells fresh mozzarella and bread that’s handmade locally and colorful heirloom tomatoes that you’ll never see in any supermarket. Plus, he grows his own sweet corn, not here in our backyard, but a few miles away where the McMansions haven’t yet encroached on the space necessary to grow a field of corn.

Eating locally is all the rage right now and it seems almost possible for someone like me who loves fruit and vegetables and could easily go a month or more without eating meat. This is the season of bounty here in the Garden State and there’s lots of fresh produce. If I had to rely on my own vegetable garden I’d quickly starve, so I’m glad for the local farmers who grow berries and apples, or broccoli and collard greens, and then let me walk their fields and pick my own bounty from their labor. It feels good to me to do this. It’s a small thing really, but if we value the land and the farms that feed us, I think it’s worth the challenge to find and purchase locally grown food.

I came across this list of ten reasons to eat local (from Eat Local Challenge – an excellent blog:

Eating local means more for the local economy. According to a study by the New Economics Foundation in London, a dollar spent locally generates twice as much income for the local economy. When businesses are not owned locally, money leaves the community at every transaction. (reference)

Locally grown produce is fresher. While produce that is purchased in the supermarket or a big-box store has been in transit or cold-stored for days or weeks, produce that you purchase at your local farmer’s market has often been picked within 24 hours of your purchase. This freshness not only affects the taste of your food, but the nutritional value which declines with time.

Local food just plain tastes better. Ever tried a tomato that was picked within 24 hours? ‘Nuff said.

Locally grown fruits and vegetables have longer to ripen. Because the produce will be handled less, locally grown fruit does not have to be “rugged” or to stand up to the rigors of shipping. This means that you are going to be getting peaches so ripe that they fall apart as you eat them, figs that would have been smashed to bits if they were sold using traditional methods, and melons that were allowed to ripen until the last possible minute on the vine.

Eating local is better for air quality and pollution than eating organic. In a March 2005 study by the journal Food Policy, it was found that the miles that organic food often travels to our plate creates environmental damage that outweighs the benefit of buying organic. (reference)

Buying local food keeps us in touch with the seasons. By eating with the seasons, we are eating foods when they are at their peak taste, are the most abundant, and the least expensive.

Buying locally grown food is fodder for a wonderful story. Whether it’s the farmer who brings local apples to market or the baker who makes local bread, knowing part of the story about your food is such a powerful part of enjoying a meal.

Eating local protects us from bio-terrorism. Food with less distance to travel from farm to plate has less susceptibility to harmful contamination. (reference)

Local food translates to more variety. When a farmer is producing food that will not travel a long distance, will have a shorter shelf life, and does not have a high-yield demand, the farmer is free to try small crops of various fruits and vegetables that would probably never make it to a large supermarket. Supermarkets are interested in selling “Name brand” fruit: Romaine Lettuce, Red Delicious Apples, Russet Potatoes. Local producers often play with their crops from year to year, trying out Little Gem Lettuce, Senshu Apples, and Chieftain Potatoes.

Supporting local providers supports responsible land development. When you buy local, you give those with local open space – farms and pastures – an economic reason to stay open and undeveloped.

All good reasons to stand behind and buy from the local farmer. Plus, the berries are delicious!

18 thoughts on “U-pick (Your choice)”

  1. Ever notice that Red Delicious apples aren’t delicious anymore? They have bred the goodness right out of them.
    I felt very good the other day buying fresh, warm tomatoes from a local guy…and I am proud that I didn’t buy any of the Jack Russell puppies he was selling alongside the produce.
    Interesting about the organic produce…it’s actually worse for the environment to buy them, since they travel so far.

    Great post…invite me over for a salad.

  2. I hate Red Delicious apples – yuck – mealy! Galas are the favorite here, but I don’t know if they’re grown here in NJ – ours come from New Zealand. I love Granny Smith’s too and know I can get them from a local orchard.

    Nothing beats a sun-warmed tomato, Susan! Do you have a veggie garden?

  3. Great post! One of the grocery stores I go to has signs indicating where the particular fruits and vegetables came from. I try to get ones from as close as possible. I’ve thought about joining our local co-op, though, which for a weekly fee, gives you a box of fresh seasonal fruits and veggies each Wednesday.

    Locally grown is a wonderful and sensible idea!

  4. I am right behind you on this PSA.
    I think we (as a nation) have become accustomed to being able to have what we want, when we want it. If we want strawberries in December, or watermelons in February–we can have it, NOW–shipped from somewhere–but with a cost. Maybe not prohibitive to our purchasing it–but a cost that will catch us eventually.
    Why not look forward to seasonal foods–and appreciate those first tomatoes or berries, after a time without them?
    They’ll taste even better, really.

  5. Great post – we support a fruit/veg market which is surrounded by the big stores – it’s amazing the diff in freshness – and we always see orchardists we recognize, pulling up with bins.

  6. Always enjoy your blog

    Passing on to you the Eat Local website – localharvest.org

    Free newsletter available for your area which will keep you informed as to what is available as well as events at the local farms.

    The Eat Local site covers the entire USA – so readers of this blog that are interested in learning more – please go to localharvest.org.


  7. Great post, Laura. We drive a little out of the way to buy local but it’s worth it. There is nothing like a “home grown tomato” and I wish I could have them all year long. I have never liked Red Delicious apples because of their bland taste – my first choice is always McIntosh – a sweet tart!

  8. Lots of great points there Laura. Gives us all food for thought. I know what you mean about the supermarket berries. Even the blueberries seem to have no tast this year. I need to find some local growers.

  9. Laura, you bring up a good point about markets. I shop weekly at our excellent farmers markets, but have found a lot of imported produce there. I have learned which vendors sell their own produce and support them, even if it costs a little more. Strawberries at the supermarket are 50 cents a quart cheaper than at the berry farm, but the supermarket gives the farmer next to nothing for their labours.

  10. You are making my mouth water. I’m lucky enough to “have to” drive past a farm stand on my way home from work. I stop almost every day in season to buy something… It DOES taste better when it’s that fresh!

  11. I’m in to the local fruits and vegetables.-I’m also part of a volunteer effort to pick up donated vegetables from local farms to be donated to FOODSHARE.-Nice idea for a post Laura.

  12. With an abundance of local farmer’s markets and fresh produce stands, I have given up veg gardening. This way I don’t have to do the work, and I can support local small ag — mostly organic local small ag. Everybody wins!

    I prefer to eat seasonally — it all tastes better and gives me foods to look forward to!

  13. Great post, Laura. I can hardly wait for our local tomatoes. We’ll eat them till we pop. Then the sweet corn comes on. Ummmmm.

  14. Great post, Laura. After a couple of years of barely growing vegetables, I decided to put in a victory garden of sorts. It’s really taking off and should supply us with more than we need for the summer. I’ll be posting some photos soon. I just wish the growing season weren’t so short here in eastern Ontario. I’m seriously contemplating building a small greenhouse in an attempt to eke out a few more weeks at either end of the season.

  15. You’ve inspired me to go out and search for a local farmer’s market. There aren’t many that are very close to us. Maybe I should open my own store of local products. Let’s see what Patrick thinks of that one.

  16. Bunnygirl: I wish that I could find a similar co-op around here – I think that’s a great idea!

    The closest thing locally is a plot of park land that people can rent a space for a garden – say if you lived in an apartment or otherwise didn’t have room for a veggie garden.

    Nina: Yes – I agree! I really miss tomatoes in the winter, though. But the greenhouse ones are just awful – I’d rather wait.

    If you know how to can or preserve it’s possible to extend the season of fruits and vegetables into the winter months, but I don’t know of very many people who do that anymore.

    Jean: Yes – that must feel nice to know the person who grew your foods.

    Dave: Are you kidding me?

    No wait, I’d bet you must have great winter vegetables!

    Linda: Thanks for the link.

    Mary: I’d bet you must have wonderful produce there.

    Jayne: I’m lucky that there are quite a few u-pick blueberry farms nearby and a wonderful organic blueberry farm too.

    They have homemade pies!

    Ruth: How are you doing with your weekly eat local challenge?

    Our farmer’s market seems to have too many crafts, but there is local honey and fresh mozarella. The last few weeks there were the most wonderful donut peaches – ever had them?

    Jennifer: Sounds like a great excuse to stop in on the way from work!

    Larry: Good idea. Our foodbank has a great vegetable garden out back – they also teach classes in gardening for local income people.

    TaraD: You’re lucky to live in a climate that allows that – I wouldn’t bother with a garden either if I were you!

    Cathy: I had the sweetest corn this past weekend – no idea where it came from – but it was delish!

    Bev: Kingsolver’s book talks a bit about greenhouse gardening and tells the story of these wonderful sounding tomatoes grown in a cool climate like yours. Look forward to your garden posts.

    Beth: If you’re up for it, there may be a u-pick place closeby. Somewhere I have a link.

  17. I can think of another reason to eat local foods grown or raised by local farmers. I am one of them and I am your brother ! I have eggs and lots of them. And its all your fault ! Right now I am sitting (no pun intended) upon about 15 dozen or so eggs that have been collected over the past few weeks. Help.

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