I have been mildly evangelistic about going to the Farmers Market on Facebook lately, and one of my far-flung friends asked how she could find locally grown and raised foods in her new hometown. I remembered reading about eatwellguide.org in The Omnivore’s Dilemma. I checked out the website, and it has been working very well for my friends who have used it.
The search tool is a little limited – use the Zip Code search for best results. The site will also link you to local farms and buyer’s clubs. The listings for grocery stores are not the greatest – it mostly lists chains that sell organic foods. You will need to do some investigating in your neighborhood to find truly local stores, but this website is great for finding a Farmers Market.
A few tips for the savvy shopper:
- Go early. You’ll have first choice for the best produce, and there are usually some delicious baked goods that you can pass off as breakfast. Our local market has several bakers and food vendors, but they also allow community groups to apply for the weekly bake sale fundraiser table. That Rice Krispy treat is helping people in your community – you should eat at least three of them.
- Shop around. Depending on the size of the market and the crowds, cruise all of the stands before choosing your wares. Many times, you will find better prices or product far away from the entrance. Also, the stand that has the best tomatoes might not have the best blueberries. Some vendors will allow you to sample before you purchase, which might help you decide between similarly qualified growers.
- Get to know the growers and other merchants. Are they really local? Are all of their products local? Some farmers’ markets have strict rules about how far the vendors can travel to participate, but only the really competitive ones (like the paragon of Farmers Markets in Madison, WI). If you are concerned about pesticides, ask what they use and how much. If it’s not too busy, ask for recommendations for which produce is the best or for what to do with vegetables you haven’t worked with before.
- Store your purchases wisely. These foods are not meant for long-term storage. Chances are, there will not be preservatives, nor will the food be in packaging that slows food spoilage. We plan some of our early-week meals around our purchases so that they will be used pretty quickly. Lately, my husband has been washing the lettuce we buy right away, then storing it in several Ziploc-style bags in our refrigerator so that it’s ready whenever we have the urge to use it. The lettuce lasted almost a full week, though not much of it – having it so readily available made us much more likely to throw lettuce into a wrap or to choose to make a salad for lunch during the week. The same is true for the fruit we have been buying – we wash it and store it in a smart container, and we’re much more likely to snack on fruit because it’s convenient. Healthy and waste-reducing. We rule. And if those berries start to go south, make them into a quick fruit syrup for sno-cones or iced tea. Cooking and adding sugar will preserve the berries for a few extra days, and having homemade sno-cone syrup will make you the coolest person in any crowd.
Support your local farmers market. Produce that was picked a few days ago just tastes better than the stuff that had to travel on a plane from a different continent. It uses fewer fossil fuels in transportation, less packaging than the organic foods you can buy at a supermarket, and fewer preservatives to lengthen shelf life. Also, there’s something comforting in knowing the person who grew or raised the food you are eating. If you are having trouble locating a market near you, giveeatwellguide.orga try.