America has lost its way when it comes to purchasing food. We can walk into virtually any supermarket or megamart and purchase just about any food we desire regardless of the season. Our modern transportation system allows us to ship fresh foods from all over the world to be delivered, for our enjoyment, even when those foods are out of season locally. Unfortunately there is a price to be paid for this convenience and that price is a loss of flavor and texture. What is even more unfortunate is that we Americans having been doing this for so long that we have forgotten how good food can be. We have come to expect there to be tomatoes at our local market year round. It doesn't matter that to arrive here in good shape, in winter, they are picked while still under ripe and flown 3000 miles. This almost guarantees that that tomato will be essentially tasteless and have the consistency of cardboard. And what about those beautiful bright red strawberries sitting on the market shelf in January, they may look gorgeous but always seem to disappoint when it comes to taste. The same is true for most of the produce and meat gracing the shelves of local supermarkets nationwide. It seems that Americans have come to judge the quality of their stores by the year round availability of the produce they offer. In our "instant gratification" society we have forsaken taste for the mere convenience of being able to purchase anything at anytime. And even when these foods are available locally, people often pass them by on the way to their local megamart to buy those same jetlagged, tasteless tomatoes. People no longer know the joy of the first asparagus crop of spring, their thin tender stalks bursting with flavors that shout springtime, or the joy of biting into a strawberry so full of sugary juice it explodes in their mouths and runs down their chins. They don't understand what makes a BLT so special because they have never had one made with properly made, dry-cured bacon and sun warmed, vine ripened tomatoes.
Fortunately it doesn't have to be this way. People have the option to buy locally produced fruits, vegetables, meats and a whole list of other foodstuffs., and the really good news is there are more and more options available every year as more farms switch their focus to sustainable organic farming. Of course, this means a little more work for you, the consumer, but the pay off is well worth the little extra effort you put into it. The easiest way to buy locally is to frequent your local farmer's market. Your town may not have one, but I would bet that a nearby town does, and more and more of them pop up every year. Most places run their farmer's markets from late Spring to early Fall, though more active markets might move inside when the weather gets cold and operate all year round. Another great option is "U-Pick" farms. While these places are not always organic you are still guaranteed to be picking produce that is sun ripened, and far exceeds the flavor of any supermarket produce you buy. Besides, going to a "U-Pick" farm makes a great family outing for the afternoon.
For those of you ready for a little more commitment there are the organic meat farmers and the CSA's. CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture. In a CSA the farmer offers "shares" to the general public. The number of shares is dependent on the size of the farm and usually cost anywhere from $300 to $600 per season. Most often shares are purchased in late winter and early spring. This allows the farmers to gather the capital needed for the season's planting, instead of going to a bank to get a loan. It also allows the farmer to minimize his risk, in case of a poor season, as he has already been paid for most of what he will produce. In return the purchaser will receive numerous shipments, usually around 20, of boxes loaded with farm fresh fruits and vegetables. Each box usually will weigh around 20 pounds or more and contain a number of different fruits and vegetables that are at their peak of ripeness. While paying a couple of hundred dollars, up front, may seem like a lot of money, once you start doing the math you realize that, not only are you getting much tastier food, but you are also getting it for quite a deal. Of course, there is the risk that mother nature won't cooperate and the purchaser will receive much less, but in the number of years that we have belonged to a CSA we have always received more than enough produce, every week, to feed our family. While each CSA is different and offers different items you can be assured of receiving a large variety of items throughout the growing season. Spring might start off with boxes full of Asparagus, spinach, baby lettuces and maybe even a small bottle of locally produced maple syrup. As the seasons progress these items might be replaced by strawberries, raspberries, early season peas, or pickling cucumbers. The heart of summer brings blueberries, a variety of heirloom tomatoes, zucchini, summer squash, peaches, fennel, beans, and a host of other fruits and vegetables. Finally as fall approaches boxes get filled with onions, potatoes, winter squashes and maybe even some apples or mushrooms. Many CSA's also offer a number of opportunities to meet the farmers and other shareholders by offering events throughout the seasons, from giving shareholders an opportunity to come spend a day working on the farm to hosting shareholder meet and greet parties, usually at the farm so that people can see where their food is coming from. Some CSA's even offer people the chance to pay for their shares by working it off at the farm. There are lots of different CSA's out there; you just need to find the right one for you. Luckily, in many areas you will have a number of different farms to choose from, it's just a matter of finding them. To search for CSA's the internet is a great option. There are hundreds of websites devoted to the subject and will help you locate CSA's in your area. One of my favorite sites with an extensive database of CSA's across the country is www.localharvest.org This site should help anyone get started in locating a CSA near them.
If you are a carnivore, like me, there is no need to feel left out. There is a strong movement, in this country to bring back locally raised, grass fed meats, be it beef, buffalo, pork, or poultry. Much of this meat is also organic, meaning that these meats are not feed the copious amounts of growth hormones and antibiotics found in store bought meats. Grass fed meats taste a little different than the grain fed meats most people are used to. Some people describe it as a little "gamey." I think it is just more flavorful. The other great thing about grass fed meats is that they are often less fatty than grain fed meats and are lower in cholesterol. You can purchase most cuts of meat from these farmers as you would in your local grocery store. You might not get a great deal, price wise buying like this, but even if the meat is a little more expensive it is well worth the extra price. But if you are looking for a deal, and have a chest freezer at home, then you might want to consider buying by the half. Many of these farmers offer this as an option and no, you will not receive half a cow or hog delivered to your door. It will come to you butchered and wrapped in useable portions. The price for this usually averages around $3.00-$5.00 a pound, hanging weight. Since the butchering process will yield about 50% of that your final cost, per pound, averages $6.00-$10.00. Now that may be a lot to pay for ground beef, but is quite a bargain for cuts like tenderloin, NY strips, ribeyes and such and an even better deal when you compare it the prices of organic meats at your local grocery store. Again, you will have to do some research to find farmers in your area, but again the internet is a valuable resource filled with hundreds of sites to help you in your search. The one I often turn to is www.eatwild.com This site offers an extensive database of farmers raising grass-fed meats.
As you can see, there is no reason to accept the quality of produce and meats, at your local grocery store. With just a little work and research you can start to eat locally which is better for you, better for the environment, and tastes a whole lot better. Give your taste buds a treat and introduce flavor back into your life and in doing so, recapture some of life's greatest simple pleasures.