Saturday, February 29, 2020

Options For Where You Can Get Your Food From

You mentioned that you try and buy your food locally if you can't grow it yourself.  The grocery store is local, it's just down the street, isn't that the same thing?

Another great question by you loud and loyal readers!  Maybe, maybe not, it depends on the store.  Just because your grocery store is in your neighborhood and the actual building is local that doesn't mean that the food contained within that building is local.  Here's a quick rundown of what I know and what I've learned about the different options for where to get your food from:

  • Average Grocery Store - Has food from all over the US and the world with varying cultivation methods.  They generally don't tell you if the food is local or not or where it came from.  Quality of food varies wildly, sometimes it's okay and more often then not it tastes like cardboard and is usually the cheapest option.
  • Specialty Grocery Store - These are generally more transparent and still have food from all over the US and the world, they typically make it a point to label where in the world the food came from and sometimes they have a fun story about the farm.  The big problem with specialty grocery stores is you can't ever tell if they're actually supporting the farms they have stories about or if it's just a big marketing gimmick.  They could just buy one bunch of carrots from a local farm and then label all of the carrots in their store as being from that farm regardless of the actual origin.  There have been a few select specialty grocery stores known to do this which basically ruins it for the specialty grocery stores who are actually doing the right thing.  Quality of food is usually pretty good but is more expensive (you get what you pay for).
  • Farmers Market - Farmers markets have a wide variety of local farmers with varying growing practices.  It's important to realize that just because you're at a farmers market, not everyone there grows their food naturally, not everyone is transparent about their growing practices, and not everyone grows the food that they are selling.  Some stands buy the exact same produce that's at your average grocery store and re-sell it at farmers markets with a premium markup, this one really rocked the world of my younger self.  To the best of my knowledge this isn't a common practice and it may even be banned at your local farmers market, but it's important to know that some stands do this.  I once too was very naive about farmers markets and I believed that anything I bought at a farmers market was grown 100% naturally.  If I had a time machine I would probably go back in time, slap my younger self across the face, and set myself straight.  Much to my dismay, this is not the case at all and the best way to find out who uses what cultivation method is to quite simply ASK the farmer who is standing directly in front of you trying to sell you their food!!  No matter how they grow their food, they're generally fairly upfront about it and are generally very willing to engage in a friendly conversation (sometimes a debate) about it.  Your farmers who are trying really hard to do right by you (the consumer) as well as the environment and the land that they use to grow their food are typically extremely excited that you're asking these types of questions and will almost always talk your ear off about all of the great things that they are doing.  If you run into someone ignoring your questions, stumbling to answer them, or they just change the subject, it's probably best to just not support them and move on to the next tent.  The farmers market in my town of Longmont is part of the Boulder County Farmers Market system and is generally a very good farmers market but even they have a very long ways to go in properly educating people at the farmers market about these types of things and ensuring the farmers are being truthful about how they grow their food.  I've been yelled at by plenty of farmers at farmers markets for asking simple questions about how the food was grown, that's a very good cue to me to just move on and not support that farmer.  I've even been chased out of someone's tent before.  If you're not happy with your local farmers market then bring it up with whoever runs the farmers market.  I've come to know the director of the Boulder County Farmers Market system fairly well over the years and what started out as quite a tumultuous meeting between us has somehow blossomed into a quite interesting and friendly acquaintance.  I definitely still give him constructive crap from time to time over certain things with the farmers market but he takes it all in stride.  For farmers markets the quality of food is generally great and the prices are higher (again, you get what you pay for and the farmers market generally gets a cut of the sales so prices will be higher so the farmers can still make money).  Just be sure to ask questions to ensure what you're buying matches what you want to support.
  • Local Farms - This is really where it's at if you can't grow your own food.  Getting your food directly from the source is very hard to beat.  You know exactly where the farm is, who your farmer is, how they grow their food, and they're part of the same local community that you're a part of.  They probably have a farm stand during the growing season on their land that you can visit and buy your food directly from.  They likely have fun events throughout the growing season on the farm to try and get more people to visit and learn more about their farm, these sometimes include tours of the farm.  Be sure to ask questions when visiting farms though, not every local farm close to you is going to grow food how you want it to be grown.  I would ask the same questions you would ask at a farmers market to find out about them and how they grow their food.  If you show up at the farm stand and start asking questions you might just find yourself on an impromptu farm tour when your farmer is so excited someone is there asking questions and he / she really wants to show you all of the great things they are doing.  When you find a farm that you like and want to support, ask if they have a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program that you can join.  This is something that you usually sign up for and pay for before the season even begins, you're investing in your local farmer in the upcoming growing season, and in return they give you a share of food each week for the entire growing season.  These are generally a pretty dang good deal for everyone involved.  Your local farmer gets money before the season begins that they can use for seeds, equipment, etc.  During the growing season you get a decent amount of locally grown produce at a discount and you've already paid for it!

It's also worth mentioning that a lot of farms have a hard time finding good help.  If you find a local farm that you believe in and you want to support but you're strapped for cash, let them know this!  They may be looking for volunteers to help at their farm stand or at the farmers market and in exchange they may give you food as payment.  A common exchange that I hear of a lot is giving a few hours of your time a week at the farm stand in exchange for a CSA share.  That's a great deal for everybody!

Very long banquet table among tall trees
Farm Dinner on Ollin Farms

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