Eating locally and seasonally is a great way to support our communities — and it’s better for our planet, too.
Shopping local can help ensure that more of your money is going into the hands of farmers in your community or region without all the middlemen and overhead and, of course, the emissions from shipping all of that produce around the world are not exactly light on the environment.
Plus, if you’ve ever eaten a particular fruit or a vegetable out of season and then had the same piece of produce while it was in season, you know how much fresher it tastes in season. Or, if you’ve eaten a fruit like a pineapple in your own country that was imported and then traveled to a country where pineapples are grown there, you could probably taste that difference there as well.
Alright, so the benefits are clear. But where do you find local produce? And how do you eat in season? This guide breaks it down!
1. Community Supported Agriculture (CSA)
Signing up for a CSA can be one of the best options for supporting your community while also eating in season and eating more sustainably. It’s a win-win-win — which is why I put it first in this list!
So how does a CSA work? Essentially a farm opens up the opportunity to purchase “shares” of their farm to their local community. In exchange for purchasing a share, the community member receives a box of produce at a certain frequency (usually weekly) throughout the harvest season. Essentially a share is like purchasing a monthly subscription to getting produce from the farm!
The difference from a subscription is that as a “shareholder” you are taking on some level of risk — if harvests aren’t as abundant as expected, you probably won’t be refunded. But, there’s a sense of community when investing in a local farm and showing your support through thick and thin. This means that this is likely not the best option for low-income individuals that cannot afford to invest without receiving a guaranteed amount of food. There is some level of privilege with a CSA.
If you’re able to, purchasing from a CSA a delicious way to get super fresh and seasonal food sustainably — and it helps farmers, too. As LocalHarvest explains, CSAs allow farmers to receive payments early in the season which helps them with their cash-flow.
What can you expect from your CSA? Well, each CSA may have a slightly different approach. There are some CSAs that offer other locally-produced foods like eggs and bread. And, there are some CSAs that partner up with other CSAs to offer a variety of products. There are some CSAs that deliver and some that only offer pickup. Be sure to research and ask questions before signing up for a CSA so you know what to expect!
Where can you find a CSA? This question, thankfully as an easy answer for any Americans reading this! LocalHarvest has over 4,000 CSAs in the U.S. listed in its database!
2. Grow Your Own or Join a Community Garden
This one certainly requires a bit more work but can be a fulfilling and enjoyable way to access seasonal and local foods.
The most ecologically sustainable way to garden is to employ regenerative gardening. Regenerative Agriculture consists of “farming and grazing practices that, among other benefits, reverse climate change by rebuilding soil organic matter and restoring degraded soil biodiversity – resulting in both carbon drawdown and improving the water cycle.”
Regenerative practices include minimal or no tilling, use of crop rotation and cover crops, composting, and much more. Check out One Green Planet’s guide to regenerative gardening for more.
If you’d like to join a community garden, your local Park District office can be a useful resource. Many, if not most, park districts offer listings of community gardens in the area!
3. Shop at Your Local Farmer’s Market
When you think about how to eat local or how to eat seasonally, a farmer’s market is probably the first image that comes to mind! And for good reason — farmer’s markets can be a great way to find a wide range of local foods, from produce to homemade pastries to honey!
Farmer’s markets can offer many of the same benefits of a CSA, but without a financial commitment/ investment. Plus, visiting your local farmer’s market can be a nice way to mingle with your fellow community members and many makers/growers in the area. That said, farmer’s markets don’t necessarily offer all of the same convenience benefits (some CSAs deliver while farmer’s markets do not) or the same financial security to the farmer.
I’ve also noticed that, in my experience, not all products sold at a farmer’s market are locally produced. Different towns and cities will have different guidelines, but I’ve been to some in Chicago where not all of the products being sold were locally produced and I’ve been to many markets elsewhere in the world where actually a majority of the produce offered was not sourced locally. Just as anything with ‘conscious consumerism’, though, it pays to pay attention to the details — and to always ask questions when you’re unsure.
How do you locate farmer’s markets? Similar to the above ‘strategies’, Local Harvest as a great online directory and your local park district or town’s official website will have information about all of the farmer’s markets in your area.
4. Shop in Season at Your Grocery Store
With a bit of research, it’s possible to eat local just be going to your neighborhood grocery store.
The Spruce Eats has month-by-month guides to seasonal fruit and vegetable for each state in the U.S.! Bookmark, write out, and/or print these guides so you always know what to look for at your grocery store each month of the year. Seasonal Food Guide is another incredible research tool!
In terms of eating local, pay attention to labels! Look at the price signs and the stickers on the produce items. Some stores may even have special sections or signs indicating which produce items have been locally grown.
For sourcing your food low waste…
5. Low and Zero Waste Grocery Delivery Services
The above options won’t likely work year-round in most parts of the world. Or, they may not be accessible to everyone. Grocery delivery services can fill the gaps!
Imperfect Foods has gained a lot of popularity delivering produce and other foods — like meat, cheese, eggs, and snacks — that have been ‘rejected’ from making it on supermarket shelves.
20 billion pounds of fresh produce go unharvested or unsold each year — so Imperfect Foods is working to change that by sourcing produce with appearance ‘flaws’ (such as produce that’s too small or has a strange shape) or produce that’s excess and didn’t get sold to any buyers. In addition to produce the company sells things like eggs, meat, cheese, milk (including non-dairy milk!), snacks, and more.
My family has been using Imperfect Foods for a few months! Sometimes, you don’t always get what you order if they run out, but they will refund you for what doesn’t arrive. The experience hasn’t been perfect (thus the name perhaps?!) but overall, it’s convenient and feels great to know that we’re eating food that’s been saved from ending up in a landfill!
If you are looking to reduce packaging, there are also some food delivery start-ups offering zero-waste groceries.
Zero is offering zero-waste groceries in the Bay Area and The Wally Shop is a zero-waste grocery delivery service that’s now available nationwide! Essentially, with both of these services, your groceries arrive in reusable bags or glass jars that you return to the companies to be reused!
These options don’t only offer local or seasonal foods, but in some cases, you may be able to find some seasonal foods package-free, using the handy-dandy seasonal produce guides from The Spruce Eats!
And that’s a wrap! I hope this guide was useful for your eco-lifestyle journey in learning how to eat local and how to eat in season. While you probably won’t be able to eat locally and in season 100% of the time, efforts towards relocalizing our food consumption can help small farmers, our communities, our health, and the environment.
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