I made a trip to a neighboring county today for an appointment and inside I was a little giddy.
Not for the appointment, mind you, but for the fact that I knew I could stop on my way home at all the wonderful little farm stands.
While the county where I live has awesome markets and stands, the vibe is different on my drive home. Smaller stands, often just in someone’s yard. You don’t even need to drive a mile to find more than one.
I bought beets, garlic, garlic scapes, black raspberries (that might have disappeared a little on my drive), eggs, potatoes, cucumbers and fresh flowers. From four different places. Simply because I wanted to (well, and because we need food). But rather than go one place, I wanted to support whomever I could.
Because just like I’m passionate about shopping small, I’m also equally a lover of eating small.
Eating small is simple, really. It extends from one of my core food beliefs about supporting small farmers.
Supporting small farms is a way to live small, not in the sense I’ve written about it before, but in a way that supports that kind of living. Living small means being in the moment more, being present in what we do, focusing on in-the-moment living. What’s more small in everyday life than the preparing of food, several times a day, day-in and day-out? It can become redundant, uninspiring at times, just something that needs to get done, especially in the winter. It’s just not that interesting to cook when your food isn’t fresh and it’s been shipped from different parts of the country and world.
It’s hard to avoid that in the winter when you don’t have enough preserved to last the entire season and I’m thankful for what I was able to put away. And I’m thankful we have options in the grocery store to buy produce when it’s not a growing season locally. But when it is that growing season, the best thing to do is support local farmers and preserve what you can. What a better time to start doing that than right now!
Growing your own food is always a great option. But until I get better at that, I certainly shouldn’t be writing about it! We’re in the process of learning more and managed to get a few things in the ground (very, very late) and some things in pots on our patio. But since it’s not something we are yet able to do in a large capacity, I’m thankful to be surrounded where I live by farms that I can support. I’m pretty sure I’m also surrounded by GMO corn fields too, but that’s a conversation for another day.
Here’s where eating small gets tricky for some people. I know some that have the mindset that all food should be purchased organic. And that even if a local farmer is near them, they’d rather pay for organic produce to be shipped to them. There are some that believe that supporting your local farmer is way more important than worrying whether or not it’s organic. My personal beliefs, (which you need not agree with) lie somewhere in the middle. I certainly prefer to buy organic produce to avoid the use of toxic pesticides and herbicides that wreak havoc on our bodies. But I also recognize the importance of supporting local farmers to me as well. I often ask how often a farmer sprays and sometimes I find that they only spray when needed or some don’t spray at all. The process of becoming certified-organic is harder for a smaller farmer so it’s always important to ask.
I’m a bit pickier when it comes to meat and eggs. When possible, I buy grass-fed and finished beef, pork that has been pastured or wooded, meat and eggs from chickens that are running around and supplemented with GMO and soy free feed. That’s not always an easy task to find, but it’s possible. Like I said in my core food post, we do our best. We’re not trying to be perfect, but we recognize the health benefits of properly raised animals. And that is often easy to find locally!
You might have to venture outside your comfort zone a little to shop small. Most grocery stores, while having options of “more natural” meat and organic produce, do not often carry these kinds of food from local farmers. And if they do, unless they are certified organic, you can’t really ask about the practices of the farms without calling them directly. And let’s face it, once we get home and unload the groceries, that’s not something we’re likely to do.Reasons to support small farmers are numerous, but here are some of the main reasons I choose to do so.
Knowing where your food was grown gives you a connection to your food.
Pick up an apple in the grocery store, and you’re likely to munch away without so much of a second thought. Pick up an apple at a local orchard, and you might find yourself savoring that apple a bit more. Or thinking about where you bought it, or who grew it. When you see where your food is grown and see who you are supporting, you get a different kind of connection to your food. Growing your own food gives you an even greater appreciation because you see a bit of the labor of love it takes to bring food to your table.
Seeing the animals I buy in the field of my local farmer, and knowing they will be feeding my family makes me very appreciative of eating meat. I appreciate the hands that raised the food whether it’s a chicken or a head of lettuce or a quart of blueberries. It allows for a deeper connection than just picking up a package at the store, having no idea where that meat came from (or whether it was shipped to another country for processing and shipped back–and yes, that really happens with our chicken and China).
Talking directly to the farmer builds a relationship with your food and him/her.
If you buy directly from a farmer at a local market or right on their farm, talking to the person who raised your food also gives you a connection to what you are buying and eating. You can ask specific questions about how the food was grown, what sprays were used (or not used) and how often, what kinds of soil practices they have, whether they give their animals antibiotics or hormones, or whether their chickens get time to run around or if they stay cooped up. Often you can visit the farm, you can see the animals out in the fields, you can ask if they are supplemented with feed and what kind. You can ask the questions that are important to you.
Also, you build a relationship directly with your farmer. You know him or her by name. They know you by name. I don’t know about you, but relationships and community are the backbone to life. And trust me, when your local farmer knows you care, they will often go out of their way to make sure you’re getting what you want and to give you the most for your money.
Shopping and cooking in season
When you buy locally, you have to buy what’s in the growing season. We live in a world where we can get anything we want anytime we want it. But buying produce out of season and having it shipped to you means it’s not really very fresh, and often not very tasty. Think asparagus and corn in the winter. When you buy directly from a farmer or a local market, it’s likely been recently picked, even sometimes that morning. It hasn’t been shipped from who knows where how long ago. It wasn’t sitting in storage and being gassed to ripen. While there are exceptions to this, generally, it’s fresher and tastier. So buying locally means getting what’s in season now, what’s fresh now, and then you can change what you cook based on what’s available. Learning to cook in season is also a great way to eat small.
Try to spend some time preserving fresh produce while it’s in season. Making sauce in batches and canning or freezing it, freezing berries or green beans, and making applesauce are just a few simple ways you can preserve what’s in season and enjoy it in the winter.
Money stays with the farmer and supports local economy
Think about it for a minute. When you buy a tomato at the grocery store, who are you really paying? Who gets the money for that tomato? How much actually goes back to the farm where that tomato came from? While I don’t know exact numbers for a grocery store (as I’m sure it varies), I have read that for every $100 spent at a farmer’s market, $62 stays in local economy and $99 stays in the state. That’s a pretty big deal. Better yet, when you go directly to a farm to buy food, you know you are supporting that farmer’s family, and that deepens the sense of community that’s found shopping small.
Eating small extends beyond just supporting small farmers. It means taking time to prepare food. It means sitting together with our families to eat together. It means opening our home to others to enjoy food together. It means giving thanks for abundance. It means learning how to make something new, even if it’s challenging. It means slowing down, trying to savor and enjoy what we eat, rather than just making it something we do every day because we’re hungry. It means trying to preserve food when it’s in season locally to enjoy in the winter when the growing season is over.
Can we eat small all the time? No, we really can’t. But we can do it when we can. We can make a small change here and there. And we can commit to doing better because it’s really the right thing to do.
Just like I’ll be introducing you to some businesses you can support to help you shop small, I’ll also be introducing you to some farmers. And I’ll also be offering tips and stories about eating small.
What about you? What small farms do you love to support? How do you find yourself eating small?