May 5, 2009

Calling All Locavores!

Virginia-Grown Is More than a Marketing Gimmick

Are you a locavore? That was the 2007 new word of the year in the New Oxford American Dictionary. Cougar (non-fang variety) was a runnerup word! Locavore refers to those who support their area farmers by eating more locally grown foods. Food should not have frequent flyer miles! Many of them travel 1500 miles to your kitchen.

“Think global; eat local” is a slogan that makes you think about where your food was grown. Locavores prefer farm-to-plate versus farm-to-airplane, and actually knowing the farmer's name.

If you've read Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, you might have been inspired to try to adopt a small part of her family's lifestyle commitment to eat only local foods. They went "whole hog"--quite literally. No pineapples for them for one whole year. One startling statement in her book was that the U.S. exports 1.1 million tons of potatoes, and imports 1.4 million tons!

The easiest places to find locally grown foods, most of them organic or near-organic, are your local farmers markets. However, if you make a special trip to the farmers’ market in your SUV, you’re adding to “food miles.” Instead, organize a carpool to the market with some neighbors and leave a smaller carbon footprint.

The weekly Williamsburg Farmers' Market in Merchants Square will take place from now through October. Up to forty local farmers, watermen, and vendors market their wares every Saturday from 8 a.m. to Noon. The Hampton Farmers' Market and Newport News Farmers' Market are also up and running this spring. Many more around Tidewater Virginia are on this comprehensive listing.

Farms in our part of tidewater Virginia are disappearing quickly. Local Fresh Market store manager, Rick Fariss, told me that “we used to buy produce from three area farmers and they’re now either retired or have given up farming.” Ukrop’s produce manager, James Pullen, says that no local farmers provide their produce either, but that “we do have a relationship with Richmond and Eastern shore farmers for seasonal produce.”


Another win-win solution to finding locally grown foods is to join a Community Supported Agriculture program or a CSA, which are usually small farms. After you buy a "share" in a CSA, you'll pick up weekly fresh produce. You also share in the risk if there's a drought or insect problem.

Local Harvest is the organization that keeps tabs on who is running a CSA and you can easily find some in their database that are close to you. If you want to try one out, see if a friend wants to split both the cost and the produce. Half-shares are usually quite welcome. The Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services lists about 60 Virginia CSAs. Some of the local ones are Dayspring Farm near West Point, Hidden Brook Farm and Kelrae Farm, both in Toano, and Zina's Produce on Route 5.

Virginia Dept. of Agriculture and consumer Services also provides a thorough Virginia Grown Guide online.

Williamsburg Yorktown Daily's Desiree Parker's Eco-Freak blog headed me to this cool local website for homegrown pickins: http://www.pickyourown.org/VAsoutheast.htm

BUT BUYER BEWARE!
Some terms on food labels mean virtually nothing -- or at least nothing verifiable. Consumer Union's very useful Eco-labels center (at greenderchoices.org guides for meat and dairy) show that "antibiotic free," "free range," "no chemicals," "no additives," "natural" or even "fresh" are not meaningful. "USDA Organic," however, is the real thing!
June 2009 Update: Check out Paul McCarney's Meat-Free Monday's campaign at http://www.supportmfm.org/