I hope you can help me. I want to make some (belated) New Year’s resolutions that will help me support farmers more regularly. I have a pretty fixed income but there must be a couple really easy things I can start to do that will make a difference?
This is the perfect question for this time of year. I have to tell you that a few years ago, I decided that I would start making a different kind of resolution at the start of every year – one that I would have no problem keeping. I kicked off this plan with my all time best New Years intention: Eat more pork. (Family farm raised pork of course!) Let me tell you, it was a smashing success. There is nothing quite like feeling a sense of accomplishment while eating bacon! True story, I swear.
It would be easy to simply say “buy all of your food at the farmers market” or “go completely organic” but I don’t think that is particularly practical if you are concerned about time and money. Also, by picking and choosing where to place your efforts, I think that you will gain a deeper understanding of your food, where it comes from and how it is grown.
Okay, let’s break up this resolution week by week. Little steps equal big change in the long run.
Week One: Jan 21-27th
The Farmers Market
Start by simply taking stock of what you have in your refrigerator and pantry. Make a list of your staple ingredients: the things that you always seem to pick up when you go shopping. My winter list would look something like this:
- Cheddar cheese
- Canned tomatoes
- Garlic (can’t seem to get enough!)
- One head of broccoli
- Spinach or salad mix
- Some kind of fruit
- One box macaroni
- Fruit juice
- Pint of ice cream
Then separate out from the list things that you can get locally at the farmers market. In your case, since Florida has a long growing season, try to make decisions based on color. Anything that is the color green put on the farmers market shopping list. Get the rest where you normally do. We will tackle the grocery store next week.
In Sarasota you are lucky because there are a couple of resources at your disposal. There is a year-round Saturday farmers market at the corner of Lemon Ave. and Main St. Jessica’s Organic Farm & Stand, which is open Friday afternoons and Saturday mornings October through May, can be found just off DeSoto Rd. from U.S. 301.
On Saturday, go to the farmers market and buy your green groceries. Take stock of what the vendors have and buy what looks good but for your first trip there is no need to wander from the list unless you want to. As a side note, there is an excellent fish vendor at this market that is well worth a stop if you like seafood. Don’t worry if it doesn’t seem like you are spending a lot, even $10 can make a big difference in your local economy. For example, a study done a few years ago in Maine proved that if each Maine resident spent $10 a week on locally grown food throughout the growing season the state would retain $100 million a year.
Week Two Jan 28th-Feb 3rd
The Grocery Store
Okay, go back to your list. Scope out all of the things that you couldn’t get at the farmers market or maybe that don’t make sense for you to buy at that time. I buy white foods at the grocery store: dairy, crackers, breads – basically protein and carbs. Then pick two or three priority items. Something that you buy regularly or eat often works best. Then head to your local grocery store and see if you can find those items with an organic or family farm label.
If you can’t find what you are looking for at your regular grocery store, there are a few markets in the city that cater to people who are looking for family farm identified food and organics. Give them a try and you should be able to find what you are looking for.
Now go back to the farmers market and repeat last week’s performance and you have already made huge leaps and bounds towards supporting your local farmers. Honestly, this might be enough for you. But if you want to take it further, let’s leave the comfort zone!
Week Three Feb 4-10th
Another way to determine whether or not you are buying from local producers is to buy in season. Florida has a very long growing season so chances are you will always have a wide variety of local fruits and produce to choose from at your farmers market and even in some local grocery stores. If something is not in season, say zucchini in January, you can be pretty sure it wasn’t grown locally. One safe bet would be to add citrus to your list, if it isn’t there already. Definitely, take advantage of the excellent fruits that are grown in your backyard.
Take a look at this calendar of regional growing seasons and add one thing to your shopping list that wasn’t on it before from what is in season right now.
Knowing when things are in season will help you choose the items that will taste the most fresh and delicious and helps you learn about new foods. If you don’t know how to start, ask the farmers what they recommend. Find out how they prepare it at home – you won’t be disappointed.
Week Four Feb 11-17th
Now you know how to find most of what is on your list either from local farms or from companies that are working with family farmers. Your $10 or more a week are making a big difference in your local economy. How do you make it stick? How do you keep the resolution alive throughout the year?
Something that I have found to be particularly helpful is to choose a couple of dishes that you love to make and eat – something that comes back regularly in your dinner menus. Mine is homemade mac and cheese. I use the grocery store and the farmers marke or in my case, food in my freezer from my summer Community Supported Agriculture share to make this dish a family farmed powerhouse. For the sauce, I use organic milk, a local cheddar cheese and a New England butter – just thinking about it is making me hungry! Then I use whatever veggies I have in my freezer or that I can get locally to supplement half of the pasta. I try and always have spinach and broccoli or green beans on hand because they are perfect for this dish. Et voila! I have a delicious meal that I feel really good making week after week.
Think about your favorite meals and commit to making one or two of your staple dishes family farm friendly for the year. Once you have perfected your newly invented recipe, invite your friends over. In four weeks, with a few dollars and a couple of trips downtown, you have accomplished your New Year’s resolution and your last contribution to your local food system is to share your wisdom with some friends. Let me know what you are making, I might just come down to take a bite!