“Slow eating” or eating locally has gained a lot of traction over the last decade. Eating seasonally and supporting local farmers isn’t just good for you — it’s good for the animals and the environment.
It’s also good for your local economy.
But many families can argue that the time and expense of wandering your local farmers markets every week is time and cost prohibitive.
Luckily, there are other options to save you time and money, from CSAs (community supported agriculture), to co-ops, to getting to know a local farmer.
If you’re health conscious and like buying high-quality foods, then investing your food dollars in small farms can also help you save money.
So, what does it really take to eat locally? It may be easier than you think. Read on to learn some simple tips for getting more local foods into your diet.
When you eat food from local farmers and ranchers, you not only get to know where your food is coming from, you also gain insight into how it’s grown and how the animals are raised.
But what’s considered “local?”
Many people define “local” as eating foods raised and grown within 100 miles of where you live.
You can easily achieve this by visiting farmers markets, buying directly from local farms, and choosing restaurants that source their ingredients locally.
This information is crucial if you’re following a high-quality keto diet that’s rich in fresh produce and meat. Eating locally brings you closer to your food and can provide you a level of quality control that most people in Western culture haven’t experienced in over 100 years.
Eating locally benefits the environment and creates more work for small farmers. But it’s especially good for your health.
Yes, eating locally has a physiological impact on everything from your gut health to your nutrient stores. Here are just a few benefits to eating locally.
Enhances Your Microbiome
Research is still uncovering the mysteries of the microbiome and how your diet may impact the health of your gut bugs. However, there is good reason to believe that eating locally, as our ancestors would have done, can enhance the health and composition of your microbiome.
In one study, researchers examined the microbiome of a group of children from Europe eating a standard Western diet and a group of children from rural Africa eating locally.
The children in Africa had a more diverse microbiome, with higher levels of good bacteria and lower levels of harmful bacteria.
What’s even more interesting, their microbiome was higher in gut bugs that could break down high fiber foods, a component of their local diet.
So, eating locally may benefit your microbiome by enhancing the gut bugs that your body needs to break down the foods you eat most often[*].
Higher Nutrient Density
When buying food from a farmers market or CSA you can be sure that the produce is grown in season. Fruits and vegetables grown in season are higher in nutrients, likely due to the ideal soil and weather conditions.
One study even found that broccoli grown in season had almost twice as much vitamin C as broccoli grown out of season[*].
It’s also more likely that the small farms growing your local produce has more nutrient-rich topsoils. Modern agricultural practices like monocropping have depleted much of the U.S.’s topsoil of critical nutrients, which can result in less nutrient-dense fruits and veggies[*].
In fact, The University of Texas at Austin’s agricultural department found “reliable declines” in the nutrient densities of several foods when they examined nutritional data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture from 1950 to 1999.
In 50 years, they saw a meaningful decline in the amount of vitamin C, vitamin C, phosphorus, iron, calcium, and protein is more than 40 fruits and veggies grown in the U.S.
Buying foods from your local farmers market is an excellent way to get to know exactly where your food is coming from.
Farmers often attend the markets themselves and are available to answer questions you have about how they grow, if pesticides are used, and how animals are treated.
Always ask, even if they don’t advertise as USDA Organic.
Many small farmers do implement organic farming practices, but can’t afford the USDA Organic Certification.
By having a short conversation with your local farmers, you can learn a lot about the soil quality and practices that may go beyond an expensive stamp of certification.
#1: Shop At Farmers Markets
Shopping at a farmers market is an excellent way to learn more about where your produce and meat are coming from. The owners of local farms are typically at the stands ready to answer questions and tell you more about their farming practices.
Depending on where you live you could have dozens of different local farmers with stands full of fresh produce and cuts of meat. You can easily find a local grower that you trust, and the produce will always be fresh and in season.
Farmers markets may not always be less expensive than the grocery store, but they’re usually not more. Plus, the produce is fresher, so it will likely last longer. And it usually tastes much better, too.
As a bonus, many farmers markets feature local artisans of cosmetics and other personal care items so you can stock up on chemical-free soaps, candles, and more.
If you’re not sure where the closest farmers market is to you, check out localharvest.org. There’s a section for farmers markets on the site, and all you need to do is type in your zip code or city, and a list of local markets will populate.
Many farmers markets have their own websites, so if you want to plan ahead, you can take a peek at the different purveyors ahead of time to see who you might want to visit.
#2 Eat Seasonally
A simple way to eat locally is to eat seasonally. Knowing what’s naturally growing in your area each season can help guide you when you’re planning your meals for the week.
If you walk into your local grocery store in January and see a bunch of peaches and plums, you can be sure they were not grown locally.
Many of the foods that are grown out of season have to travel up to 5000 miles to get to you.
Most grocery stores offer every type of produce you can think of year-round. If the region where your produce was grown isn’t readily available on the packaging or signage, opt for the second best and go with what’s in season.
#3 Visit Local Farms
If you live in a rural area, it may be very easy to take a trip to one of your local farms. Many farmers at the markets have “farm days” where they open the farm to visitors.
This is a fantastic opportunity to see exactly how the produce is grown, what they do for pest control, and how animals on the farm are fed and treated.
There’s no better way to determine if those “free-range” chickens are actually free-range than watching them roam around freely on their farms.
There are many different ways that farmers can manage their property, and there’s nothing as reassuring as seeing it in person.
Even if you live in a city, it could be a fun day trip to drive a few hours out and check out a local farm. Many farms that have farm days make an event out of it with hayrides, food samples, and petting zoos. Make it an adventure for the whole family.
To find your local farms visit localharvest.org and search under the “farms” tab. Enter your city or zip code, and a list of farms in your area will pop up. Farm days are usually advertised on the website, but if you don’t see anything check with the local farms at your farmers market.
#4 Join A CSA (Community Supported Agriculture)
By joining a CSA you’re making a small investment in your local farm, and in return, they will send you fresh produce either weekly, twice a month, or once a month, depending on your subscription.
This is a wonderful way to ensure that you’ll be getting a variety of local and seasonal produce on a consistent basis. In fact, you’ll likely get to try a lot of produce you’d never think to buy at the store.
Most farms provide CSA boxes filled with the fresh produce of that season, and sometimes include other goods, like locally-baked breads and cheeses.
And while you may not get to choose the exact fruits and veggies they send, some farms include recipes with the produce so you know exactly how to use your bounty.
CSA boxes also tend to net out to be less expensive than buying the same amount of produce from the store.
A word of caution — if you’re not someone who enjoys cooking, the CSA box might not be the best option.
#5 Join A Meat Share
Meat shares are growing in popularity, and they’re a fantastic way to make sure you’re getting high-quality meat at a fair price.
A meat share is similar to a CSA, where you invest in a farm or a specific animal and get cuts of meat on a consistent basis. Some produce CSAs even have an option to add meat.
Another type of meat share involves a group of people buying a whole animal from a farm. The farmer will then divide the meat among the group. This is more common in rural areas where people have access to the farms, and also tend to have more space to store (refrigerate or freeze) the cuts of meat that are sent to them.
If you’re interested in purchasing part of a whole animal, reach out to your community and see if anyone else is interested in going in on it with you. You’ll get much more than the typical cuts of meat you’re used to, so this is another excellent option for people that like to get creative in the kitchen.
#6 Shop At A Local Food Co-op
Co-op grocery stores are popping up everywhere, and they offer an excellent alternative to farmers markets. Many farmers markets are only open one day a week, but co-op grocery stores are open seven days a week and typically source a good amount of their products locally.
Food co-ops are member-owned, instead of privately owned, and for a minimal yearly investment, you can become a partial owner for discounts and other perks.
#7 Choose Restaurants That Source Locally
One great way to get more local food into your diet is to choose restaurants that source their food within a 100-mile radius. These restaurants are often called “farm to table,” and they’re gaining popularity in both urban and rural areas.
Many of the farm to table restaurants list which farms they work with on the menu or somewhere highly visible in the restaurant.
Another perk of visiting farm to table restaurants is the continually rotating menu. Because they’re sourcing from local farms, they need to roll with what the farms are producing. This results in a ton of variety and often great ideas for how to cook your own local produce.
One great way to find farm to table restaurants is by checking out your local farms’ websites. If they sell to restaurants, they’ll usually advertise that on their website. You can also search “farm to table” restaurants on Google and on Yelp.
Farm to table restaurants may not be 100% locally sourced, but most try to get as close as possible. If you have any doubt, ask your server or the host about their sourcing practices.
#8 Grow Your Own Produce
If you want to get really local, you can try growing some of your own food. There’s really nothing like having fresh herbs in your kitchen or being able to pluck a fresh tomato off a vine.
It may sound like a lot of work, but you don’t need a green thumb or even a backyard to have a little vegetable garden. Even if you’re a city dweller, you can start by growing a plant or two by your window or on a patio or rooftop.
There are plenty of simple herbs that don’t require a lot of sunlight that you can easily grow in your apartment like thyme, rosemary, oregano, and chives.
If you do have the space outside, visit your local garden center or Home Depot and ask for some assistance.
It may not be possible to eat 100% locally, but finding ways to include more local food into your diet can benefit not only your health but the environment and the local economy as well.
If you’re interested in eating locally, check out your local farmers market and look for produce and meat CSAs in your area.
If you want to take an extra step and really get to know where your food is coming from, visit one of your local farms for a farm day and see for yourself how they grow their food and treat their animals.
The growing trend of local sourcing is creating an influx of new farm to table restaurants with local and rotating menu items. Supporting these small restaurants is just as important as supporting your farmers, so check out what’s new in your neighborhood for locally sourced food.