Today we’re talking about how to preserve the season and how to know what’s in season when so you can take advantage of buying things in bulk and at the best price.
So before we talk about eating and preserving food locally let’s talk about why it’s important to know where your food comes from.
- From a relationship with the farmer–When you know where your food comes from more, you might be able to form a relationship with the person who grew it–the farmer. Companies don’t always have your best interest at heart, but farmers usually do.
- You’ll be able to identify your carbon footprint–You’ll have a rough idea what your carbon footprint is and hopefully be influenced to reduce it.
- You care about what you and your family eat and their health. By knowing what kind of food and where it was grown you’ll hopefully be able to reduce your family’s medical bills down the line.
Why is it important to eat and preserve locally?
- Food has more flavor and taste–since the food gets to your table faster it retains more flavor and taste. It’s not in a warehouse rotting. Also, food can be harvested closer to ripeness if it is sold locally.
- Local food is more nutritious–because of shorter storage time food retains more of its nutritious because it’s not in storage.
- Buying locally supports your local economy–this is important because supporting your local economy will benefit others close to you, but in the end you as well. You’ll have more variety and more nutritious food to select from.
- Encourages a safer food supply–the fewer people who handle your food the less chance for contamination. We’ve all heard the news stories about some bacteria containing a product in a warehouse or manufacturing plant. The fewer processes the less chance for contamination.
- Less waste–Most of the time buying local means less packaging so there is less waste that you have to throw away, but also the waste produced from holding facilities is eliminated as well.
- Preserves farmland and water sources–If people are farming on local land then it’s being used and less likely to be sold for development or some other purpose.
- Preserves different varieties of plants–Different varieties of certain plants grow better in different parts of the country. If we are all getting our food from a centralized location we’re probably only eating one or two varieties of any giving fruit or vegetable. By buying locally you preserve the genetic diversity of fruits and vegetables.
When it comes to selecting fruits and vegetables you want to at least try to eat U.S. grown. U.S. grown is usually (there are always exceptions) better than produce grown in other countries. Note: this is for conventionally grown and organic food that is not labeled USDA Certified Organic. We’ll talk more USDA Certified Organic in a minute.
Why is it better to try to buy U.S. grown?
- We have stricter farming regulations
- Other countries may have severely damaged or contaminated soil–and their government might be in a position to regulate the clean-up.
- Storage conditions–again the U.S. has stricter regulations and the storage time is usually shorter.
Note: Again there are exceptions and here I’m mainly talking about food grown in South America and Asia.
How do you start eating locally?
You can start by saying that you’ll only eat locally grown things. However, if you’re not used to doing that you could be limiting yourself. Not that’s a bad thing, but it might set you up for a higher rate of failure. I recommend
starting by preserving food in season and having a list that you cross off, like in a journal. So you might say to yourself this summer I’m going to dehydrate, can or freeze enough blueberries for an entire year. In other words, you won’t need to buy blueberries until they come back into season. Then doing that to one more fruit or vegetable taking them one at a time, or at least a few at a time.
So how do you start preserving one food at a time?
- You have to study up a little on gardening, even if it’s not your thing–there are a ton of resources, so take advantage of the knowledge even if you don’t have a garden in your backyard.
- Learn how long your growing season–learn when your favorite foods come into season.
- Know what foods are grown locally–this will help you know what’s possible in terms of what you can preserve for a year.
- Attend farmers markets and ask questions–farmers love to talk about their crop. Don’t be afraid to ask them questions about how they grew something.
- Be willing to invest in your food–Often nutritious food is more expensive than food that is void of nutrients. Maybe cutting back someplace else will allow you to buy better food.
Before I go on I want to define local a little more detail about what I mean by local. Because local could mean I only eat things from my own backyard or it could be that I buy things only grown in the U.S. So instead of giving you a mileage radius let me break it down by best, better, acceptable, and not recommended.
- Best way to buy food–knowing the farmer or about the farm. Then buying directly from them.
- A better way to buy food–buying regionally grown food, like from your state or other close proximity. For example, I live in Texas so I’m always trying to buy Texas grapefruit every year when it goes on sale.
- An acceptable way to buy food–buying from the U.S. (See above for reasons–this does not apply to USDA Certified Organic)
- Not Recommended way of buying food–buying conventionally grown food out of the country. (Except when it is USDA Certified Organic)
Many times grocery stores will have locally or regionally grown food on sale because they can get it so cheap. So they put it on sale as a loss leader. In other words they will actually lose money on selling it to you to get you into the store. This might be an option for you to preserve things that in season and on sale.
(Note: I’m not saying all grocery stores do this. Always talk to the staff at your favorite grocery store to find out the country of origin. I should say on or near fruits and vegetables, but talking to the people who work there will add clarity)
Organic vs Non-Organic
My Definition–Growing food organic means food grown naturally without pesticides or artificial fertilizers in uncontaminated soil. I only but this here because it makes sense and I think most people think their food is grown like this when they hear organic. However, that is not the case. So it’s something to be aware of and to consider before you decide you’ll only buy USDA Certified Organic. Many times farmers will use organic methods to farm but their food is not USDA Certified Organic because they can’t afford to get the certification.
USDA Certified Organic means
- Food that is produced without their excluded methods (GMOs and ionizing radiation)
- Food that is produced using their allowed substance (which do include some questionable item)
- Food that is grown and overseen by the US government
Non-Organic or Conventional
Grown using pesticides and herbicides.
Items you should try to buy organic (most pesticide residue if bought conventionally)
- Sweet Bell Peppers & Hot Peppers
- Corn–Corn should be bought organic not because of the pesticide residue but because most conventional corn is GMO. Organic corn is not supposed to be GMO although, because of the way plants are pollinated I would not take this to be absolute.
Items that it’s ok if you don’t buy organic (less pesticide residue)
- Sweet Peas
- Sweet Potatoes
How to read produce stickers when you’re looking for organic and country of origin…
Those little stickers attached to your fruit and vegetables have a barcode and if it starts with a 9 like 94416. Then it’s organic.
If it starts with 3 or 4 then it’s conventionally grown. Often that sticker will say the country of origin. The store is supposed to post the country of origin but it doesn’t have to be directly on the fruit.
How do you know about grains like wheat and rice?
There was a method circulating a few years back about reading the first few numbers of a barcode and that would tell you the country of origin. However, it doesn’t always work and then even it when it does it just tells you the country that assigned the barcode not where the food was actually grown. For example, if you like a certain brand of apple crisps but you’re trying to avoid apples grown in China. When you pick up a back of apple crisps they might have a Mexican barcode on them, even if the apples were grown in China. All the barcode tells you is where they were packaged.
You can call the company or store selling the item. If you’re afraid of giving someone the 3rd degree you can take it one item at a time. One week ask where wheat is grown, then next week ask about rice. Most of the time people are more than happy to help you.
Of course, the best thing to do is buy from a company that uses the country of origin of its food as a selling point.
You might pay a slightly higher price but then you have to invest in your food.
Sneaky Tricks That Companies Play
Even if something says it’s made in the US, that doesn’t mean the ingredients to make it came from the US. If you do call a company and they don’t tell you where the food came from, don’t buy it and move on.
To tell where a food product was grown look for “Product of” statement on the label not the words “Process In” or “Made In”.
Let’s Go Over Some More Common Fruits and when they come in season so you might pick one or two and start preserving them:
- Mandarin Orange
- Passion Fruit
- Some Grapes
Summer Vegetables and Fruits
- Honeydew Melon
This is not an all or nothing practice. You’re not going to be able to eat locally 100% of the time unless you live on land, where you are totally self-contained. However, you can take steps to start eating more locally and a good goal would be 80/20. So that would mean 80% of the food you eat is local and the other 20% can be not locally grown. If everyone did this it would make a huge difference.
A few things to look into if you’d like to take it a step further
- CSA–Community Supported Agriculture
- Food Co-op–A co-op where members can get wholesale natural ingredients.
- Heard Share–Consumers pay a farmer a fee for boarding, caring for and milking their cow. Then everyone shares the milk.