The demand for local food in the United States has risen drastically over the past decade. Direct sales of farm food products increased from $404 million annually in 1992 to $1.2 billion by 2007, according to data from the U.S Census of Agriculture statistics. In fact, interest in local food has become so large that it is now a major influence in offerings provided at both retailer and restaurant establishments. Nearly nine out of 10 shoppers say the availability of local foods is important when choosing a primary supermarket, according to Harvesting Opportunity: The Power of Regional Food System Investments to Transform Communities. Here are six ways to support local food and farmers:
1. Shop at local farmers markets.
Farmers markets are certainly not a new concept, but recently they have become more abundant. Markets offer the freshest and tastiest fruits, vegetables and products with a bountiful variety. It is tempting to go for the produce and staples one is used to, but farmers often offer recipes and ways to prepare foods that may be unfamiliar to some. In many instances, volunteers ensure the markets operate smoothly, and some have volunteer positions available. Ask about volunteer opportunities during the next trip to the farmers market.
2. Purchase a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) share.
CSAs, defined by Farm and Dairy, are “farming operations that allow individuals to purchase a share of what the farmer produces.” Here’s how it works: a farmer provides a certain number of shares to the public. Each share, or subscription, typically includes a box, bag or basket of seasonal produce weekly throughout the farming season (Local Harvest). Many deliver right to customers’ doors, or can be picked up from the farmer. To find local CSAs, visit localharvest.org/csa/.
3. Eat at local farm-to-table restaurants.
The farm-to-table movement is just how it sounds. It promotes serving local food at restaurants. Restaurant owners opt out of buying through a food distributor or food service, and instead buy directly from local farmers. Supporting farm-to-table restaurants inherently supports local farmers and producers. For a list of farm-to-table restaurants in Missouri, visit knowwhereyourfoodcomesfrom.com/farm-to-table- dining/dining/midwest-2/missouri/.
4. Shop at local grocers rather than chain supermarkets.
Smaller grocers often offer more local foods and products than big chain supermarkets. Individuals may ask their grocery store manager to supply more foods from local farms. Providing a list of contacts of local farmers to the manager is also a good way to support the local food economy.
5. Shop at local gardening stores for seeds, soil, garden plants and supplies.
Ready to grow some vegetables and fruits in the garden or backyard? Visit local gardening stores for seeds, soil, garden plants and supplies. Local, family-owned stores help local business and farmers, and may have more time to answer questions and provide gardening tips.
6. Help establish a relationship between local farmers and your school.
Another great way to support local food producers and farmers is to help bring their produce and products into surrounding schools. Farm to school initiatives are a great way to support farmers, while also providing kids with access to nutritious, local food. “Farm to school is a grassroots movement, and anyone can get involved,” according to the National Farm to School Network. To learn more, visit farmtoschool.org/get-started.