One Simple Change: Get Closer to Your Food

This past weekend was my son Dylan’s Bar Mitzvah. It was everything we were hoping it would be and much, much more…thank you all for the sweet wishes leading up to and on my family’s special day.

The timing of the event- right at the end of school/beginning of summer for my kids- means I’ve been able to take it really slow this week. Hooray! This feels great after a month of so much “busyness”. I’m happy to have time to reflect on how amazing Dylan was at the services (there were two: one on Friday night and one on Saturday), and how wonderful it was to have so many family members and friends enjoying the party here in our backyard afterwards. It was truly a day we will always remember!

Because I didn’t post for One Simple Change last week, I want to get a OSC post in today (my 23rd one!), and then post again tomorrow so that I get back onto my Friday schedule. Sound good?

So let’s talk about the importance of getting closer to your food (ie making an effort to eat local foods).

Before we go further, please note that I’ve never claimed to be a locavore. I eat many foods that are not local, especially during the cold months of the year. But to the degree that I am able, I embrace the idea of getting closer to my food by keeping chickens for eggs, bees for honey, buying raw milk from a nearby farm, supporting food producers in my community, and growing as much of my own food as I can.

Why is it important to get closer to your food? There are a number of reasons. If you choose to eat foods that are locally grown, you’ll avoid excess packaging and preservatives. If foods don’t need to be transported long distances, less energy (for refrigeration) and less fuel will be expended in getting them to you (better for the environment). I believe eating local helps you forge a bond between you and your community; I also believe local foods taste best. While I don’t have the stats to prove it right now, I am also pretty sure that foods picked and enjoyed when they are ripe are more nutritious than those that travel thousands of miles before they’re placed on supermarket shelves.

Getting closer to your food means learning about what grows in your area, and when, so that you can eat foods that come from close by when they are in season. How do you do this? You can plant a garden, join a CSA, shop farmer’s markets or visit and purchase items right on farms themselves. You can also forage for wild foods. Russell’s beautiful and handy Produce Calendars are a great way to familiarize yourself with what’s in season when.

If you live in a place with a climate that’s warm year-round, you have a bit of an advantage over those of us who don’t. But there ARE ways to continue to eat locally year-round even if you live somewhere with four distinct seasons: you can learn how to extend your home garden’s harvest, and you can learn more about food preservation!

In years past, I personally have not done a great job with the food preservation piece. While I do use local fruits to make jams, etc. to enjoy throughout the winter, I don’t generally take the time to freeze many local fruits and vegetables to enjoy when they’re no longer in season. This year I am going to change that; I am also going to be experimenting more with other types of canning, plus dehydrating and root cellar storage.

Getting closer to your food does not mean you have to give up eating everything that’s not local, though. While I do know some people who are true locavores, this just isn’t practical for most people. Chocolate, coffee, tea, and spices are examples of foods that you probably would not want to go without, but which certainly are not local for many of us. So when it comes to foods like this: buy them, but look for fair-trade/sustainable options whenever possible. I think it’s also important to keep in mind that these are foods which aren’t perishable, and which are relatively light, so their transportation does not come with as big a carbon footprint as is the case with some other foods.

While I try not to be a food snob, I just don’t think you can compare the taste of tomatoes bought in the supermarket in December to ones you buy from the Farmer’s Market at the height of the summer (and don’t even get me started on strawberries). Do I still buy the occasional tomato in December? Yes…I buy the “hothouse” ones when I am desperate. But generally I try not to: I try to wait until my own tomatoes are ready, and then I pretty much gorge myself all season. Do I buy foods like pineapples? And mangos? Yes, I do: I love these fruits and would not want to go without them permanently, but I don’t buy them often.

I happen to think that the very best way to get closer to your food is to grow something. Anything. I know not everyone lives where they can have a garden at home, but maybe you could have a plot in a community garden? Or maybe you can grow some herbs inside or on a balcony?

I always dreamed of having my own garden, but I had many years of gardening failures before I found success. I am going to do a fairly comprehensive post about how to start your own garden (hopefully tomorrow); while I am by no means a gardening expert, I’ve learned a lot in the years since my first effort (when my garden consisted of one tomato plant in a container on the deck of a rental home), and I’d like to share what I know with you. I’d love to inspire those of you who do live in a place where having a garden is possible to take the plunge if it’s something that interests you, but you just don’t know where to begin.

In the meantime I will leave you with some photos that I shot in my garden a few weeks back!

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