Your Guide to Eating Local

The Eat Local Challenge and Beyond

by Krista Harris

Edible Santa Barbara is partnering with the Community Environmental Council, the Santa Barbara Certified Farmers Market and the Santa Barbara County Foodbank to sponsor an Eat Local Challenge for the month of October. Now in its fifth year, the Challenge encourages people to take a personal pledge to eat and drink local products October 1–31.

You can choose to eat only foods produced within a 100-mile or 150-mile radius of your home, or within the tri-county region, or within California. You can also decide if you are going to make any exceptions (such as coffee, tea or spices), but the idea is to try to stay as local as possible.

The challenge is a great way to encourage you to think about where your food comes from and to perhaps change the way you shop and the food you buy.

. . .

If you are participating in the Eat Local Challenge—and even if you’re not—now is a great time to seek out new local food products and to experience the wide variety of local produce that our area has to offer. We have such a great abundance of local food in Santa Barbara County, it really seems a shame not to take advantage of it.

Fall is a great season to focus on buying more local produce. Many summer fruits and vegetables are still available and the cool-season produce is starting to come in as well. Whether you get hooked on shopping at the farmers market or you start seeking out local produce at the grocery store, co-op or farm stand, here are some tips to help you transition to a more local way of eating.

1.

Think Seasonally

It’s fall, so don’t spend your time looking for apricots, shelling peas or fava beans. Check our “In Season” list to find out what you are likely to see in the market. Or pick up the new Southern California Food Wheel, which lists what foods are in season throughout the year.

Be sure to take advantage of when things are at their peak. You may be able to find citrus year round, but many varieties are at their peak in winter and spring, so right now focus on getting perfectly ripe fall fruits like pomegranates, persimmons, grapes and apples. When you buy things that are in the middle or peak of their season, the quality and the prices are better. When lots of vendors have tomatoes, you know it’s a good time to buy a flat and make tomato sauce. Even fresh flowers and potted plants have their seasons. Look for sunflowers, dahlias and chrysanthemums among others this fall.

2.

Step Out of Your Comfort Zone

At the grocery store you might tend to buy the same carrots, celery and broccoli every week, and even long-time farmers market shoppers get into ruts with what they buy. But the beauty of shopping at our markets is their diversity. Try kabocha squash, persimmons and cranberry beans. If you’re not sure how to prepare something, ask the vendor or other customers that you see buying it. And you can always Google it when you get home. Also, the farmers market isn’t just for produce anymore. Try local meats and poultry, grass-fed beef, seafood, olive oil, nuts, raw milk, cheeses and butter, and all sorts of jams, preserves and bread and pasta made from local wheat.

You can even find local convenience foods—jars of tomato sauce, salsa and peanut butter. These tend to be a bit more expensive, but the quality is superior to their mass-produced counterparts. During the Eat Local Challenge, you may find yourself giving up a lot of prepared foods, processed food and convenience foods, so you’ll save money in that area. And then you can pick up some locally made, delicious, artisanal food products that will make your
life easier.

Some grocery stores identify local products with a special label on the shelves. Keep an eye out for these. And it might be a good time to visit a small specialty shop where you can ask for local food items.

3.

Be Flexible

Yes, you can come prepared with a list, but it’s also good to walk through the whole farmers market or produce section to see what is available before making your purchases. You may change your mind about what you are going to buy. And what you find could determine what you make for dinner that night. If you find chanterelle mushrooms at the market, let them inspire a dinner of grilled grass-fed steaks along with grilled mushrooms. And if you find some delicious apples, how about sautéeing them and serving them for dessert with a little raw whipped cream?

You don’t always have to follow a recipe verbatim. If a recipe calls for shallots, you can substitute onions, garlic or leeks. If you can’t find local rice, try substituting local wheat berries.

When you become a regular at the farmers market, you’ll find out which vendors have the best prices, widest variety or highest quality. Many vendors give out samples, so try the apples from various vendors to see which ones you like best. If you are looking for the best selection, get there when the market opens.

4.

Bring Your Own Bags
(or basket, container, cart, backpack, etc.)

While the lack of some sort of container shouldn’t keep you from an impulse visit to the farmers market after work, bringing the right container does make things a lot easier. If you buy large quantities, bring something that you can roll—whether it’s a chic rolling basket, a little red wagon with a kid in the back or a dolly with crates like the professional chefs—but do be considerate of the amount of space it takes to wheel these through crowed market aisles.

Handheld baskets are great for keeping delicate things from being crushed and they’re just as useful at the grocery store as they are at the farmers market. Backpacks are handy if you are coming on bike. And lots of people get by quite well with any of the reusable tote bags that are available in every size, design and configuration. Always keep extras in your car.

Don’t forget to bring a few smaller fabric or nylon reusable bags for your produce. Also, it’s handy to bring an insulated bag or ice pack to keep things cold, especially if you are going to be buying meat or dairy products.

5.

Get Tokens at the Farmers Market

At grocery stores and produce markets you have your choice of how to pay, but some places take only cash. At the Santa Barbara Certified Farmers Markets, you have another option: Stop by the information booth and use your check, credit or debit card to get tokens. There is just a $1 charge to use your debit or credit card.
You can get tokens in denominations of $1, $5 and $10, and they can be used at all their markets.

Use the tokens just as you would cash with the vendors, and most often they will give you back your change in cash. Tokens make great gifts. You can also use the tokens as an easy way to set a budget and get a receipt for how much you spend each week.

6.

Pick Up and Delivery

You might also consider joining a community-supported agriculture (CSA) harvest subscription service, where you get a weekly box of produce. This is often a very economical and practical way to get an assortment of high-quality farm-fresh produce every week. The variable nature of what you will get in your box will bring a wonderful diversity to your meals. If you are really pressed for time, choose one that will deliver directly to your home. You can also join a community-supported fishery (CSF) to pick up fresh, locally caught fish each week or every other week.

7.

Eating Out

When eating out, it’s not difficult to choose restaurants that serve local food. Check out our Edible Santa Barbara Dining Guide and look for Santa Barbara Certified Farmers Market Farm Friendly Dining Certified restaurants. Some menus will list what is local or even the farm that an ingre-dient comes from. If things aren’t listed, feel free to ask. Availability often changes, but servers and chefs are usually happy to let customers know. And the more people ask, the more they will know that sourcing local is appreciated.

Whether you are actively participating in the Eat Local Challenge or not, the important thing is to find out where your food comes from and choose sustainable, organic, local and ethical foods whenever possible. When you buy these types of whole, natural foods instead of processed and imported foods, you are helping our local economy, our environment and your own health.


Resources

Find out more about the Eat Local Challenge or join the event and group Eat Local Challenge on Facebook.

The Southern California Food Wheel can be ordered at LocalFoodWheel.com.

To learn more about eating local and cooking from scratch, attend the SOL Food Festival and visit the Edible Santa Barbara booth on Saturday, September 28, 2013, 10am–6pm in Vera Cruz Park, Santa Barbara; SOLFoodFestival.com.

Join a community-supported agriculture (CSA) or fishery (CSF) harvest subscription service where you get a weekly box of produce or seafood. See a listing of the CSAs and CSFs located throughout Santa Barbara County.


Krista Harris is the editor and co-publisher of Edible Santa Barbara. In addition to starting the annual Eat Local Challenge in October 2009, she is on the board of the Center for Urban Agriculture at Fairview
Gardens and is a member of the Partnership Council for the Community Environmental Council.

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