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Friday, February 24, 2006

Some Advice for Local Eaters

This is this blog's 100th post.

I should have baked a cake.

Today I am going to write about eating locally. I don't just grow food for the local market I also buy as much food as I can from local farmers. So this makes me a customer as well as a seller.

Buying as much food as you can locally is a worthy and healthy goal but it is not easy. Over the years most of the local agriculture infrastructure has been utterly destroyed to make way for the Green revolution agribusiness model. this means that few farms are growing for the local market and the farm to market ties have been badly broken since after WWII. That's the bad news. The good news is this is changing as more and more small to medium farms become diversified and geared towards selling direct to their customers and also more and more marketing opportunities are being developed all the time. there are more farmers' markets than we have ever had in this country. CSA's are increasing each year. When I started Boulder Belt CSA there were something like 1500 CSA in the entire country now there are at least 3x as many and every state in the union has at least one. And there are more and more farm stands coming into being. For the customer it has definitely become a lot easier to buy locally at least 8 months out of the year.

Locating the food is really only half the battle (though it may seem like so much more when you are in the hunt). The other half is dealing with the food once you have located it. buying local often means buying whole unadulterated foods in the raw. this is something most modern consumers are not used to. Most people buy a lot of processed foods that are ready to eat and can be stored easily. And people are used to having year 'round availability of all foods. This is not the case with local foods and that means one has to plan ahead, often months ahead. One has to do their own processing (canning/freezing/dehydrating) and one has to have equipment to do that.

The basic equipment I recommend is the following:
A salad spinner
A pressure canner
Canning jars and lids/rings (you can jars way cheap at auctions. Buy lids and rings new)
A jar lifter (for lifting hot jars out of the canner, you cannot can without this)
A canning Funnel (for no mess pouring of food into canning jars)
A chest freezer (very important if you eat meat but also incredibly handy for produce too)
A Victorio Strainer (this separates seeds and skin from pulp for things like making fruit jellies, tomato sauce, etc.)
A Couple of big Stainless Steel Pots (3 gallon or bigger, 5 is a real nice size)
A dehydrator (I have several kinds from dirt cheap to top of the line, to begin with go cheap)
Freezer zip lock bags
Food grade buckets with lids (for storing grains, dried beans, flour, etc.. I use all sizes from quart yogurt containers on up to 5 gallon buckets. Never use anything that is not food grade like drywall mud buckets)
Food processor/blender (if you love pesto you will need this)
Herb Grinder (coffee grinder dedicated to herbs and spices or mortar and pestle)
A Metal Colander
Baking Sheets (for freezing fruit, not baking)

These are the basics in my kitchen for what I eat. I don't do a lot pickling/fermenting so I do not have pickle crocks but if you plan of fermenting food you will need at least one and there is probably other things I have not mentioned. If you see any omissions put 'em in the comments.

One thing local foods eaters need is a root cellar of sorts. This is a place that is dark and cold but not freezing and well ventilated. A basement can work, so can a garage or closet or if you have a yard you can dig a cellar into the ground. This is where the bulk of the winter veggies will be stored. The things we cellar are onions, garlic, winter squash, beets, carrots, parsnips, turnips, rutabagas, potatoes and apples. I am not going to get into how to store these items because it is a topic beyond the scope of what I want to talk about today. Go to Back 40 Books for some great titles on root cellaring. Herm Beck-Chenoweth and Linda Lee, the owners of this business are great folks who know a lot about simple living and sell the best books they can find on simple living/local eating/sust. ag topics.

Like most things in life there is a lot more than meets the eye in this eating local foods idea. It takes a lot of preparation to be able to have the bulk of your diet (more than 50%) be local foods. You have to have the proper equipment and know how to use it or you will be overwhelmed and will very likely back away from the goal of an all local foods diet. You have to teach yourself to plan months in advance instead of days or hours in advance for your meals. You have to learn how to can and freeze (neither is hard to learn and a great resource is Martha to learn more about these skills) and you have to learn how to store things properly. It takes time to do all of this so do not think you will one day wake up and start an all local foods diet-it won't work. but it will work if you take several years and add a few new skills and new foods/sources to your repertoire each season.

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