By Cheryl Nechamen
If you like the idea of supporting local farms and businesses by eating local food but wonder whether you’ll be limited to potato sandwiches and dandelion greens, the 80/20 rule may be what you’re looking for.
My family has been eating local food for about five years now, ever since we organized the 100 Mile Diet Challenge in 2006. During the Challenge, which lasted for the month of September, we ate only foods which were grown or raised within 100 miles of our house.
After living through two 100 Mile Diet Challenges in ’06 and ’07, my husband came up with the 80/20 rule. He pointed out that it’s easy to find local meat, dairy, eggs, fruits and vegetables- in other words, about 80% of our diet. It’s that last 20%, things like grains, oil, spices, and of course, the essentials of life, coffee, tea and chocolate, that’s difficult. Now you can either obsess about that 20% or decide not to worry about it. By following the 80/20 rule, 80% of our food local, 20% non-local, we’ve been able to eat locally grown food year-round, not just in September.
So how do you find local food? One great tool is http://www.localharvest.org where, you type in your zip code to find U-Pick farms, farmers markets and CSA farms near you.
As in most things in life, there’s a trade-off between money and time. The options that require less time and effort tend to more expensive and vice versa.
Farmers markets are a good place to start. They’re at the top of the list for convenience. There’s probably one open in your town during the summer months. We’re also lucky to have several year-round farmers markets in the Capital Region- Schenectady, Troy, Glens Falls and Saratoga Springs. The big farmers markets have meat, milk, cheese, eggs, baked goods, fruit and vegetables.
Honest Weight Food Co-op, in Albany, has a great selection of local foods, ranging from fruits and vegetables to meat, cheese and flour. Local items are labeled, making it easy for locavores to find what we’re looking for.
CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) farms are another good option, in which you buy a share of the harvest in winter or spring. In return, you receive a bag of vegetables every week during the growing season. With the typical CSA share enough to feed a vegetable-loving family of four for about $25 a week, CSA shares are one of the best deals in town. We’ve been members of The Alleged Farm and Fox Creek Farm, both of which are excellent.
Cheaper yet is to find farms where you can pick your own fruit and vegetables. Keep an eye out for ads for U-Pick farms in the local section of the paper: strawberries in June, blueberries in July and apples in September and October. I usually pick tomatoes for canning at Barbers’ Farm in Middleburgh in August, although, sadly, their fields were wiped out by the floods this year. Barbers’ also lets people pick eggplant and peppers.
Buying meat in bulk, a quarter of beef or half a pig, directly from the farm is also more economical than buying it by the cut from the farmers market and can be cut and packaged according to your preference. We’ve bought meat from Sweet Tree, Mariaville and Nagimor farms.
The least expensive, although most labor-intensive, option is to grow your own vegetables in your backyard, if you have the space, or in a community garden.
We use all of these methods. Our CSA share supplies almost all of our vegetables during the summer growing season. To get us through the winter months, I grow berries and vegetables in my backyard and in a plot at a community garden, which I then preserve by freezing or canning. I also pick strawberries and blueberries for the freezer, apples for the root cellar and tomatoes to can from U-Pick farms. We also buy our meat in bulk. The rest comes from Honest Weight or the farmers market, in our case, the Schenectady Greenmarket.
A wide variety of local food is out there, including perhaps a few potatoes and dandelion greens.