This story is part of Earth911’s “Green Eight” series, where we showcase eight ways to green your life in various areas.
Why go local? What's all the hype about?
Take a look at some of your recent purchases, and think about how much fuel it must have taken to get your stuff from where it was made to your doorstep. How about that bottle of French wine, box of Spanish Clementine oranges or bunch of Costa Rican bananas? And don’t forget about those made-in-China sneakers and the Italian leather bag in your closet.
Eating locally grown foods and sticking with other locally made products is a greener choice because these products' carbon footprints are significantly reduced. Not only that, but buying local helps you get to know your community just a little better and support your surrounding economy. Here’s how to find locally grown and made products that will make you wonder why you ever shopped so far from home:
1. Partner up with a local farm
Enroll in a community supported agriculture (CSA) program—of which there are thousands across the country. They work like this: you pay in advance for a share of a nearby farm’s crops, and each week, the farm delivers your share either to your door or a neighborhood pick-up spot. Typically, a single share consists of enough organic vegetables to fill most of the needs for a household of two to four people; some CSAs also include fruit, eggs or meat.
Members (that's you) assume some of the risk of farming—shares are bigger in good year, smaller in a bad one, but the cost usually works out to be less than what you’d pay for the same amount of produce at a typical supermarket. Not only that, it’s an easy, convenient way to support a small, local farm and better understand what’s in season. You’ll also get plenty of chances to try new veggies, since most farmers try to offer a lot of variety (When was the last time you had kohlrabi? Or purslane?). Find one near you with Local Harvest’s searchable database of over 2,500 CSAs.
2. Head off to the market
Of course, another great option for local food is the farmers' market, which offers more flexibility than a CSA and also allows you to comparison shop and choose from an array of locally grown crops. Farmers typically travel less than 100 miles to bring their crops to market, a fraction of the distance most fruits and veggies cover before reaching the grocery store.
Plus, eliminating the middleman also means your fresh produce is usually cheaper. And, it’s easier than ever to find a farmers’ market near you—there are now almost 5,000 in the U.S. alone, an increase of 170 percent over the last decade, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Find one near you with EatWell.org’s search tool.
3. Get growing
Put that sunny patch of backyard to work by putting in a few easy-to-grow veggies like tomatoes, zucchini or cucumbers to supplement your shopping trips. Even if you’re an apartment dweller, a window box can still provide enough space for small herb garden to keep your seasonings fresh and fragrant. Is your produce production too much to handle? Learn some simple techniques for freezing the extras to extend your bounty into winter months without the hassle of canning.
4. Harvest not-so-slim pickings
Few of us have enough acreage for our own orchards, but pick-your-own (also called U-pick or PYO) farms allow you to literally harvest your own fresh produce, like berries, apples, peaches, pumpkins, corn and melons. As an added bonus, visiting the farm directly and participating in the process will help you savor your meal that much more.
PickYourOwn.org has a directory of such self-serve farms by state, as well as listings in Canada, Britain, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and other countries. If you're looking to make a day of it with the family, PickYourOwn.org also notes that some farms also offer hay rides, petting zoos, corn mazes, gift shops and even restaurants.
5. Make a celebration of it
Take inspiration from the Alisa Smith and J.B. MacKinnon, authors of The 100 Mile Diet, and throw a party using a menu made entirely of foods grown within a one hundred mile radius. In 2006, the pair launched a campaign to challenge readers do the same with a 100 Mile Thanksgiving meal, but the same idea can be adapted to a holiday or get-together of your choosing.
Worried about increased costs of the foods you love? According to their Web site, eating locally not only helped Smith and MacKinnon eat fresh ingredients in season and direct from the farmer, but they often bought in bulk. "We preserved enough food for the winter that we rarely had to buy groceries," they wrote. "Our bet? Most people eating a typical diet could save money by eating locally."
6. Drink green
Imports are so last-century. Instead, imbibe beer and wine from a micro-brewery or vineyard near you—and then toast to your smaller carbon footprint. Think about it this way: According to a post by Treehugger, an average bottle of beer shipped from Munich to New York results in 82 grams of greenhouse gas emissions per bottle and could jump to 140 grams if the bottle makes it to San Francisco. Even though it seems small, the cumulative impact of our love for imported beverages could be drastically reduced by raising your glass at a local vineyard or brewery.
7. Go beyond your belly
Support independent, local secondhand book and music stores, clothing shops and other businesses. Locallectual maintains a database of retailers that sell locally made and vintage goods of all kinds. Or, think about organizing a Buy Local Day (or Week or Month) in your community to encourage others to get on board. According to BuyLocalDay.org, supporting local businesses preserves the economic diversity of our communities and the unique character of our neighborhood, beyond the fuel-saving benefits of purchasing items with lower carbon footprints.
8. Get crafty
Handmade goods not only require less shipping, they also tend to be less resource-intensive than mass-produced items. Church bazaars, craft fairs and flea markets are great places to find such wares. Another great option: online craft marketplace Etsy, has a Shop Local feature that allows you to punch in your zip code and browse handmade offerings from vendors in your area. In many instances, you can even save on shipping costs by arranging an in-person pick-up.