Living la vida Locavore

I don’t own a farm, but I own a share in a local farm’s produce.  I don’t own a goat, but most of the cheese I eat comes from goat milk — care of the Dancing Goat creamery in Byron Center.  Today I washed my hands with soap made from local goat’s milk, and then I removed my swiss chard lasagna (baked in a casserole dish made by a local potter) from the oven with my potholder made from recycled t-shirts, made locally by Pearl Beerhorst. And I ordered a chicken. Yes, a local chicken.

Notice a trend in my day?

I’m what you the New Oxford American Dictionary calls a “locavore.” Also known as a localvore, the dictionary’s 2007 Word of the Year refers to "a person who endeavors to only eat locally produced food." Now it’s debatable whether that translates to your immediate surroundings or say, Indiana, but any way you look at it, this means a substantial change in habits and choices.  

Here’s how I see it: Imagine concentric rings of distance for something like buying coffee. I know I can’t find locally grown beans, so I have to take imported beans.  If I can find a local roaster, I can help out a local 
proprietor and keep the money in my community. If I can’t find a local roaster than I’ll buy from a roaster in Chicago, which is still better than Seattle. The closer the source, the less energy and money wasted on shipping. Besides, coffee beans taste amazing when they’re just roasted. Seattle?  They’ll be a week old!

So, if you consider yourself a locavore, bravo! If not, challenge yourself to make a local effort in your eats. Here are a few other ways I go local with my eating.

Focus on buying from “people”
I love to buy products from people that I know and trust.  I don’t particularly enjoy going to the grocery store and choosing chicken from a case.  I know those are hormone laden and cooped up all day with 8 million other chickens.  Don’t get me wrong, I will not raise my own chickens.  My father-in-law once tried convincing me that gutting chickens was fun. It’s not. I’d rather call farmer Tom Cary, who I’ve known for 5 years, at Grand River Chickens and have him tell me when my chicken is ready…

Use our West Michigan seasons to your advantage — go to the farmer’s market 
Join a Community Supported Agriculture program and have your rations pre-picked for you directly from the farm. Or make your weekly (or more) trek to farmer’s markets. Did you know that in addition to the flagship Fulton Street Farmer’s Market there is the Southeast Area Farmer’s Market every Thursday on the corner of Franklin & Fuller streets in Grand Rapids? Or mix it up and venture further to Holland or Muskegon. 
And I’ll tell you a little secret — one of the very best cheesemongers in the Midwest educates and sells at the Muskegon Farmers Market on Yuba Street. When summer does end in a few months, don’t let that keep you from the markets — appreciate that fall season and its bounty as well.
  
Surf for discovery
I have been spending hours and hour surfing a website called Local Harvest. The Internet’s No. 1 resource for the Buy Local movement has substantial listings for West Michigan, including farms & markets, local restaurants that use local ingredients, Christmas tree farms, and non-profit groups that focus on farms and sustainability. Its “about us” page says it best: “The richness, variety, and flavor of our communities, food systems, and diets is in jeopardy. The exclusive focus on economic efficiency has brought us low prices and convenience through large supermarket chains … and factory farms, while taking away many other aspects of our food lives, like our personal relation with our food and with the people who produce it.”

I love to support organizations that speak to these things! www.Localharvest.org.

Harvest your own
It took me only an hour this week to pick over 12 pounds of delicious blueberries. I can’t stop eating those things! I will graze on these antioxidant bombs for the next few weeks and then freeze the rest so I can eat the Michigan blues all year round.  The best blues are by the lakeshore, try Krupkas Blueberries, just off US-196, exit 36 near Saugatuck. Call for info: 616.857.4278 or find other U-Pick locations around the area online at www.pickyourown.org/MI.htm.
 
Co-op it
Don’t have time to stop at every farm? I chatted with three people yesterday that stopped by Art of the Table on the way home from picking up their monthly order at the West Michigan Co-op. This local online farmer’s market provides you a way to purchase from a whole host of local farmers without going to each farm. 

For only $35 a year you will be able to go online and place a monthly order for chicken, beef, eggs, cheese and even soap in the quantities you desire.  Find them at www.westmichigancoop.com.

Local First! 
It may seem ironic for the owner of a store that sells products from all over the world to scream “Buy only local!” So that is why we say “local- first,” and not “local only.” It’s hard for those of us who want to buy lemon-infused olive oil to go local. So look to a reputable source like Art of the Table for well-thought-out imports from around the states and the world. (I guarantee you it’s a better choice than buying from the shelves of a store that tends to buy by price, not by quality.) The important thing is that when the day is done, we buy as much as we can from local sources. 

Local First www.localfirst.com is an organization that helps us sort it out.  Choose Naya over Applebees. Choose Koeze’s Cream Nut Peanut Butter over Jif.  And Dancing Goat Creamery’s fresh honey orange goat cheese over a national brand. (Speaking of national brands, Barbara of Dancing Goat Creamery is close to becoming a national phenomenon.  Slow Food USA has selected Barbara, also known as the goat lady, to attend and present at its national conference in Berkeley, Calif. What an honor. And she’s practically your neighbor, a brush with celebrity goats!)

These are only some of the choices you can make when you live local first. So take local to heart with me.  I’d love to hear what you’re doing to go local. 


Amy Ruis owns and operates Art of the Table, a specialty food, beverage, and tabletop retail store in the Wealthy Street Business District. She blogs at www.artofthetable.com/talk and you can reach her at [email protected]

Photos:

Cheese in production at Dancing Goat Creamery in Byron Center (photo by Amy Ruis)

Michigan wines have their own display area at Art of The Table

Tom Cary...chicken expert

Cherry Republic products on the shelf at Art of The Table

Beer from Founders Brewery is made in downtown Grand Rapids

Photographs by Brian Kelly - All Rights Reserved
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