Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Some Food Buying Alternatives to the Grocery Store

Groceries are expensive. They also are a huge environmental nightmare. I could dedicate about 2 whole books to this subject (and believe some have, check out Michael Pollan's In Defense of Food). I'll briefly describe why food production in America is such a nightmare; our food usually comes from great distances (using lots of oil products along the way), our food is grown using huge amounts of pesticides and fertilizers (using lots of oil products along the way), eggs, meat, and milk animals are kept in horrendous conditions and given preventive doses of antibiotics (ewww!), and by the time we buy our food at the store it is usually highly processed (not appetizing and not healthy.) That's the bad news, the good news is there is a growing awareness to these problems and some good alternatives to the grocery store food dilemma.

You could supplement your grocery purchases with a small garden. Growing vegetables does not have to be super labor intensive and is a lot of fun. There is nothing more delicious than pulling a ripe tomato off of the vine and having it as part of your supper. Super empowering and super delicious. Even a couple of planters or a small raised bed is a good start. My other blog has lots of tips to help you with this endeavor.

You can also join a CSA (community supported agriculture). These are becoming incredibly popular because they are so great for both the farmer and the eater. By joining a CSA, you enter in an agreement with a farmer to buy their produce. It is usually expected that you pay your fees up front, this allows the farmer to buy seeds and things they need to grow the food. In return, you receive weekly (sometimes biweekly) amounts of in-season, locally grown, fresh (sometimes picked that morning) produce. CSAs are also great because you can ask your farmer how the food is grown (if you want someone who doesn't use chemicals), you can almost always tour the farm, and often get a hands on chance to volunteer there if you desire. What you receive in your weekly subscription depends on the farmer you work with, some only have vegetables, some add fruits, eggs, or meat. This relationship is win/win. The farmer doesn't have to go into debt to grow the food and has a guaranteed buyer. And you get to have a relationship with the person who grows your food, you know it's fresh, and how it is grown. To find a CSA near you, try the Local Harvest website or you can check out this USDA document with lots of information and websites to find local CSAs.

You also have the option of shopping at your local farmer's market. This option still gives you the opportunity to get to know your farmer and gives you a wide assortment of fruits, vegetables and herbs to choose from. Often the produce is organically grown (even if they aren't certified - ask!) You will likely be able to find humanely raised dairy and meat products also. Most communities have at least one local farmer's market, larger communities will have several to choose from. When shopping at the local market, don't be afraid to ask the farmer questions about how they grow their food or where they are located. I'd also recommend that you make sure you are buying from the grower of the food and not a retailer. One of our large local farmer's markets lets almost anyone sell produce there and often it's been trucked up from Texas (I live in Missouri). A hint; if they are selling pineapples, they are not the grower or if they have watermelons in April, they are probably not the grower. The Local Harvest website also lists local farmer's markets.

Try to lesson the environmental load of what you eat by trying some of these alternatives. If you have a favorite that I forgot to mention, let me know.


  1. Thank you for these great tips. Didn't know some of these things were available to me so close to home.

  2. Gardening is such a fulfilling pursuit! I tried it for the first time last year, and I can't wait for this year. There's really nothing as satisfying as having tomato vegetable soup with tomatoes canned by yourself, carrots, broccoli, onions, and peas - all from your backyard.

    Another option, especially rurally, is to check around with neighbors who might have chickens or garden - we live about a hour outside Cleveland proper and we can always get fresh eggs and produce right off the side of the road! (Well, in a stand, but still, it's on the side of the road. :P)

  3. I'm going to try to grow my own this year. It's been awhile since I've had a garden and I don't have a lot of room so It will be a container garden :D