Eating local food is about eating fresh food, raised sustainably, that tastes amazing. It’s about seeking out local sources of food and growing your own.
For some, growing their own food is how they eat locally. They want to produce their own food, not just buy it. With unlimited time, space, and money, you can grow anything you want at home.
With a greenhouse and supplemental heat, you could try your hand at growing your own coffee or bananas. For most of us, we just want to grow the best foods for us. Time, budget, and interest all affect our choices.
When you can’t grow it all, what should you grow? Some choose to grow whatever sounds most interesting to them when browsing seed catalogs or considering animals to raise. Others are a bit more methodical.
Grow Your Nutrition, Buy Your Calories
This philosophy recognizes you can’t grow all your food at home. However, you can grow the most nutritious foods at your home, losing none of the freshness and nutrients due to storage and transport.
Some foods store well, others do not. Grow what doesn’t store well. That means growing your own fresh produce rather than carbs and protein. Leafy greens, herbs, and berries all have a short shelf life. Grow them to enjoy straight out of the garden.
Animals are a great source of fertility and offer eggs, fiber, or milk. Keep some for fertility but focus your attentions on growing your own produce.
Carbohydrates, like potatoes, corn for grinding, and grains like wheat, are easy to transport and don’t go bad quickly. They store well too.
Grains and dried beans aren’t easy to buy locally, so look for sustainable options instead. They last a long time, don’t need refrigeration, and transport well. Consider buying them in bulk to avoid packaging.
Sustainably raised local meat doesn’t require transport, is a good source of calories and nutrition, and can be raised with local sources of food.
Grow Expensive Foods, Buy Cheap Foods
Honestly, the aligns closely with grow your nutrition. The produce that is nutritious and goes bad quickly is often the most expensive because it is so hard to transport and store.
That means buying carbohydrates, as they are cheap to buy and store.
That means buying meat in bulk, or growing your own where you can. Poultry and rabbit feed may not be very economical, but you can work to eliminate feed costs by growing your own or supplementing with scraps.
For produce, stick with the vegetables and fruits that are most expensive. Maybe you can save money on produce and spend it on quality local meats.
Cheap vegetables and fruits include onions, carrots, apples. Foods that store well are usually cheap to buy. The expensive produce includes greens, herbs, and berries, things that don’t last.
The USDA ranks fruits and vegetables based on how much they cost. Asparagus, berries, peaches, and tomatoes are the more expensive options.
Cheaper produce includes beans, carrots, cabbage, potatoes, cucumbers and lettuce. Save your money, buy those foods and store them yourself, and spend your efforts on the expensive foods.
Though peaches suffer from pests in Maryland, they can be grown organically by spraying with clay. Tomatoes, asparagus, greens, and berries all grow well in Maryland. Grow a lot and preserve them for later.
Herbs are very expensive and you don’t get a lot of them when you buy. They don’t last long cut, either. Growing your own herb plants mean the freshest possible herbs.
Grow Unusual Varieties
No matter what you grow, try out unusual varieties of that food. Potatoes may be cheap, but will you find purple ones? Can you find unusual vegetables and fruits at the market? Grow what you can’t find.
There are specialty peppers and tomatoes, colorful corn, and so many types of greens to grow. Beans may be cheap to buy but you may want to try unusual ones.
Poultry and rabbits are the same. There are many different breeds that offer different advantages. What interests you?
Don’t stick with unusual varieties either. Grow unusual vegetables and fruits. Try gooseberries, currants, rhubarb, salsify. There are lots of options to try!
Grow Easy Wins
Especially when you are starting out, look towards foods that are easy to grow. That could mean a few chickens because you love them so much you don’t mind taking care of them.
It could mean sticking to particular vegetables until you learn more about your soil and your gardening style.
Some fruits and vegetables are easier to grow than others. That may mean they take less work for you, or that they are particularly suited for your climate or yard.
Most herbs are easy to grow, and grow in small spaces. Leafy greens are also easy and take up little space. Green beans, root vegetables, peas, potatoes, cucumbers, and tomatoes all should grow fairly well in Maryland.
Zucchini has a reputation of being one of the easiest. However, squash vine borers are a threat in Maryland and my squash always succumb to them. My cucumbers had trouble with cucumber beetles. On this side of the Appalachians, peaches suffer from moths that kill the fruit, apples suffer too.
When starting out, pick a handful of plants you’d like to try that are easy, and grow them your first year. As your skills and confidence grows, you can move on to other foods.
Even when you are trying new varieties, consider planting some of the ones that you know will grow well for you. That way if your purple podded pea fails, you know you’ll still have peas to enjoy.
What do you Like to Eat?
Finally, what do you really like to eat? There is no reason to grow something if you or your family doesn’t like it. If you can, try new vegetables, fruits, and meats before you invest a lot of time in growing your own. Buy rabbit meat before you start raising them. Find good radish recipes before you sow hundreds of them.
There is nothing wrong with a yard full of specialty peppers, if you like to eat them. Grow what makes you happy.
Growing your own food is a great idea no matter where you are. A garden is something you can enjoy not only for food, but beauty, exercise, and connection with nature. You are more connected with the seasons and weather conditions.
If you have kids, grow a lot of what they like to eat as well. That means snap peas, cherry tomatoes, and strawberries for us. Once kids start eating those out of the garden, they are much more likely to try other options as well!
Enjoy Growing your Own Food!
Buying local food is great for your health and the community. Gardening is too. Sharing food from your yard builds community as well.
You can’t grow everything you need, but you can certainly grow foods you can’t find locally. Or grow foods that are expensive. Or grow snacks for your kids.
Gardening means knowing your food has been raised sustainably and is the freshest possible. Try growing your own food this summer! A few herb pots will elevate your cooking and make you hungry for more options.
Use your home to produce food, rather than keeping it as a place where you just pay to maintain it. Make it work for you!