While the word locavore is new to many of our vocabularies, the concept is not. Until the invention of industrial farming, humans had largely eaten local foods. Although the wealthy may have been able to trade food or spices from distant lands, the average person didn’t eat many imported foods until recent times. In some developing countries where subsistence agriculture is still widespread, people still eat like locavores without giving it a second thought.
The growth of factory farms and industrialized agriculture began with the Industrial Revolution in an effort to streamline processes and eliminate inefficiencies in the food system. As shipping networks improved, it gradually became easier and more economical to transport food long distances. The inventions of advanced refrigeration, synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, and antibiotics made it easier to boost crop yields, animal stocking densities, and protection from pests.
While that all sounded like a good thing, it hasn’t been so great for the environment. The locavore movement embraces eating food from nearby places, turning back the clock on our food system. It often involves cutting out some of the middlemen as commercial vendors. With this shift comes a new relationship with our surroundings and where we buy our food.
Given how many foods we’re accustomed to eating that are grown hundreds or even thousands of miles away, being a locavore can have its challenges. They’re worth overcoming, though. With the fall harvest on the horizon, now is a great time to get started.
Accept There Will Be Less Variety in Your Diet (Unless You Get Really Creative)
Because most foods are seasonal and others are not produced in your area, being a locavore will likely involve having a smaller variety of foods available at one time. Although preserving foods is a great way to overcome the seasonality issue, many locavores limit or eliminate foods from their diets that aren’t locally produced. For example, sugarcane, avocados, cacao, and coffee grow in tropical climates and aren’t locally available to most people in the United States.
Get creative in your preparation methods by adding fun sauces, fermenting foods, and trying new cooking styles. Making fruit leather or vegetable crackers in a food dehydrator is a nice way to preserve food and make some unique treats. Instead of eating kale steamed, make a batch of kale chips with some zesty seasoning. Kale has a longer growing season than many vegetables and is nutritionally dense, making it a great addition to the locavore diet in colder climates, especially in the fall months.
Know Your Locally Available Foods
A visit to a bustling farmers market is a good way to learn what is cultivated in your area at the moment. It’s important to be familiar with the locally produced food options to make the most of them and to have a greater variety of foods in your diet. In Florida, cucumber, avocado, and grapefruit are available in November, while cold-hardy plants such as carrots, cabbage, and beets are available in Maine.
A large farmers market will have a good variety of locally produced foods, including fruits, vegetables, nuts, eggs, dairy products, meat, and fish. This is also a great way to learn about the crop seasons in your area, which helps with meal planning. A periodic visit to the market throughout the year reveals which foods are in season when (although some farmers markets also sell preserved foods, such as dehydrated vegetables and frozen fruit).
Preserve Foods for the Winter
Unless you live in a warm climate, you have an abundance of food in the late spring through fall. The winter months are another story, though. To overcome this obstacle, preserve foods for the off-season. Canning, dehydrating, fermenting, and freezing are the main ways to spread out the harvest. Some fall crops, such as apples, cabbage, squash, carrots, and potatoes will store well in cool temperatures, so put your root cellar to use if you have one.
Eat at Farm-to-Table Restaurants
A tasty way to support the local food movement and spice things up is to dine at farm-to-table restaurants. It’s an opportunity to discover new food options and culinary styles to explore.
Fortunately, these have become increasingly popular in recent years, so you should be able to find a good option near you. If you happen to be in Camden, Maine, Long Grain serves farm-fresh ingredients, plus many varieties of foraged wild mushrooms from the area.
Frequent U-Pick Farms
Even if you don’t have your own bountiful produce garden, U-pick farms create an opportunity to harvest local foods and fortify your relationship with your local food system. In many cases, picking your own foods makes it more economical and presents an opportunity to preserve the harvest for the cooler weather.
Get a Winter CSA Share
The winter months can be some of the hardest for locavores, especially if you live in a cold climate. Many farmers markets have fewer vendors or close down completely in the winter. Community supported agriculture farms sell shares of the harvest to local customers. This arrangement often involves picking up a box or bag of locally cultivated products on a weekly basis. Winter shares typically contain root vegetables, squash and carrots, which store well at cool temperatures and a high humidity level.
Feature image courtesy of Shutterstock
Editor’s note: Originally published on September 11, 2017, this article was updated in September 2019.