Tips for Sourcing Local Food

For the last 10 years, I’ve been working on sourcing more and more of my food locally. I had the lucky advantage of living with a farmer friend the first year I moved to Pennsylvania, which helped me get to know the farming community here a lot faster. Before that, when I lived in Brooklyn and NYC, it was years of many small changes and attempts.

Sourcing my food from local farmers—most of them now friends—is rewarding on every level. 

  • The food is more beautiful and tastes better than what I find in the grocery store, which helps me enjoy cooking more. 
  • The food has traveled less distance, so it stays fresher longer (no more slimy salad greens!) and reduces the use of nonrenewable fuels
  • There are no middlemen, so disruptions in the food supply like we’ve seen with COVID-19 aren’t an issue. I know where my food comes from—I have seen the fields. That feels good. 
  • What feels really, really good is being friends with my farmers. I love cooking a roast and thanking Clara & Jeremy before we tuck in. I like tossing a salad and thinking of Emma and her crew washing the greens. Slicing through a dense loaf of bread is even lovelier knowing that our friend Natalie kneaded the dough. 

Food is medicine. Life is relationship. Food from local farms = health + relationship. Yes, please.

Picking up some early spring greens at the farmstand at Pan’s Forest in Quakertown, PA

Here are a few tips to help you if you’re getting started on the journey:

1. The easiest and most obvious: visit a farmer’s market. There is likely more than one in your area. Go, browse, enjoy, and *talk* to the farmers! Ask where they are located and if they sell their products outside of the farmer’s market location and hours (they probably do). Personally, I prefer the flexibility and fun of buying directly on farms (like picking up greens at the cute farmstand @pansforest or veggies @kneehighfarm). CSA is a fabulous option. 

 2. See if your area has a directory of local farms. In the Lehigh Valley, we are lucky to have @BFBLGLV ( Google “farm directory” and a USDA search engine comes up. Do a little searching. 

 3. Don’t stress about labels and certifications if you are buying directly from small, local farms. I encourage you to ask questions about a farm’s practices if you’re comfortable with that, but don’t stress about it. It’s a big step just to move from grocery store shopping to more direct sourcing from farms, so don’t fuss about the details initially. Which brings me to my next point… 

4. Be patient. Sourcing and eating locally is a mindset shift more than anything else. I had to get used to shopping at less convenient times, planning ahead, cooking more at home, and other changes—all enjoyable and worthwhile, but changes. Changing takes time. I’m still learning. Enjoy the process and forgive yourself if you missed the weekly market or didn’t plan enough in advance to make the farm pick-up. 

5. Make friends with farmers. They want to sell you their product and be in relationship with you. They want to support your health and your family. Talk to them; see if they want volunteers. Don’t be shy!

Renouncing the Fruits

I can feel the cool mornings waning… I’ll miss them when they go. I used to absolutely hate the cold until I trained myself to love it (mindfulness can do anything) and now it’s my favorite to bundle up against the chill and feel a sharp wind on my cheeks while I work and warm up from the inside.

Last fall I planted a few hundred delphiniums into these rows. A big portion of the transplants didn’t make it, so last week I did it again.

Farming is humbling like that.

I’m grateful for the reminder that what happens isn’t up to me—that my hours of labor might be for nothing. Because the work might be for nothing, I have an obligation to be present with the labor itself and to enjoy that, because the labor itself will become the sum of my life.

The results—whether or not the transplants ultimately survive—don’t belong to me. The act of planting today does. I have an obligation to fully live these moments, all of them, regardless of what might happen and even when I am uncomfortable, because these moments are everything I have.

In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna instructs Arjuna (the warrior hero of the myth) to “renounce the fruits” of his actions. From Chapter 5:

One who neither hates nor desires the fruits of his activities is known to be always renounced… Though always working, such a man is never entangled… whereas a person who is greedy for the fruits of his labor, becomes entangled.

When we plant, we might hope for a healthy crop as a reward for our hard work. But if we rest everything on the outcome—if we only plant for the hope of the reward and not for the joy of planting itself, we will suffer when at some inevitable point the plants are taken. 

Eventually everything is taken. 

I don’t see that as depressing anymore; I see it as an opportunity to celebrate what’s here right now.

On this day, what was “right here right now” was another few hundred delphinium plugs that needed planting. So I planted them, and I enjoyed the day, and maybe one day soon they’ll reward us with blooms—or not. 

Color Therapy

I wore black in New York City—it’s what New Yorkers do. Thank goodness I left the city! Color is pure therapy, and the farm is heaven right now. The ranunculus and anemones are really coming on. 

We harvested and bunched bouquets for Clara’s roadside stand (and weeded and weeded and weeded). Clara dug into her freezers at the end of the day and sent us home with care packages of goodies. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: nothing makes me feel wealthier than good food and flowers. 

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