Eating Local & Healthy, Even After the First Frost

December 11, 2008

By Lindsay Muscato, HSC Writer/Communications Specialist

Recently I read Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle for the first time. Her book chronicles her family's attempt to grow most of their own food for a full year, and it's also a wake-up call about America’s factory-like system of food production. After just a few chapters, I was hooked on the idea of eating local and organic whenever possible. But it was twenty degrees outside. The season of fresh-picked strawberries and homegrown watermelon has already passed me by. What’s a gal to eat in late November that’s local and organic?

Turns out: plenty. Around the time that I finished Kingsolver’s book, Chicago held its annual Family Farmed Expo, which brings together local farmers and the general public for three days of good food and good conversation. Wandering through the vendors’ stands, listening to a lecture about “healthy eating on a dime” and meeting the local growers, I felt amazed at how divorced I’d become from my food supply. For example, I’d never realized that brussel sprouts grow on stalks. But standing in front of a basket piled with stout green stalks adorned in Thumbelina-sized cabbages, I talked to the woman who’d grown them. Her sprouts were sweet, she said, because they’d just been through a frost.

Across the nation, we're hearing more and more about how people and institutions are connecting with local farmers. Many states have recently introduced farm to school programs. These programs help school districts source from local suppliers and also provide students with opportunities to meet local farmers and even visit farms in their area. The National Farm to School Network is a growing school movement that offers training and technical assistance, information services, networking, and support in policy and media and marketing activities. Here at HSC, we work to promote policies at the school, district, state and national levels that support farm to school and other health-promoting programs for school food. (If you want to help bring more resources to this type of program, be sure to sign our petition in support of a healthy Child Nutrition Act.)

That afternoon I walked away from the conference $20 poorer, but with a messenger bag stuffed full of local apples, sprouted grain bread, beauty heart radishes, a butternut squash — and, yes, a stalk of brussel sprouts.

I also collected tons of pamphlets for CSAs and later decided which one to join. A CSA, which stands for Community Supported Agriculture, is a system of connecting farmers directly with buyers. Farmers set aside boxes of produce each week for their “subscribers” who pay a flat fee annually or quarterly for their share of the harvest. CSAs may then deliver the produce or arrange convenient drop-off points for their subscribers, making CSAs an inexpensive and low-maintenance way to fill your fridge with fresh produce and also support a local farmer. Many CSAs start accepting new subscribers in January and sell out fast. Start looking around now for a CSA near you to bring fresh produce to your own family's table.