8 Things to consider before buying local

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Eating local can create a great culinary experience. However, just because something is local doesn’t mean it’s right for you.

8 Things to consider before buying local

There was a time when locavores assumed that local just meant better. For these people, if something was grown near to them, it had to be superior to the same product grown across the country, based on proximity alone.

There were several reasons to feel this way: decreased environmental impact from reduced delivery time, increased economic growth from supporting local farmers, and the fact that local food is often picked closer to its peak ripeness.

However, eating local wasn't always the perfect food experience. For instance, in some areas of the country, eating local meant sacrificing other standards like pesticide-free growing techniques and hormone-free meat because they could not be sourced locally. Because there can be drawbacks, before you become a total locavore, here are a few things to consider.

Why are you buying local?

There are a number of reasons to eat local, whether it's because it's trendy, for any of the reasons listed above, or some other reason. Therefore, before you make the switch to eating local, know why. It will help you answer the next seven questions:

What is in your local food area?

Before you become a locavore, you might want to see what foods can be grown in your area. If your favorite thing in the world is papaya and pineapple, but you live near the Canadian border, chances are, you're not going to be able to source those ingredients locally. Plus, generally, it's a good idea to know what you will be able to purchase and when, so you can plan accordingly.

What production practices are musts for you?

This question, when paired with the first question (above) is perhaps the most important of the entire locavore decision-making progress. When you set out to eat local, you have to know if there are food practices that, for you, trump the food being local. For instance, you may care more about animal production practices (free range, antibiotic-free, etc.) than you do about local. You may decide that a local pesticide will harm you just as much as one from the other side of the country. If you can't find a free range chicken provider or a pesticide-free farm, being a locavore might not be for you. Then again, you may feel that eating local trumps everything.

There is no right or wrong answer. You just need to know the correct answer for you and stick to it.

What is your food budget?

When you get ready to buy local, be prepared for the cost of your food to change. In some cases, your food costs are going to go down because you're buying local. In other cases, they are going to skyrocket because you have a smaller number of local food producers (supply) who are experiencing great demand for their products.

The general rule of thumb here is to know how much you have been spending on food and expect it to increase until you have bought groceries for several weeks. If it doesn't, then at least you have money allocated for the food.

What does local mean to you?

This seems like an easy question to answer, but the definition of local that the U.S. Congress has agreed upon is anything 400 miles from its origin. Is that good enough for you or are you looking for something a bit closer? Make sure you ask other food producers what they mean when they say local.

What are your options for buying local?

You will undoubtedly be able to find a restaurant that sources food locally, but when it is your time to cook, know whether you have access to a CSA, farmers market, or co-op -- or if you are going to rely on a grocery store for your local food. If a grocery store is all you have, make sure its local food practices agree with your own.

What are you going to do during the winter?

Being a locavore can be hard in a lot of places when it gets cold and the fields stop producing. If you want to be a serious, hardcore locavore, make sure you have prepared by canning and freezing, or you have figured out other options for getting your local food.

Have you toured local farms?

This question is primarily for serious locavores only, however, touring a local farm can be fun for just about anyone. If you are really serious about eating local and have other concerns about food production, the best way to know if a local farm is the right choice for you is to research it. You can talk to the farmer about his or her practices, but nothing beats seeing it for yourself.

Looking for more thoughts on eating local?

How to shop at a farmers market
Options for supporting local food
Eat local even when it’s snowing

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