Keeping It Local: A Sustainable Way to Eat in NJ
What’s it called when a person decides to eat only locally grown or pasteurized food to support local farmers? It’s called being a locavore, a term that has recently been added to the dictionary and is becoming widely accepted in the food community. LocavoreNJ is an organization that has given New Jerseyans a way to share the experience of improving the quality of their diet as well as the quality of their health while supporting local farmers.
Erica Evans, a member of the group, says that there are many ways to become a locavore. “Whether you grow your own food in a backyard garden or have a farmer you like to visit for your food shopping, it’s all about reducing the distance your food travels, knowing your local farmers and where your food comes from, and farming/gardening sustainably.
“Jessica Prentice of the San Francisco Bay area coined the term ‘locavore’ in 2005. But I like to think of it less as a ‘modern movement’ and more of a return to the way we farmed and ate for a long time until only very recently. Like the expression ‘Try organic food…or, as your grandparents called it, ‘food.’
“More and more folks are discovering that this newer style of factory farming, the system in which foods are farmed with a very high degree of technology and shipped or trucked or even flown over great distances, is not necessarily the best; not for your body, the environment, your local economy, or for something as simple as the flavor of your dishes,” Evans says in response to the growing interest in the group.
Evans got started being a locavore by compiling a list of local farmers, farmers markets, and community-supported agriculture programs. Then she decided to start a group in which people could share information and resources, such as local farms or the health and environmental benefits of eating local, or even recipes and how to grow your own food.
What’s so great about being a locavore? Evans likes to refer to this list to explain the many advantages there are to being a locavore. It explains that by being a locavore, you make yourself healthier while improving local farming and helping out Mother Nature. DoSomething.org says that local food tastes better and is healthier since it retains more nutrients. By buying locally, you conserve the energy that’s used for transport, which also supports a no-frills process that involves less packaging. This way, the middle-man disappears and the farmer gets full retail price, in turn helping farmers continue to farm. By spending your money on locally grown food, you increase the value of the land to the farmer and make development less likely. Local food keeps taxes in check, supports the environment, and benefits wildlife, as well as reduces the use of fossil fuels and protects the environment from harmful exhaust fumes. Supporting local farms today helps keep those farms in your community, ensuring that your children and grandchildren have access to nourishing, flavorful, and abundant food.
Evans is very dedicated to being a locavore: “I like knowing that my choices lead to helping farmers continue their lifestyle, putting more nutritious foods into my body, and contributing towards a more sustainable form of agriculture by decentralizing the food system and supporting organic farming/gardening methods. It just doesn’t make sense to me to purchase something that was shipped an average of 1500 miles using fossil fuels, grown at a most likely un-sustainable farm (if you could even call where it’s grown a farm) that is destroying more topsoil, the precious skin of the earth, rather than building it with other more organic methods. Not to mention that they aren’t even as nutritious as they could be! I feel good knowing that my dollar is going towards a farmer who I know by name.”
There are, of course, some challenges that go along with being a locavore. According to Evans, “most people obtain their locally grown foods at farmers markets; however, farmers markets are usually only around on a set day every week. So, when food shopping, it’s important to really think about the items you may need for the week. In terms of cost, you sometimes may need to a pay a little bit more, and you may need to pay in cash. But I’m buying better quality food than the cheaper foods sold at the grocery store, so if I must pay a bit more, then I will. And I’d rather give that money to my neighbor and have a direct impact on the life of the farmer growing my food.”
There are different ways to be a locavore; it depends on the person who chooses to practice this lifestyle. The degree of eating locally can vary from preferring food that’s in season to restricting yourself to food that’s only grown in a 100 mile radius. Evans explains that “some people are really strict… and that excludes from their diets items like coffee, chocolate, bananas, and even grains and spices if they aren’t grown locally. Others do the best they can, and when purchasing something like coffee or chocolate will make sure to buy organic, direct-trade, or fair-trade brands. Lots of locavores also do not eat foods out of season. So for something like strawberries, many won’t buy until they are in season where they live, instead of purchasing strawberries in the middle of winter that come from California. Eating in season has also encouraged many locavores to learn how to can, preserve, dry, and freeze their seasonal foods so that they may enjoy them out of season, or during the winter months. And in many areas, there are some farmers markets that continue year-round. A great way for many to make seasonal eating habitual is to separate your recipes into seasons and utilize them that way.” As with any other food movement, it’s entirely up to you how drastically you change the way you eat. The idea is to be conscientious of where your food comes from and to make informed choices based on that information.
As for the future of the LocavoreNJ group, Evans hopes they will be able to hold workshops on square foot gardening – an unbelievably simple, bountiful, sustainable, and space-saving gardening method to do at home. “We’d also like to cover topics like local foraging, and host fun events like local beer-tasting or a local wine and cheese night. There are so many resources available for folks who have an interest in local foods, and what I’d ultimately like to accomplish with North Jersey Locavores is to raise awareness of those resources! Some of our long-term goals are to organize a community garden here in Wayne that local residents can be a part of, and to host a farmers market in our town. In the meantime, we can organize trips to farms and markets in the area.”
In addition to visiting local markets and farms, LocavoreNJ has hosted other events to generate interest and provide information for New Jersey residents. To celebrate National Food Day, which was on Oct. 24th, the group held a screening of the film Good Food on October 23rd at the Wayne Public Library. The film explores the local sustainable farming efforts of those in the Northwestern region of the US. Through interviews with farmers, restaurants, and public officials, it explains how local foods and farming can bring a community together, which is LocavoreNJ’s aim. The group is also planning another event for November 12th, a trip to Warwick Valley Winery for wine-tasting and lunch. The cost for wine-tasting is $5, and lunch will be held at a cafe nearby that utilizes local farms for ingredients in their foods.
Want to get involved with LocavoreNJ? Visit their Facebook page, or visit these websites for more information: localharvest.org, locavorenetwork.com, jerseyfresh.nj.gov. Wayne resident Victor Alfieri is also an affiliate with the LocavoreNJ group. His website, Woodlot Farms, now includes a LocavoreNJ page that will be updated frequently. You can also email LocavoreNJ at NorthJerseyLocavores@gmail.com.