The Locavore Lifestyle

You can eat locally all year round—no matter where you live.


January 2014

By Corinne Garcia

In 2007 the word “locavore,” defined as “a person whose diet consists only or principally of locally grown or produced food,” was the Oxford American Dictionary’s Word of the Year. Today the local food movement is firmly integrated into our food culture. Farmers’ markets are becoming the norm and community supported agriculture (CSA), in which consumers pay in advance for shares in a farm’s annual output, are commonplace. And farm-to-table restaurants, establishments that focus on seasonal local foods, are just about everywhere.

The real proof of this movement’s impact is in the numbers. The USDA Economic Research Service reports that local food sales, defined as farmers selling directly to consumers or stores, jumped from $4.8 billion in 2008 to nearly $7 billion in 2012.

How has local eating gone from hipster to mainstream? A number of factors are involved.

Local Advantages

One plus of eating food grown in your area is the freshness factor. Locally produced items generally hit the shelves within 24 hours of being picked. That lets farmers harvest produce at peak ripeness, when fruits and vegetables are their most nutritious and flavorful. And although some small farms are not certified organic due to the high costs associated with the process, many still follow organic practices, which means less exposure to genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and pesticide residues. And the beauty of farmers’ markets is that consumers can ask farmers directly exactly what growing methods are used.

“I would say know your farmer before I say buy organic,” says Amy Cotler, consultant on farm-to-table projects in schools and other settings, and author of The Locavore Way (Storey Publishing). “Organic can still be old and tasteless; it doesn’t mean you’re buying fresh.”

Eating locally grown food also creates economic advantages. “Essentially, by buying local food we are employing our neighbors,” says Cotler. “It also supports small farmers and a way of life that’s dying; it’s important for our cultural heritage.”

Marilou Suszko, culinary educator and author of The Locavore's Kitchen: A Cook's Guide to Seasonal Eating and Preserving (Swallow Press), touts the abundance of variety in local foods. “We are now finding so many more fruits and vegetables at farmers’ markets than we would normally find in grocery stores, and a lot of things that we haven’t seen before,” she says. For example, heirloom vegetables, those that have been saved and selected throughout history for their distinct flavors and good production values—including such favorites as eggplants, potatoes, tomatoes and carrots—come in all sizes, shapes and colors.

Such an abundance has drawn many chefs to the local food movement. “The chefs love these varieties, because they are exciting to work with,” says Suszko. “And because local items are often picked that same day, they are so flavorful and don’t require as much attention; they can be used very simply.”

Then there are the feel-good benefits. If you’ve ever cooked a meal based on local foods you picked up at the farmers’ market that morning, you understand there’s an undeniable pride in going from farm to table along with a sense of connection to nature—something especially scarce among
city dwellers.

“Eating through the seasons is one of the great ways we connect with nature, and it’s a great way to connect with each other, too,” Cotler explains. “Picking strawberries together and making a pie or picking apples in the fall, these rituals have been lost in our culture, and they enrich the way we live.”

Cotler also explains that the locavore lifestyle can be a fun challenge for those like her who enjoy kitchen culture. “The most interesting thing about local eating is the hunt for something new, and for who’s doing something different,” she says. “I recently found a guy who grows ginger, and that’s a really good example of how local producers are pushing the limits.” Products such as ginger, which is typically grown in tropical environments, or quinoa, which is typically cultivated at high elevations, are now being found in local communities.

Locavore Myths

A few myths may dissuade people from joining the locavore movement.

One is the belief that everything on your plate needs to be locally sourced from day one. “Many people think of it as an all-or-nothing situation but people can take small steps,” Suszko says. Cotler agrees, saying, “Start by eating local apples or one other local thing per season, something that your area specializes in; you don’t have to go gonzo. I like to have a local item be a feature of my dinner, but the whole meal doesn’t have to be local.”

Another myth is that you can’t eat local foods year round unless you live in the warmest parts of the country. “People tend to think of produce, but there’s local meat, maple syrup, cheeses, honey, eggs, milk, grains, beverages like ciders wines and the list goes on,” Cotler says. An increase in demand has prompted farmers to stretch their growing seasons with new techniques and technologies.

Winter farmers’ markets and CSAs, even in some of the colder climates like that found in the northern Rockies, are common.

What’s more, consumers are preserving more foods for future use. “The down months are a great time to go back and enjoy some of the things that you labored on over in the summer,” Suszko says. “The freezer is your friend and people are offering canning classes nowadays.”

One last myth comes down to money. It’s true that local foods tend to cost more, but for many, the benefits outweigh the extra cost. “You’re paying for the cost of small production; these farmers run their own businesses, and they do it all,” Suszko explains. “What you get for your dollar is quality, flavor and nutrition, and those are big selling points.”

Remember, you can pick and choose what local products make the most sense for you in your area. “I live in the real world where I have a food budget and I work,” Cotler says, “but I can still choose those items that are important to me without being a fanatic.”

The Locavore Calendar

Each area’s harvest season depends on its climate. For instance, citrus fruits grow best in such warm, frost-free places as Texas, California and Arizona. Hot peppers tend to thrive in the Southwest because of the hot, dry climate. And since the last frost in the Southeast is earlier than
the Northwest, much of the produce there can be harvested earlier and for longer.

Here’s a look at what can generally be found season by season in your region, according to state-level agriculture departments. (Spring includes March, April and May; summer covers June, July and August; fall takes in September, October and November; and winter includes December, January and February.)

New England

Spring: Asparagus, fiddlehead ferns, garlic scapes (the tops of the plants), morel mushrooms, nettles, parsnips, radishes, ramps (wild leeks), rhubarb, scallions

Summer: Beets, berries, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cherries, corn, cucumber, eggplant, herbs, green beans, greens and lettuces, melons, peas, peaches, peppers, radishes, raspberries,
strawberries (June), summer squash, tomatoes

Fall: Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, chicory, cranberries, escarole, fennel, garlic, grapes, leeks, nectarines, parsnips, pears, radicchio, rutabaga, turnip, winter squash

Winter and Year-Round: Apples, cheeses, grains, honey, maple syrup, meats, milk, mushrooms

Mid-Atlantic

Spring: Asparagus, collard greens, fava beans, fiddleheads, garlic scapes, pea greens, rhubarb, scallions

Summer: Beets, berries, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, cherries, corn, cucumbers, eggplant, green beans, herbs, melons, peas, peaches, peppers, radishes, raspberries, summer squash, tomatoes

Fall: Brussels sprouts, garlic, grapes, leeks, plums, pears, squash

Winter and Year-Round: Cheeses, eggs, grains, honey, maple syrup, meats, milk

Southeast

Spring: Asparagus, beets, blueberries, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, garlic scapes, herbs, okra, oranges (Valencia), rhubarb, scallions, strawberries, sweet onions

Summer: Blueberries, butter beans, carrots, corn, cucumber, eggplant, figs, green beans, melons, peas, peaches, peppers, plums, radishes, raspberries, summer squash, tomatoes

Fall: Apples, brussels sprouts, cranberries, garlic, grapes, leeks, pears, pecans, squash, tomatillos

Winter and Year-Round: Apples, cheeses, grapefruit, greens and lettuces, herbs, honey, meats, milk, oranges (navel), peanuts, potatoes, sweet potatoes

Midwest

Spring: Asparagus, parsnips, radishes, rhubarb, scallions

Summer: Beets, berries, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, corn, cucumber, eggplant, green beans, greens and lettuces, peas, peaches, radishes, raspberries, summer squash, tomatoes

Fall: Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, celery, cranberries, garlic, grapes, leeks, melons, onions, parsnips, pears, turnips, winter squash

Winter and Year-Round: Apples, cheeses, honey, maple syrup, meats, milk, wild rice

Southwest

Spring: Apricots, asparagus, blackberries, cabbage, carrots, garlic, garlic scapes, greens and lettuces, onions, peas, potatoes, rhubarb, scallions, strawberries

Summer: Apples, berries, chilies, corn, cucumbers, eggplant, figs, grapes, green beans, melons, okra, peaches, plums, radishes, raspberries, summer squash, tomatoes

Fall: Key limes, limes, pears, pomegranates, shallots, tomatillos, turnips, winter squash

Winter and Year-Round: Avocados, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage,
cauliflower, celery, cheese, fava beans, grapefruit, greens and lettuces, herbs, honey, leeks, lemons, meats, milk, mushrooms, oranges, parsnips, pommelos, rutabaga, scallions, sweet potatoes

Rocky Mountains

Spring: Asparagus, morel mushrooms, nettles, parsnips, radishes, rhubarb

Summer: Apricots, beets, berries, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cherries, cucumbers, eggplant, green beans, greens and lettuces, herbs, peas, peaches, peppers, potatoes, radishes, raspberries, scallions, summer squash, tomatoes

Fall: Brussels sprouts, carrots, cauliflower, celery, chilies, corn, eggplant, garlic, grapes, huckleberries, leeks, melons, onions, parsnips, plums, rutabaga, shallots, winter squash

Winter and Year-Round: Apples, cheeses, fennel, honey, meats, milk, parsnips, pears

Pacific Coast

Spring: Asparagus, fava beans, fiddleheads, garlic scapes, greens and lettuces, morel mushrooms, nettles, new potatoes, radishes, rhubarb, scallions, sprouts

Summer: Apricots, beets, berries, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, cherries, cucumbers, figs, green beans, herbs, onions, peas, peaches, radishes, raspberries, summer squash, tomatoes

Fall: Artichokes, beans, brussels sprouts, carrots, celery, chilies, corn, eggplant, garlic, grapes, huckleberries, leeks, melons, parsnips, pears, peppers, persimmons, plums, rutabaga, shallots, winter squash

Winter and Year-Round: Apples, cheeses, fennel, herbs, honey, meats, milk, parsnips, pears, potatoes

 

RECIPE

Classic Basil Pesto

Makes 1 cup

3 medium cloves garlic
1 large bunch of basil, leaves only, washed and dried
1 small handful pine nuts
Approximately ¾ cup freshly grated, loosely packed Parmesan cheese
Extra virgin olive oil, to moisten

1. Chop the garlic along with a third of the basil leaves.
Once this is roughly chopped, add more basil and chop, then add the rest of the
basil and chop some more. Scrape together and chop into a very fine mince.
2. Add half of the pine nuts and chop. Add the rest and chop some more.
3. Add half of the cheese and chop. Add the remainder of the cheese and
chop so fine that in the end you can press the mixture all together.
4. Gather into a ‘cake’ and transfer to a small bowl. Cover with a bit of olive
oil.
5. Set aside in the refrigerator until ready to use. Before serving, give the
pesto a quick stir to incorporate some of the oil.

Tip: Using to dress pasta? Thin pesto with a splash of pasta water to help it coat the pasta.

Recipe reprinted with permission of Marilou Suszko (mariloususzko.com)

 

Welcome to the World of Pesto

While basil pesto may be the most popular, this tasty sauce can be made from all sorts of herbs and vegetables. “You can easily create your own special pesto blend with a little experimentation,” says Marilou Suszko.

Pesto is the ultimate locavore sauce. Suszko says you can make a spring pesto with asparagus or arugula, a summer one with mint, mixed herbs or nasturtium and a winter one with kale.

To make any pesto, use two cups of herb or vegetable, one or two cloves of garlic, ¼ to ½ cup of cheese (Romano, Asagio or feta work as well as Parmesan) and oil to moisten (walnut provides a different taste). “Just remember the best pesto is about the basil or herb, so go easy on the garlic,” advises Suszko. She suggests 15 ways to use this versatile sauce:

1. Use it to top a pizza, instead of in addition to tomato sauce
2. Add it to cream sauces, like alfredo sauce
3. Mix with mayonnaise or Dijon mustard and use as a condiment
4. Stir it into warm mashed potatoes or use to top a baked potato
5. Stir it into risotto
6. Dress up soups, like plain tomato soups
7. Drizzle over sliced tomatoes
8. Spread on grilled or toasted rustic Italian breads
9. Mix with goat cheese as an appetizer
10. Whisk into scrambled eggs or fold into omelets
11. Make a simple pasta salad using pesto and tomatoes
12. Mix into simple salad dressings
13. Use as a marinade for chicken, beef or fish
14. Spread a little on a grilled steak, grilled shrimp or chicken
15. Thin with olive oil and create a simple dipping sauce for crudités

Suszko provides a great example of how to use pesto in the kitchen.

Asparagus Pesto Pizza

Yields enough for two 12-inch pizzas

½ cup plus 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 lb asparagus, tough ends trimmed
2 cloves garlic
½ cup packed fresh basil leaves, plus extra for garnish
2 tbsp nuts (walnuts, pine nuts or pecans)
¾ cup grated Romano cheese, divided
salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 cups crumbled goat or feta cheese
2 prepared 12” pizza shells

1. Preheat the oven to 425°F. Drizzle the 2 tbsp of oil over the asparagus and toss to coat evenly. Spread in a single layer on a baking sheet and roast for 10 minutes, or until the spears are just tender and lightly browned. Remove from the oven and let cool slightly.

2. Place the garlic, basil and nuts in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until ground to a fine texture. Add the cooled asparagus and ½ cup of the Romano and pulse until coarsely chopped. With the motor running, slowly add the remaining olive oil until smooth and emulsified. Season to taste with salt and pepper. (Pesto can be divided into smaller portions and frozen at this point if it is not to be used immediately.)

3. To assemble the pizzas, put the pizza shells on baking trays. Divide the asparagus pesto between the two shells, spreading evenly to an inch from the edge. Sprinkle the remaining Romano followed by the goat cheese evenly over both pizzas. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes or until the cheese is softened and very lightly browned. Let cool for a few minutes and serve.

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