By Jess Palmer
Local food is a hot topic of discussion nowadays. More and more people are becoming aware of the benefits of sourcing food locally — from boosting their community’s economy to having a smaller ecological ‘footprint.’
Over 10 years ago, The Piedmont Environmental Council (PEC) launched Virginia’s first Buy Fresh Buy Local campaign. Today, there are eight Buy Fresh Buy Local chapters throughout the state. The program is designed to promote the local food economy by connecting local farms with consumers.
The three chapters managed by PEC — Loudoun County, Northern Piedmont, and the Charlottesville area — encompass 11 counties and more than 600 farms, farmers’ markets, specialty food producers, vineyards, restaurants and retailers. All of these producers and distributors are listed in the annual Buy Fresh Buy Local guides, which helps market their goods and informs consumers about what food products are offered in the area.
While the website, www.BuyLocalVirginia.org, is accessible throughout the year, the printed guide is an annual publication that PEC mails to approximately 275,000 households each spring, and more are distributed to area businesses. Using the guide can help you find sources of local food to stock your fridge and pantry, and support our Piedmont farms.
One of the categories listed in the guides is farmers’ markets. Most people are familiar with these markets — local venues where farms and other businesses set up to sell their products. While many farmers’ markets convene on Saturday mornings, more and more are opening during late-afternoon and evening hours to coincide with the after-work commute. PEC’s Buy Fresh Buy Local guide lists over 30 farmers’ markets throughout the region, so be sure to search for the one closest to you and get to know your local farmers — by mid-season you’ll be friends. The Culpeper Downtown Farmers Market begins Saturday, April 29 and continues through November 18, 2017 from 7:30 am until noon in the East Davis Street parking lot, in the Depot District.
Another category listed in the guides is Community Supported Agriculture (or CSA). CSAs are a way for your family to get your weekly produce and other farm products while directly supporting a local farm at a time when they need it most. A family signs up for a CSA share at the beginning of a growing season. Since the farm receives the payment upfront, they are immediately able to invest in the seeds, equipment and other materials needed to launch their production for the season. In return, your family receives a box of farm fresh products each week of the growing season (anywhere between 20 and 25 weeks), to be picked up either on-farm or at specific drop-off locations. The variety of products you receive each week changes throughout the season, and many farms offer recipes for less familiar items. While most CSAs revolve around vegetables, you can also find CSAs for meat, eggs, dairy, and even whole-diet.
The guides also include retailers. More and more local retailers are stocking products from our local farms, so make sure you ask for local when you’re out doing the weekly shopping. A little consumer encouragement goes a long way.
You can, of course, find many local farms in the guides. Many farms invite you to visit and purchase products on-site. This is a great way to learn more about your local farmers and their products. Remember, though, these are working farms — always call before visiting.
The more that consumers request and purchase local food, the more we support sustainable farming practices, the humane treatment of animals and a greater sense of community. Find local farmers at your farmers’ market, consider joining a CSA and keep asking for local in your grocery store. Enjoy your locally-stocked kitchen!
Jess Palmer is the Farm and Food Program Coordinator with the Piedmont Environmental Council.