This post is going to be a heavy one, but it’s something that has been on my heart for a long time. Everyone is so caught up in special diets. I try not to be. I try to just eat what is locally available to me and I’m often questioned on it.
Honestly why aren’t people eating more locally grown foods? Locally grown food is fresher, tastes better, and is better for both you and the environment. It is also higher in enzymes, vitamins, and nutrients, because usually it is picked at the peak of freshness and there is less of a wait inbetween the time it was picked and the time it graces your table.
When I first started learning about locally grown food, the first things I looked at was what my ancestors ate. If bananas, citrus fruits, and coconuts don’t naturally grow where I live, chances are my ancestors didn’t evolve to be able to eat these things. The first supermarket was invented in 1930. So in reality grocery stores, as we know them, have only been around for the last 100 years, and even less for more rural areas. My great-Grandma was not in the kitchen mixing up a banana power green smoothie for her breakfast. She was not drinking almond milk, buying soy cheese, and throwing a prefab still frozen lasagna in the oven 1 hour before dinner time.
She milked the cow. She made eggs with bacon or sausage for breakfast. She gardened. She grew her own food. She knew when to plant and when to harvest. She knew how to butcher a chicken. And when things got tough she knew how to make a mean pot of oatmeal. She shopped at a general store. She knew the clerk by name. And if it had been a good year, maybe she got a couple of oranges at Christmas time.
So here are some things you need to learn about in your area.
What grows here?
I’m in Ontario, I can’t just walk out to my lemon orchard and pick some fresh lemons for lemonade on a hot day (dang wouldn’t that be wonderful!!). But my instagram friend in California can. I first of all needed to learn what foods are native to my area. What food will grow here without much attending from me? I do have a potted fig tree, but figs are not native to my area so it needs to be kept indoors under close inspection to water and sunlight amounts. It takes more care. My apple trees in my yard, however, grow happily with very little attending from me.
What grows in each season?
In spring time we have a wonderful abundance of leafy greens, morel mushrooms, asparagus, fiddleheads and leeks. Most of these things I don’t even plant they grow themselves in my yard, in the forest, or along road sides. As the weather warms and the months pass more foods become available. After the leafy greens comes the more sturdy vegetables: beans, zucchini, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, cucumbers, broccoli, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, all the way to pumpkin and squash in the fall. Fruits are the same way. Rhubarb starts off first, followed closely by strawberries, then raspberries, blackberries, gooseberries, blueberries, melons of every kind, and the fruit trees: cherries, plums, nectarines, peaches, pears, all the way to apples in the Fall. Each season gives you just enough time to harvest the bundle of food that is supplied in high supply before moving on to the next thing. I just get my rhubarb all chopped and frozen for the year and it’s time to start strawberries. It’s an exhausting and vigorating experience.
What about protein sources?
Egg production picks up as soon as the sun starts staying out longer. This is usually around the end of March early April for my hens, although grey rainy days can cause a slow in production. The extra sunlight tells the hens it’s spring time, it’s time for babies. Just like organic growth tries to spread seeds out during the growing season, hens try to create more young. Some hens will go broody meaning they want to sit on a clutch of eggs and hatch them. Others are just layers – egg donors if you will. If you have a rooster you can let a hen sit on a clutch. Your chicken population will increase in a natural way. Eggs are our main source of protein until the middle of summer when the heat begins to slow them down. There’s also milk. Spring babies mean milk in cows, goats, and sheep. Meat sources can be poultry, rabbit, fish, or veal. If you butchered a larger animal in the Fall, sometimes there are leftovers from that animal even after the long winter. Most large animals – pigs, sheep, steers are butchered in the Fall. More meat for the winter, and when born in the Spring and allowed to fatten all Summer they are ready to be butchered in the Fall. There are also hunting seasons allowing us to hunt deer, bear, turkeys, ducks, and even moose (with the proper permits of course).
Why do this?
That’s the question I get the most. Why do all this work when I can buy it at the grocery store? Because food is something that has become too overthought and under appreciated all at the same time. You don’t care about the chicken on your plate or the work that went into it, because you didn’t have to see it. You don’t care that the bag of spinach in your crisper goes slimy because you didn’t have to pick it. We are a wasteful society because we don’t have to work for our food. Work for your food! Make bread. You will be so grateful for it when it comes out of the oven. Grow your own greens in a sunny window. Your salad will taste better. And even more so than anything else, fresh food is healthy food. If the blueberries you bought at the grocery store came from New Zealand and you live in Canada, they’re not fresh. They were picked green, shipped around the world (let’s not get started on the gas required to move them from there to here), and then landed in your grocery store where they were stored in the back fridge for several days to a week, and then finally on the shelf and to your house. By this time they’re usually getting fuzzy. There’s nothing good in them. They weren’t allowed to get ripe, which means the nutritional makeup was not complete, and the moment you pick a vegetable or fruit the enzymes start to die because they are no longer attached to the main plant or to the earth. Enzymes die very quickly – the majority in as little as 24 hours. Those blueberries took weeks to get to you.
What about things you can’t grow?
I do still buy imported goods. Some things that I buy are: oils (olive, coconut, almond, etc.), spices, coffee and herbal teas, salts and peppers, sugar, chocolate and cocoa powders, essential oils, rice, and occasionally seafood.
Please don’t think that I don’t shop at a grocery store, or that I never buy bananas, because I do. I like a good banana power green smoothie now and then just as much as the next person. But I make a solid effort to eat food that is grown here. More than anything else your health depends on it. Eating locally, eating what’s in season, and eating real food. That’s as complicated as it has to get. In Spring, Summer, and Fall we eat a lot of fruits and vegetables, in Winter we eat a lot of meats. Don’t over think it. Just eat real food.