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How to Eat Local

Winter Garden Farmers Market

BUYING LOCAL FOOD IS HEALTHY FOR YOUR FAMILY, THE PLANET AND THE ECONOMY

We are a culture obsessed with food. Honestly. There could be an entire dictionary devoted to what and how we eat: paleo, vegan, flexitarian, omnivore, etc. But here’s one catch phrase that might trump them all: locavore

A locavore is a person focused on eating food that is locally produced within 100 miles of its point of purchase or consumption. 

Eating local has a slew of benefits, beginning with the impact on the environment. Most of the food sold in your grocery store has traveled more than 1,500 miles to get there. The National Resource Defense Council reports that the typical American-prepared meal now contains, on average, ingredients from at least five countries outside of the United States. Those grapes you bought at Publix, for example, traveled 5,000 miles from Chile to your plate. You can calculate the distances of your foreign foods at foodmiles.com

Besides the massive amount of emissions leached into the air by the trains, planes and automobiles transporting your food, food that travels from far and wide simply isn’t as a good. It’s often picked too early and not at its peak nutrient density. It’s also not as fresh and more likely to spoil quickly. And, you’ll find that it simply doesn’t taste as good as something produced in your area. 

Buying locally also makes a huge impact on our local economy. “When you support a local farmer or food artisan, you’re supporting local jobs and ensuring that the land near your community is going to continue to be used for farming versus another subdivision or strip mall,” says Kendra Lott, co-leader of the Orlando chapter of Slow Food USA

“Our CSA (short for community supported agriculture) box has changed our lives. I did balk at the price initially. It’s $28 a week. But these foods have become the center of our meals,” Lott says. “We have so much variety, and what I cook is so delicious and inspired by creativity. I’ve enjoyed cooking again, and Lucy, our daughter, is involved and excited to see what’s in the box each week.”

Going local takes more than passion; it’s not easy to make the shift from grocery store shopping, which offers convenience and an endless selection of foods 365 days of the year. It requires a shift in what we eat, and letting the seasons and local farmers dictate our meals. It’s taking a pass on strawberries in August but devouring them like they’re candy starting each December.  

“Eating local and in season is definitely a lifestyle shift, but the benefits are immeasurable,” says John Rife, founder of East End Market, a local food hub, and Winter Park Urban Farm, a sweat equity CSA. Also the dad of two, Rife uses every opportunity to connect his kids to the source of the food they eat. “We have to get out of the mindset that cheaper and more convenient is better. The food we grow on our farm and purchase from our fellow growers is not only healthier for our bodies and the local economy, but it also gives me a platform to share really valuable life lessons with my kids about sustainability, environmental stewardship and nutrition.” 

Rife recommends joining a CSA or buying a weekly mixed food box as a starting point on your path to becoming a locavore. 

A CSA lets you buy shares in a farmer’s weekly yield each season, usually about 12-16 weeks. Some ask that you pay for your share upfront, while others are fine with a week-to-week order. Pick-up at a centrally located spot is typical, but some CSAs deliver to your doorstep. 

You’ll probably spend the first few weeks staring at your harvest with a mix of excitement and bewilderment. What the heck are you going to do with bok choy? And what on Earth is that spiny-looking thing? Lots of CSAs, including Frog Song Organics, email a list of cooking suggestions to help you get the creative juices flowing. Have fun exploring new food items and learning ways to add them to your plate. 

Have a few picky eaters at home? Use your mixed box as a way to create excitement and enthusiasm around new foods. Get the kids involved in opening the box and smelling and tasting each item. Then corral around the iPad to figure out how to cook the items together. Your CSA box could transform your family’s relationship with food. 

Once you’ve gotten used to crafting meals from your weekly box of surprises, start looking at some of the other items in your grocery cart to see which ones you could begin to source locally. Local eggs, for example, can be bought at many Orlando-area farm stores. Expect to pay about $5 per dozen.

Wild Hare Kitchen & Garden Emporium
Wild Hare Kitchen & Garden Emporium

ORLANDO COMMUNITY SUPPORTED AGRICULTURE (CSA):

U-pick Eggs

We also recommend taking at least one trip to Lake Meadow Naturals, an Ocoee farm that supplies eggs to scores of local hotels, restaurants and farm stores. Every Friday (10 a.m. to 5 p.m.) and Saturday (9 a.m. to 5 p.m.), families are invited to visit the farm and head into the chicken house to pick the eggs from right under the hens. It doesn’t get any fresher than that. Oh, and don’t forget about the you-pick strawberries and blueberries. Visit freshfromflorida.com, search for “u-pick” and you’ll get a full list of family-friendly farms organized by county. 

Your Saturday or Sunday morning family outing to a farmers market is yet another way to start eating more locally produced food. Be forewarned that not all Orlando-area farmers markets are sourcing from local farms (is that a Chiquita banana box I see under that table?) but the produce stands that do will usually have a “local farms” sign. The Audubon Park Community Market (Mondays from 5 to 9 p.m.) is a 100 percent local market. Everything, from the prepared foods and produce to the meats, is locally made, picked or raised. You can also find local fare at the Winter Garden Farmers Market (Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.), Winter Park Farmers Market (Saturdays from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m.) and at the Orlando Farmers Market at Lake Eola (Sundays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.). 

Too busy for an extra shopping trip to a farm store or market? You can have fresh produce and local meat delivered directly to your door. For a small delivery fee, Wild Hare Kitchen Emporium in Longwood offers families the option to have delivered Farm Market Bags, which come packed with an assortment of seasonal goodies. My Food Boxes will deliver one of several assorted local food boxes, with choices ranging from greens-only to meat-only. State of Harmony, a CSA-ish farm in Sanford, will also deliver a mixed seasonal box each week to families in the Seminole County area. There is no membership fee or commitment to buy each week. 

A few local entrepreneurs have taken the process one step further; they’ll cook your meals using local fare and deliver them ready-to-eat direct to your door. While delivery range is limited to central Orlando, Farm-Haus offers a gourmet meal service via delivery and pick-up in Audubon Park Monday through Thursday. Each week, the company unveils a new menu of delicious dinners for families to order. Emmabean will take care of your child’s school lunch, providing a wholesome, locally sourced meal delivered directly to his or her school or home within the delivery area. 

U-PICK FARMS

  • Beck Brother’s CITRUS
    12500 Overstreet Rd., Windermere
    407-656-5344
  • Brook Hollow Farm
    8505 Silver Star Rd., Orlando
    407-234-9877
  • Fresh Start Farm
    2331 Red Ember Rd., Oviedo
    407-359-8933
  • Pappy’s Patch
    700 Florida Ave., Oviedo
    407-366-8512
  • Soggy Acres Pomelo Grove
    100 Tuskawilla Rd., Winter Springs
    407-443-3808
  • Showcase of Citrus
    5010 S. U.S. Hwy. 27, Clermont
    352-394-4377

Patronizing local restaurants and eateries that have a commitment to sourcing locally is a nearly effortless way to support local farmers. The list of Orlando restaurants that can now legitimately call themselves “farm-to-table” has grown exponentially in the last five years. 

Local Farm-To-Table Restaurants:

BE AN ADVOCATE FOR CHANGE

Like it or not, we vote with our dollars. The only way to move the needle on the way food is produced and consumed across the country is to join the movement, one family at a time. For you, that might simply mean asking the produce manager in your local grocery store to add local produce to the shelves. Jump on board at whatever level is most appropriate for your family, and reap the benefits of food produced from local farmers for local families.

Lake Eola Farmers Market
Kristen Manieri
Written by
Kristen Manieri

Kristen Manieri is a prolific writer who has been blogging about relationships and date night for 12 years through her sites: Orlando Date Night Guide and Date Night Guide. Kristen is also the host of The Synced Life podcast, which explores topics related to human connection. She lives in the Orlando area with her husband, Marc and their two daughters.

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Kristen Manieri Written by Kristen Manieri

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