Eating Local – Part One

Few people realize that when you shop at the supermarket your meal comes from an average of five countries. But, if you are interested in eating foods closer to home, I am going to share some tips and secrets that I’ve learned through the years as a chef and avid consumer. The first step is to define how far local is to you and then research and survey all the treasures available made with local ingredients or made with local hands. I define the perimeters of local at 100 miles from where I live. I came up with this number because I think a farmer can drive about that far to the market and go home the same day. Another way to gauge it is if the farmer can take the product from farm to shelf in one day.  Any further than that, it becomes too much of a stretch to be sustainable for the farmer. The farm to table connection is becoming a viable choice for consumers even up here in the north woods where the produce growing season is only three months long on a good year. You just have to learn to think outside the plot when it comes to sourcing local culinary treasures.

Start with the internet. Farmers are the new rock stars of the food world. Almost every farm has a website now with information about visiting hours, history, etc. My two favorite local sites are the Minnesota Grown site and the Lake Superior Farming website. These contain a wealth of information that can set you up on your way to becoming  the new neighborhood locovore  (a person that eats only food raised or grown within 150 miles of their home).

After you’ve done your research on the web and have found who’s producing the perfect berry or pumpkin near you, make a list and a plan to get to know them. The easiest way is to head to your local Farmer’s Market. There are numerous ones in our region and more on the way. The Duluth Farmers Market has three selling seasons. The first is the Spring Season which runs from May 1st to June 30th, the Summer Season which runs from July 1st to October 31st and the Winter/Christmas/Holiday Market which runs from the Day after Thanksgiving until December 20th.”  “The items sold during the winter market is anything that won’t freeze” explains Lois Hoffbauer, the director of the Duluth Farmer’s market. Salsas, jams, chocolates, crafts and holiday greenery are the popular items at the winter farmers’ market.

The market is a good place to introduce yourself to local farmers and talk to a number of growers at once. Ask questions about the variety of goods they offer. Do they offer any heirloom varieties?   Do they grow any unique items? Even though the demand is much higher than the supply, it’s still a competitive selling environment. They will be thrilled to answer your questions. Lots of producers have a mailing list to announce when their products are at their peak.

Local dairy, grower and meat associations are also good for networking and sourcing local foods. The Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board does an extraordinary job with consumer information on their website. They produce “A traveler’s guide to America’s Dairy Land” cheese location map. For exotic meats try the Minnesota Buffalo Association. You will be amazed at how many bison farms there are in Minnesota.

One of the top secrets to buying local is knowing when to pre-order seasonal items. CSA’s (community supported agriculture) are farms that produce a box of locally grown vegetables weekly during the vegetable growing season that subscribers would pick up from a specific location. This is the best way to support your local farmer. You essentially become a partner with the farmer because if he has a good year, you get lots of beautiful produce. If it’s a rainy summer or blossom rot descends on the tomatoes, you get what’s available. CSA farms usually like to know by April if you want in. They also offer a winter share of root crops that are available on a less regular basis until March. If you want to pre-order home grown free range chickens you will need to order those well in advance. The Duluth Farmer’s market has them on hand after the 11th of July, but if you want more to fill your freezer, you will need to put in your order in advance. Talk to the farmer and find out when your window of opportunity is to order. Pigs are usually ordered in the Spring for a late Summer/early Fall pick up and Lamb in the Fall for a late December order. Be prepared to put your money where your mouth is and pay at least some portion to the farmer in advance. Plans have to be made, feed needs to be bought ahead of time and the vegetable producers need to buy seeds, hire help, etc long before your box arrives.

For a great recipe using local Kale click here

And for more information about the city wide Kale program going on right now go to

Here’s a great handy  in season guide by the Duluth News Tribune

Duluth Farmer's Market


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2 Responses to Eating Local – Part One

  1. colleen betts says:

    Great article Arlene – thanks for the chicken date for the Farmer’s Market!

  2. Heidi F says:

    Thank you for this post too! I bought chicken from farmer doug last fall and it was very good. We also purchased a pig this spring from a guy my husband works with who raises as a hobby. I love that the “local” movement is getting bigger and bigger.

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