The Challenge of Buying Local

April 11, 2008 — About six weeks ago, some friends of ours bought beef from a farm in Greenwich, New York, about 20 minutes from where they live in Sandgate, a small town in southwestern Vermont.

“We should do that,” I said to Eric as he told me about our friends, the Monahan’s, beef bounty. “Only we should buy meat from a Vermont farm,” I quickly added. Eric, a life-long Vermonter, concurred.

Buy Local Vermont LogoWhy Eric and I haven’t done this—purchased meat directly from a farmer—sooner is beyond me. After all, we live in a state known for its dairy farms (say cheese!). We like to support local businesses (a pox on the big box stores.) And we fancy ourselves more-or-less aware of the source of our food—though admittedly, Eric, who grew up hunting and fishing and who continues to bring home grouse, ducks, turkey and occasionally a deer, is a lot more aware than I. (I do, however, cook a lot of what he drags in dead through the kitchen door. Venison Bourguignonne anyone? Home-made turkey soup?)

Over the past couple of years, Eric and I have taken some small steps to reduce our dependency on the supermarket. For example, from June through October, we buy produce at a local farm stand, Clear Brook Farm, since I’m incapable of cultivating anything but weeds in the beds around our house. (At least we’ve got dandelion greens for salads. If they were good enough for Martha Stewart when she was at Alderson, they’re good enough for me.) And throughout the year we buy chicken, pork and beef from the two butcher shops in our small town instead of at the grocery store. In fact, when Riverside Custom Butchery opened across from the East Arlington post office last summer, Eric and I were eager to support the new establishment, which is within walking distance to our house. One day, when we were picking out some nicely marbled ribeyes for our charcoal grill and our rumbling stomachs, I asked the butcher, earnest do-gooder that I am, where the meat came from. We figured he was getting it from a local farm. Not so. He told us he got it in Boston.

So much for buying local.

I guess the realization that our “local” butcher shops weren’t so local coupled with our earnest desire to support Vermont businesses (and farms are businesses), coupled with the fact that hey, our friends were doing it, prompted us to get off our lazy butts and find a farm from which we could buy meat directly from the grower.

Note that we are not doing this because we were inspired by Barbara Kingsolver’s book about subsisting exclusively on local foods for a year. We haven’t read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. Nor are we doing this because of Michael Pollan’s portrayal of industrial farming and the corn industry in The Omnivore’s Dilemma. We haven’t read that one, either. So far, there’s no dilemma for me: Give me Oreos or give me death. (Of course, if I read Pollan’s best-seller, I might think differently about those corn-sweetened cookies.) Anyway, we don’t need to read books by the New York intelligentsia to understand the importance of eating local and especially of supporting Vermont businesses.

In all seriousness, though, I am facing a dilemma, and I would venture to bet that legions of other ordinary, middle income Americans like me face the same conundrum when it comes to buying local: It ain’t always easy and it ain’t always cheap. Buying local forces me to prioritize what’s most important in my life. It calls on me to make tough choices about where and how I’m going to spend my hard-earned money at a time when I’m struggling to pay off an oil bill that’s grown as big as my monthly mortgage payment, in an economy that grows more unstable every day. Fully embracing the “Buy Local” or “Localvore” ethos requires me to execute on my ideals, to act on my beliefs, to literally put my money where my big mouth is.

Over the next several months, I’m going to share with you my experiences procuring (hunting, fishing, growing, foraging, purchasing) and preparing wild and local foods in Vermont. I hope you’ll share your experiences and recipes in this forum, too. To what degree do you subscribe to the localvore ethos? What challenges have you faced trying to eat local?


One thought on “The Challenge of Buying Local

  1. Great blog idea, M! I am in fact reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma, and while I thought it would be played out by too much NPR chatter, it’s actually thoroughly enjoyable. Really one of the best books I’ve read in a long time, all hotness of the topic aside. So I recommend it.

    We too are trying to simplify the food chain we use–somewhat. Hard to cultivate coffee, chocolate, or bananas in Massachusetts, and I sure do like those things…. But other things should be easier to find. We’re lucky in that we have a small-scale farm right nearby where we can get eggs, and beef, lamb, and pork products. And you can see the life the critters lead and the grass they eat.
    You might find something near you via this site:

    Happy Eating!

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