Eating local has a more authentic flavor. By eating local, you support local families, but you are also more likely to consume items that are locally sourced and grown. Here are just a few ways to eat locally.
Find a new place
Most of us are creatures of habit, and it’s easy to fall into the rut of eating at a handful of our favorite restaurants. Events such as 217 Food Week are a good reminder that there may be local places that you’ve never even tried. Sip and Sample Week, which runs through Sunday, July 1, features 15 different local restaurants that are highlighting specialty or off-menu appetizers and drinks. Visit the 217foodweek.com website for a complete list of participating restaurants and other upcoming Food Week events.
Local venues are often founded around old family recipes. If you have a more adventurous palate, be sure to order the special. The special is generally either what an establishment is famous for or it is a rotating dish that is meant to highlight something new or uses seasonal ingredients. You will rarely go wrong.
Shop a co-op
A co-op is a grocery store that is owned by its shoppers. By paying for a membership and attending meetings, you will have a say in what the store sells and how it’s run. Many co-ops prioritize stocking foods that are organic and produced and farmed locally. This is also a fantastic way to get to know your neighbors.
Farmers markets and CSAs
Farmers markets are the best places for local-sourced foods and fresh in-season ingredients. They are also an integral part of small business in America. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, there were more than 8,000 farmers markets operating in the United States as of 2014.
The Old Capitol Farmers Market held in downtown Springfield is generally the most visible, since portions of Adams Street are blocked off every Wednesday and Saturday morning from mid-May until the end of October. However, if those days and times aren’t compatible with your schedule, there are other options for shoppers who want to purchase locally grown produce, meats and other items. The Illinois Department of Agriculture holds the Illinois Products Farmers Market on Thursdays from 4-7 p.m. from May through October at the Commodities Pavilion at the Illinois State Fairgrounds. And this was the second consecutive year that Springfield has had a Winter Farmers Market. From January through April, Illinois Stewardship Alliance hosted a farmers market one Saturday a month at Third Presbyterian Church. It generated strong support from the community.
Another way to support local growers is through community-supported agriculture, or a CSA. Through a CSA, a farm sells shares of its crops directly to consumers.
Localharvest.org is an online directory that lists more than 30,000 family farms and farmers markets nationwide, along with restaurants and grocery stores that feature local food. There are 10 CSAs listed that serve the Springfield area. While they may not be household names the way most grocery stores are, many of these small family farms are becoming better known as consumers want to know more about where their food comes from. Tara Davlin Holcomb, owner of The Farmstand by Willow City Farm, was recently recognized as the new and emerging business owner of the year at the Greater Springfield Chamber of Commerce’s annual small business awards.
Illinois Stewardship Alliance has a website, buyfreshbuylocalcentralillinois.org that includes a directory of local farms, farmers markets, restaurants and retailers along with recipes utilizing seasonal items. There is also a listing of upcoming food-related events and a newsletter sign-up for those who want to stay in the know about classes and farmers markets happening in the area.