Food Gathering: Beyond the Supermarket.

I’m sorry to have missed this weekend’s annual JustFood Conference, because the panel discussions and workshops all looked so fascinating.  There were sessions covering everything from understanding the Farm Bill to what it takes to start your own farm (or at least start a CSA at your office, if you’re not ready to pack it in and head for the hills).  The event was sold out, which is a testament to how many people are thinking about these issues.

Reading through the conference program got me thinking about food sourcing. Many CSAs offer more than just produce – often you can get meat, eggs, dairy, honey, even grains.   We try to supplement our share with trips to the farmer’s market, but let’s be honest: in the wintertime especially, the majority of our food and household products arrive on our door courtesy of Fresh Direct, Whole Foods, or the Associated.

Not that I have anything against supermarkets, they certainly serve an important purpose, but I do think we take their convenience for granted at the expense of not knowing exactly where our food is coming from and what is in it.  Now, more than ever it seems, there are a myriad of creative ways to find food – sometimes local, sometimes organic, often sustainable and usually an interesting alternative to the standard supermarket fare.

So, how does one go about foraging online for food?  I have compiled a list of my favorite resources, some are general and nation-wide, but many are specific to the New York region.  If the Northeast isn’t local for you, start with the general national resources and you can narrow your results to your area.  I’m also looking to expand this list, so if you know of a resource or farm or food-type that belongs here, please let me know!

GENERAL

  • Local Harvest is a nationwide guide to finding local and sustainable food resources in your area.  Everything from farmer’s markets to CSA’s to grocery stores and food co-ops.  You can even purchase food (and CSA shares) through them – it’s a little like Etsy.  Looking for Emu steaks? Well, there’s a farm in Kansas that specializes in that very thing.  Not exactly local – unless you are in Kansas, that is.
  • FarmPlate is a recently launched online resource dedicated to connecting food producers and consumers across the country.  Their elegant database is searchable by location and producer, but you can also spend a lot of time browsing for things like seaweed harvesters (there’s one 86 miles from NYC), mushroom foragers (64 miles) and truck farms (nearest one in Brooklyn, of course!).  They also cover artisans, restaurants and markets.
  • RealTimeFarms is a crowd-sourced online food guide dedicated to connecting (you guessed it) farms, artisans and consumers.  Content can be added by members, making this a fascinating experiment to watch. They also have a cool Portlandia-like feature where restaurants can “share their menu’s story” by showcasing the source of their ingredients. None of them seem to come from hippie cults, however.
  • JustFood is one of my very favorite organizations connecting New Yorkers to local farms and galvanizing people around food issues.  If you are in New York, you can use their handy CSA finder.
  • GrowNYC is a city-wide non-profit agency dedicated to environmental awareness and improving the quality of life in New York.   They are responsible for the flourishing Greenmarkets in our city and their website is a treasure trove of information about local producers, seasonal food, and sustainability.  They are active in food equality issues and advocating for their farmers, as evidenced by their recently published report assessing the challenges local farmers face in retaining their farmland (full disclosure, my dear friend is a co-author of this extremely well-researched and important document).

MEAT

Many CSA’s offer meat shares on a limited basis, but if you are really hankering for sustainable grass-fed meat, you have a number of options that you can ponder while you set up your chest freezer:

  • EatWild is an online directory of over 1,300 grass fed farms nationwide.  Their map will connect you directly to producers in your area, or you can purchase items through their online store.
  • High Point Farms is an example of one of the many meat-only CSA’s that you can find through EatWild.  They offer shares of beef, pork, poultry and eggs for pick-up in various neighborhoods in NYC.
  • Grazin’ Angus Acres is one of the farms supported by the Greenmarket, selling their meat at area farmer’s markets.

FISH

Finding sustainable seafood can be a challenge, and Community Supported Fisheries are a recent development with most existing along the New England and Mid-Atlantic Coast.  One of the most interesting organizations is Walking Fish, a CSF started in 2009 by 5 graduate students at Duke University’s School the Environment in partnership with local fishermen.

  • The Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance is an organization dedicated to restoring our marine system by supporting responsible and sustainable fishing.  Their site includes a list of community supported fisheries around the country and even includes a “find your CSF” feature.  According to their site, the nearest CSF to Manhattan is the Cape Ann Fresh Catch in Bolton, MA.  Not exactly local, so I’m still looking.
  • With no obvious CSF sources in NYC (please, correct me if I am wrong!), the next best option seems to be the Greenmarket Fishermen, one of which is American Seafood.  Check out GrowNYC’s Seafood Calendar, too.
  • i love blue sea is an innovated online source for sustainable fish.  Partnering with the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch, they provide direct access to sustainable seafood.  If you live near San Francisco, you get the added bonus of it being local, too!  However, they will ship all over the US.
  • Sea2Table is an inspiring story of how an American family took a vacation to Tobago, met some fishermen and decided to figure out a way to get their sustainably caught fish to restaurants in the United States.  Although their fish doesn’t appear to be sold retail, they have expanded their model to include fisheries all over the world.

DAIRY

When I was growing up (in the ’70’s) we still had a milkman.  He delivered a few half-gallons of milk to a little box outside our door once a week.  It wasn’t organic and it didn’t even come in glass bottles (just paper cartons), but it was local.  In the past 15 years, organic milk has become as common as any other supermarket staple, and local milk is making a retail comeback, too.  You can even get milk in glass bottles again at Whole Foods or your Farmer’s market.  Two of the best local brands around NYC are MilkThistle and Ronnybrook.  But what if you want raw milk? Or even raw camel milk?

  • Udder Milk Creamery is a cooperative that provides 100% grass-fed, raw, organic dairy – along with many other raw and fermented products – to its members.  Once you have signed up, you can order online and they will deliver. They also offer alternative health and beauty products, so if you are in the market for edible clay and bee sting therapy, this will be one-stop shopping for you.
  • Traditional Nutrition Guild is a non-profit organization that follows the nutritional guidelines of the Weston A. Price Foundation.  It started in 2002 in Brooklyn as a way of delivering raw milk to its members, and has since expanded to include 4 of the 5 boroughs.

COFFEE

Coffee is an intrinsically non-local (at least for North America) product, but yet essential to a large number of us.  Fair-trade coffee is now easy to find from Starbucks to Whole Foods and beyond, but CoffeeCSA.org takes it to another level, allowing you to invest in a specific coffee farm with the return of regular direct coffee shipments.  For $650/year, you can receive monthly shipments of 5 lbs. of coffee (about what my family consumes), which comes out to about $12.50/lb.  The last pound of coffee I bought at Starbucks cost about the same and frankly, I would rather give all of my $12.50 to the farmer, wouldn’t you?

GRAINS

Local grains seem to be the next frontier in food and some CSAs offer shares of beans and wheat.  According to a recent New York Magazine article, 2012 is the year of the local grain – with many bakeries paying attention to where their ingredients are coming from.  But finding the actual grains themselves is still a bit of a challenge.  For locally cultivated grains like wheat, corn, spelt and rye, check out your local farmer’s market.  If rice is your thing (as it is mine), think about starting a paddy in your apartment (I’m totally serious about doing this).

  • Cayuga Organics is a purveyor of local, organic grains grown on farms around NYC.  You can find their heirloom grains at farmer’s markets, or buy directly from them online.  Their grains include, wheat, spelt, rye, farro, freekah, corn, and beans.
  • Wild Hive Farm is a community mill in upstate New York that process local, organic grains.  They have a commercial CSA that provides large quantities of flour to bakeries, but they also sell their products at the Greenmarket.
  • Farmer Ground Flour is a mill located in Trumansburg, New York, co-owned by the miller and the farmers that grow the grain.  Started in 2008, FGF is committed to organic, sustainable agriculture and the promotion of heirloom varieties.  They sell their flour at various NYC farmer’s markets, but will also custom blend flour for those interested customers who “want to try a new direction in flour”.  I wish that was me.

HONEY

Some people believe that consuming local honey can alleviate allergies.  Although the scientific data doesn’t seem to back up the claim, there are other compelling reasons to seek out local honey.  For one thing, it supports your local producers.  Contrary to what you might think, there are a fair number of honey producing bees in NYC -and you can find their liquid gold at the greenmarket.  A number of CSA’s also offer honey shares.  But if you are looking for a honey-only CSA, look no further than Brooklyn Homesteader.  The next best thing to getting your own bees.

OTHER NON-CSA, NON-SUPERMARKET, DELIVERY SOURCES

Aside from the specialized sources above and the CSA model, there are a number of other organizations that are in the business of connecting you to local and/or organic foods via delivery.  Places like Urban Organics, SPUD and Door-to-Door Organics that give you a little more flexibility than a standard CSA.  A nice description of these alternatives can be found in this Treehugger article.

Another new hybrid-CSA model a friend just told me about yesterday is This Batch.  Operating out of a restaurant in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn, This Batch is a service that allows people to buy food from local farmers, but allows a little more flexibility than than a CSA.  Each week, members receive an email of options from which to choose.  Sounds intriguing, and I would be interested to find out how it works. The first season could be an interesting exercise in the trends of taste.  What will happen to all that unwanted celery root? Or rutabega?  Or what if everyone wants kale and there isn’t enough?  Stay tuned!

This list is a work in progress and I hope to add to it moving forward. I would be interest in hearing your own non-supermarket food sources?

  1. #1 by Domaphan on February 28, 2012 - 6:15 pm

    Wow–thanks for such a thorough listing! Here’s one place I wouldn’t suggest getting your vegetables:

  1. On the Tyranny of the Refrigerator « domaphile

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