Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Buy Local for a No-Guilt Thanksgiving

Depending on where you live, this time of year it can be a real challenge to buy locally grown or raised food. But it's important, especially as we approach our most foodcentric holidays.

The Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture compared what it takes to haul food from other states into Iowa with semi-trailer trucks versus hauling by small light trucks within the state. Simply upping the in-state number by 10% would result in an annual fuel savings ranging from 294,000 to 348,000 gallons and annual emissions reductions ranging from 7 million to 7.9 million pounds.

And two years ago, the University of Washington predicted that if half of all King County's (WA), approximately 1.8 million residents ate a locally grown Thanksgiving dinner instead of an "imported" one, they could avoid contributing to emissions equal to 2.4 million vehicle miles.

So homegrown or neaby-grown food can have an environmental impact even greater than what the big meal has on our waistlines!

Of course, most of us are aware that the grapes we use to garnish our Thanksgiving dessert may have spent two weeks traveling to get to us before being placed on display where they might languish another few days before we bring them home. Fresh, they're not.

Unfortunately, the main constraint on shopping at your local farmer's homestead is the time of year. Unless you live in a temperate climate or are blessed with a heated greenhouse, obtaining fruits and vegetables locally year around means that at some point in the summer you may be inundated by zucchini and by January you're beginning to dislike turnips with a passion usually reserved for politicians. 

But just because our consciences won't allow us to enjoy oranges in November if we live in New York doesn't mean our Thanksgiving tables will look barren.

Here are some ideas for finding locally grown foods and other Thanksgiving goodies.

1. Check for what's in season and available in your neck of the woods. 

2. While most farmers markets are closed for the season, some sell year round. Do a search for "year around farmers market+your city" and see what you find. (Local Harvest also may list them.)

3. Check local farms. Again, do an online search, i.e. "organic farm near Seattle," then if you find some, call and see what they will be offering prior to Thanksgiving. 

4. Your natural market or co-op is the most obvious source of local fare.

Now that you've discovered some great places to buy, how do you afford it? Here are some ideas for saving green when buying green.

1. Group buy. Get together with friends/neighbors/schools and propose to purchase in bulk. Let your friendly neighborhood farmer know that you are willing to buy 50 pounds of her organic sweet potatoes and she's more likely to give you a good price. Why not approach your local natural food store with the same offer−it never hurts to ask.

2. Seriously consider how much food you need too pull of the best Thanksgiving ever. Will serving six dishes instead of ten make the holiday any less successful? Eliminate the dishes with the most expensive ingredients, substitute less costly alternatives or leave them out. 

3. Vow not to purchase anything but food. No d├ęcor (borrow from nature), flowers (ditto), tablecloths, napkins, plates, glasses or silverware (borrow or have guests bring their own place settings and tell them you're having "an old-fashioned Thanksgiving," because that's what people did before there were paper plates and plastic flatware). You also could rent or purchase for very little at a thrift store.

4. Put together a potluck Thanksgiving where you provide only the main item, usually the turkey, unless you're going vegetarian. Assign all other dishes to guests.

5. Forage. No kidding. You may find everything from seafood to mushrooms and greens out your backdoor. But be sure to know what you're doing before you try this one. You don't want to kill anyone off as a result of eating at your house! If you hurry, there may be time to sign up for a foraging class before the holidays.

6. Trade. Know a local farmer, but can't afford to purchase what you want to feed your party? Ask what he needs. Maybe he'll trade six months of haircuts or carwashes, babysitting or weeding for a big bird.

Aim for a 100% local meal, but if you can't reach it, know that you tried. And in doing so, surely you've most likely impoved. Next thing you know, you'll be thinking about Thanksgiving 2012 in July and freeze veggies in anticipation!

This guest post is brought to you by Lynn Colwell and Corey Colwell-Lipson are mother and daughter and co-authors of Celebrate Green! Creating Eco-Savvy Holidays, Celebrations and Traditions for the Whole Family, available at

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