A Growing Wise Kids column
Acquiring the most nutrient-dense foods is an ever-changing pilgrimage that leaves you with heartwarming friendships, a stronger sense of community and a peaceful satisfaction that you are nourishing your family by obtaining the freshest, cleanest, most nutrient-dense local foods around. It connects you with time-honored traditions, the way it used to be for our grandparents or even our parents. Last, but certainly not least, seeking out foods produced with the highest integrity contributes to the greater good of the environment and supports small local family farms, which is a substantial side benefit for you and future generations.
Below are ideas on where to obtain the most nourishing, life-sustaining goods. This fall season is a perfect time to stock up, too, since winter offers slim-pickings in the fresh, local nutrient-dense scene. You may be surprised–your choices go far beyond the local health food store.
1. Get Support
Walking the traditional foods path can be challenging, especially when the trail is unmarked. Surrounding yourself with others with similar goals is invaluable. Not only can they offer advice, share their “hiccups” and successes and go in with you on big orders to save money, but they also strengthen the sense of community around this authentic way of life. Most important, word of mouth is the best testament to quality when it comes to obtaining your local food sources. This “community” can come in many shapes and forms: Weston A. Price Foundation local chapters (see the link on the Foundation’s website) and web-based chat groups are a good place to start. National chat groups are wonderful for educational purposes and finding products not available to you locally, while local chat groups are great for identifying resources right in your own area and forming co-ops and buying clubs (more on these later).
2. Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs)
This is a direct farm-to-family method of supplying anything from produce, eggs, raw milk, coffee, honey and fruits to flowers. There is nothing quite like eating the freshest, most nutrient-dense foods available and sitting back with confidence about the care and attention your foods have received. CSAs connect us to our food in a personal way and localize our economy, rather than relying on products (typically unripe) shipped from unknown sources.
With most CSAs, you make a commitment to a farm by becoming a member or shareholder. This means you don’t actually “purchase” food; you are given goods by being a member of something bigger, something that requires community togetherness. The level of share-holder involvement varies with the farm. Some require only a monetary commitment, while others may request farm labor, such as pulling weeds for a few hours or helping wash the vegetables. Furthermore, CSAs typically offer tours and allow younger family members to get up close and personal with the farm experience. Many even offer gardening classes and farm-to-school programs that can make a significant impact in the surrounding community.
Being a part of a community supported food venture means you see it through good and hard times along with the farmer. When the harvest flourishes, so do the produce boxes. In times of inclement weather, you are still committed to that farmer, even if you receive a much smaller portion of the normal harvest for a week or two. Typically, goods are provided each week at certain drop-off points or at the farm, but arrangements vary. Visit www.localharvest.org to find CSAs near you.
3. Farm-Direct Pastured Meats And Poultry
The benefits of seeking farm-direct pastured animal products goes far beyond the nutrients they bestow your family. Supporting animal ranchers encourages a cleaner environment and happier animals through advantageous methods of operation. Buying a dozen whole chickens or a whole, half, or even a quarter of a beef, buffalo or lamb directly from a small animal rancher not only furthers these small family-based farms, but also gives you an array of frozen meats at your disposal at a moment’s notice. Keep these points in mind:
- Buying big means extra freezer space. Obtaining an extra freezer for the garage or basement may not be as costly as expected. Check the personal listings, thrift stores or ask friends. Also try internet listings and credit card rewards.
- Locating your meat source. First identify possible local sources through your local community of support. Talk with your community of support first. Then look at the advertisers in the back of Wise Traditions. Jo Robinson, author of Why Grassfed Is Best!, has an extensive website listing of grass-fed meat ranchers all over the country, (see www.eatwild.com). Also visit the American Grassfed Association (www.americangrassfed.org) to learn of local producers in your area.
- Ask around in your own community. You may be able to find homegrown beef that is properly raised, but may not be certified organic. This could be a small family farm with only three cows. For these small operations, grass is less expensive than purchasing grain. Use your investigative skills at your local CSA, look at or post on store bulletin boards or contact your local school’s 4-H program.
- Fats (lard/tallow/duck). Find a pig farmer who will sell you the non-GMO and soy-free fat to render yourself. Make sure you look for properly raised pigs that have lots of access to sunshine to maximize the vitamin D produced in their fat. See sidebar on page 63 for more on lard.
4. Raw Milk Dairies
Laws on raw milk sales differ from state to state. While in some states you can purchase raw cow or goat milk right off the health food store shelves, in others you must become cow-share holders and pay a monthly maintenance and milking fee. Visit www.realmilk.org for information on your state’s raw milk laws and sources of raw milk. Shop around and ask questions. An added benefit is that raw milk dairy farmers often provide much more than raw milk. Some make broth, beet kvass, yogurt, render lard and raise beef, chickens (egg layers and/or broilers for eating) and turkeys. The more variety a farm offers, the less you will be stretched for time when collecting all your goods. For that matter, get involved with your farmer and find ways to collaborate with other like-minded operations to meet customer demands while allowing these smaller businesses to thrive.
5. Farmers’ Markets
Farmers’ markets featuring local producers who gather weekly to sell their goods are sprouting up all over the country on road sides, shopping mall parking lots, in city centers and the main drags of small towns. Live entertainment is occasionally thrown into the mix, with musicians, jugglers and magicians, making it a fun-filled experience for all. At many of these markets you can find organic produce, grass-fed meats, organic cheeses, raw honey and even beautiful flowers. This is an excellent way to meet the source of your bounty face-to-face, procure information and stay connected.
It is not uncommon for regular patrons to leave with a little something “extra,” such as a baker’s dozen or a little over a pound!
Visit www.localharvest.org to find the farmers’ markets in your home town. Make sure to learn the local “policy” of your farmers’ market. Sometimes, the food is still shipped in, while at others it is 100 percent locally grown, which of course means a big difference in the freshness and nutrition.
If the nearest farmers’ market is still a little out of your reach, look to local farms or farm stands set up in empty lots or along the roadside. It will be fresh, if not pesticide-free, and usually more reasonably priced.
6. Swap With Friends
Do you have a friend who makes the most mouth-watering sauerkraut or homemade cheese, but she can’t come close to attaining the texture of your homemade sourdough bread? Perhaps you can work out a fair trade so both of you can have the best of both worlds.
7. Start Or Join A Food Buying Club
A buying club can be anything from a small group of friends to one that has a warehouse and uses wholesale distributors. The main goal is to join together to buy big and save money. There is usually work required by all, whether it is collecting money, placing the order, helping unload or dividing up the individual orders. Each buying club varies-some may focus more on natural and organic, while others not as much. Ask around in your area or at the farmers’ markets and surf the internet for possible clubs in your area. Better yet, start your own and design it to meet your dietary goals and needs.
8. Grow Your Own Food
No matter how big or small your food growing or food raising endeavor may be, the harvest is always a wonderful experience. Try a simple window herb garden or other edible plants (such as sprouts or edible flowers) in a sunny spot in the house. An outside vegetable garden can be a terrific source of family bonding. Finally, if you live in a locale that permits it, consider raising animals, such as chickens, ducks or goats, not only for money savings, but also the unforgettable educational opportunities and valuable manure for your garden!
9. Mail Order
Some items are more easily obtained through mail order, which greatly depends on where you live. Again, going in with friends, WAPF chapters or other co-op groups allows you to buy in bigger quantities and save money. Check the Shopping Guide published through Weston A. Price Foundation. This small but dense booklet offers valuable information regarding products available nationwide ranked according to their quality. Items often obtained through the mail include:
- Cod liver oil. Some of the highest quality products are only available through mail order. See “Recommended Brands” for specific WAPF-endorsed brands.
- Coconut products. High quality oils, freeze dried coconut and coconut creams are often not available at local health food grocers.
- Lard or other fats. Clean sources of lard are hard to come by. Duck or goose fat are other wonderful ingredients, but not typically easy to find locally.
- Anything else you need. This may include fermented beverages, olive oil, quality herbs, ground sprouted grains, sea salt, nitrate-free pork products, raw butter, properly prepared baked goods such as genuine sourdough bread, superfoods such as butter oil, vitamin C-rich berry powders and azomite powder, stainless steel water containers and toddler sippies.
10. Local Health Food Grocer
Get to know your local health food grocery. Integrity counts! Many establishments, no matter how big or small, will pay close attention to detail. For example, some choose to carry exclusively organic produce and even purchase from local growers. Others may decide not to carry foods containing questionable or unhealthful ingredients, such as high fructose corn syrup or artificial sweeteners. This is a powerful statement by a retail establishment. Ask questions and get to know their produce employees, policies, and stances on issues. Don’t forget to share your personal standards on foods as well. Who knows, some ears may perk and changes may be made for the better.
- Buy in bulk. Most health food establishments will give discounts on bulk and case purchases. Unless you use a lot of a product, you can save money by going in with friends on such items as tamari, raw honey, coconut oil, arrowroot, pastured meats and poultry or produce. Even if it is only 10 percent off, the savings add up quickly.
- Get to know your grocery buyer. Ask for what you want. Most often, a big store can order the items you are looking for, even if you don’t see them stocked on the shelves. If the grocery buyers know there is a demand for specific items, they may be able to stock them on the store shelves on a regular basis.
Getting your quality goods requires going beyond the nearest grocery store. Though it may take some energy and time, cultivating relationships with and supporting cattle ranchers, bee keepers, dairy farmers and other small farm operators passionate about their trade is what makes the world of food come alive.
Organic Doesn’t Necessarily Mean Fresh
Even organic foods found in health food stores tend to travel long distances, which means they are picked before their nutritional peak. Avoid the uptown markets and seek out your ideal producers at the far reaches of your own community to get a better deal–nutritionally and financially!
An Easy (And Less Stinky) Way To Render Lard
Lard is pig fat, whether it is rendered or not. The quality of lard depends heavily on three factors: how the pig was raised, what part of the pig the fat was taken from and how it was processed. While any fatty part of the pig will dish up lard, the highest quality lard, called leaf lard, is obtained from the flare fat deposited around the kidneys and inside the loin (between the lower ribs and the pelvis). It is considered the finest lard–even better than butter for pastries. The next best place to obtain lard is from the fat back found between the back skin and flesh. While lard is finding its way back into today’s market, the products on the grocery store shelves are frequently hydrogenated, bleached and deodorized. Farm-fresh lard from pastured pigs fed mostly milk by-products (skim milk and whey) and no soy or GMO grains is ideal.
A wet, low-temperature rendering process is preferred over a dry, high heat method. Cut the pork fat into small pieces (about 1-inch cubes or smaller) to ensure you get even heat distribution and better yield. Good kitchen shears or a meat grinder work well for the job, which is typically a little easier when the fat is partially frozen. Take off any muscle meat in the process. The small pieces ensure you get as much fat out as possible, but if you want cracklings, leave a few larger pieces. Pour about a quarter inch of water in a covered heavy metal pot (cast iron, enamel or stainless steel) to prevent the fat from browning in the beginning. Add the lard pieces and place pot in a 200 to 225 degree oven for four to six hours for smaller batches and up to twelve hours or more for larger amounts. Cook gently until the liquid fat comes out. The chunks of lard will eventually stop rendering. The smaller the chunks initially, the less will be left of them at the end.
Squeeze or mash the chunks to get all the fat out and then pour off liquid into a bowl. Return the cracklings to the oven and cook until they are crisp. Strain the fat through several layers of cheesecloth or a paper coffee filter and cone, and allow it to cool. The oil comes out a light clear gold color with hardly any residue and will whiten as it cools and solidifies. Fill jars with the liquid fat, seal and refrigerate, where it will keep for up to five or six months; for longer term store in the freezer. If desired, add vitamin E from wheat germ oil for added preservation to the liquid lard. Use the cracklings for flavoring egg dishes, biscuits, salads, cornbread and soups, or just eat them plain. Delicious!
Is A Garden Share Or CSA Relationship For You ?
Making the commitment to join a CSA garden share program has countless perks, yet it is not necessarily for everyone at every stage of life. Here are some points to make sure to consider:
- You typically don’t get to choose amounts or varieties; you get a portion of whatever is ripe that week.
- You may get an over-abundance of one vegetable, and not enough of another, which might send you to the store for more vegetables or leave you tossing more in the compost heap than you anticipated.
- Make sure you understand the terms and the harvest–which vegetables come in and when. Most farmers publish a harvest calendar to let you know when a given food is expected to ripen for market.
- What level of community involvement is expected?
- What kind of commute is required? Is there a small, driving co-op to join to lighten the load?
- Is there a regular newsletter describing unique vegetables, how to cook them, how to store them and a few recipes?
- Do they hold special classes for children?
- Are there discounts for those who are willing to volunteer?
Kids And Gardening Are A Great Mix
Kids who participate in school gardening projects have improved self-esteem, a heightened attitude toward school, better social skills and behavior and a renewed appreciation for the environment. We can all benefit from spending time thinking about the different pieces of the food-growing process: sunshine, rich soil, water, time, care, planting and harvesting. Moreover, when children witness this process in action, they are more motivated to consume the end product.3
A Season For Everything
Just as the seasons change, so does the time when our food choices are at their nutritional best. Many foods will store well in a root cellar, fermented or frozen, so stock up when you find a quality supplier. That way you can keep enjoying the bounty of the harvest months after its peak nutritional time has come and gone.1
SPRING: Asparagus, green onions, leeks, lettuce, maple syrup, mint, mushrooms, new potatoes, peas, radishes, rhubarb, spinach, strawberries, wild greens.
SUMMER: Basil, berries, cherries, cilantro, corn, cucumbers, eggplant, fennel, green beans, kohlrabi, melon, okra, peaches, peppers, plums, tomatoes, garlic, summer squash.
FALL: Apples, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, collards, cranberries, grapes, kale, pears, persimmons, pumpkin, swiss chard, tomatillos, winter squash.
Many ranchers, farmers and producers consider fall peak harvest time. The weather cools, grass has a final burst of growth with a storehouse of nutrients and the animals and foods have had the nourishing sun available for months. Therefore, the last harvest of the year is a great time to think about buying certain items that store well with little accommodation in bushels or bulk, such as apples, onions and potatoes. Also consider stocking up on cabbage and other fermenting ingredients for sauerkraut or kimchee, for example, and make your stash for the next few months. Summer and fall offer meats and dairy products with the richness that comes from fresh green grass. Butter fat is at its most nutrient-dense, so buy a few extra pounds of butter; it freezes well for up to nine months.2
WINTER: Apples, beets, cabbage, carrots, citrus, parsnips, potatoes, rutabagas, sweet potatoes, turnips.
ALL SEASONS: Dairy, dried beans, dried fruits, edible flowers, herbs, meats, onions, whole grains and wild harvested greens.
- Lind, Mary Beth and Hockman-Wert, Cathleen. Simply in Season. Herald Press. 2005
- Bailey, Janet. Keeping Food Fresh. Harper and Row. 1989. p. 141.
- Research Support for Kids’ Gardening. Tips and Techniques from the National Gardening Association. Found at http://www.kidsgardening.com/2005.kids.garden.news/research.pdf on October 23, 2006.
This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly magazine of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Fall 2007.