Produce is usually the easiest thing to find locally. If you live in a more rural area, you may already know about roadside produce stands or local farms. In more urban areas, you can often access local produce and more through a farmer’s market. Picking your own fruits and vegetables can be a fun afternoon and save you a few bucks in the process. And in many areas, you can participate in farm shares, also called community-supported agriculture (CSA). In this model, you pay for a season up front, and then receive a box of produce every week. You may go to the farm to pick it up, or you may be able to get it at a drop-off location. You’ll get a variety of produce that’s fresh and in season, and the farmer will get a measure of income security. If you’re afraid this would be too much, consider finding a friend to split a share with you. Local Harvest is a great resource for locating farmer’s markets, CSAs, and farms near you. (Best part: it will find not only CSA farms near you, but also far-away farms that have drop-off points in your neighborhood!)
You may also be able to find some other products that are made near where you live: meat, milk, eggs, and honey are all becoming more common. If you can locate a farmer’s market near you, see if you can visit or check out their vendor list, which will give you good ideas of where to find these things. The Eat Local Challenge asks people to try to eat only local food for one month a year; if you can locate a participant in your area, their blog is likely to be a goldmine of resources.
Because most of the local food you’ll find is fresh and unprocessed, you may need to brush up on your kitchen skills to make the most of it. When a vegetable I don’t usually cook appears in my CSA box, I usually go first to a standard reference cookbook (I like Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything). I also use online resources — which come handily equipped with a search function for when I really need to know what to do with four bunches of kale — a great deal. I like food blogs because their authors tend to have distinctive food styles: once I find one that I really like, I often want to make most of the recipes they offer. Two of my favorite blogs are 101 Cookbooks (featuring simple and tasty vegetarian recipes heavy on the produce and whole grains) and Smitten Kitchen (which mixes up delicious seasonal dishes with mouthwatering baked goods). Finally, my fallback when-all-else-fails recipe site is Epicurious, which sports an amazing array of recipes as well as user reviews to help you know which ones are worth trying.
A last word: don’t let things like the Eat Local Challenge scare you. You don’t have to do it all! If the ritual that helps you feel connected ot the land and seasons where you live is to pick strawberries every summer, start there. If you want to grow basil in your kitchen window, do it. Conversely, if the idea of getting ten random vegetables a week gives you shivers, don’t buy a CSA: go to the market and pick things you know you or your family will enjoy. Build your connections one bite at a time.