Finding Local Food

Sometimes finding local food can be overwhelming. It helps if you know where your local farmer's market is, but what happens if you don't?

If you're looking for local food, but don't know where to start, the Eat Well Guide is a database of local sustainable food that has an advanced search tool that allows you to search by keyword, zipcode, city, product, production method, and more.

For example, you could search for lamb that has never been administered antibiotics in its lifetime, or organic produce within 10 miles of your home.

Happy searching!

Make a Difference in Your University!

 The Real Food Challenge is a tool available for university students to bring local and sustainable food to their schools.

The Real Food campaign is run by students nationwide asking schools to pledge to increase their commitment to "real" food on their campuses. The site offers all the resources and support you need to start a campaign at your school, including step by step information about how to initiate change.

Students campaigning with the help of the Real Food Challenge have already secured pledges of over $50 million worth of dining budgets from 19 universities since 2008.

What makes the Real Food Challenge especially powerful is that as individuals committed to sustainable eating, the impact we can make is still limited by the size of our budgets, but by banding together and asking a university to support that commitment, we effect much greater change.

Peak Oil and the Importance of Local Food

The documentary The Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil demonstrates how Cuba experienced "artificially imposed peak oil" after the fall of the Soviet Union in the 1990s when it lost most of its food and oil imports. Cuba responded by transitioning to an organic agricultural system of locally produced food, with a high degree of community support and interaction.

Our current system of travelling food is highly dependent on nonrenewable resources which we are depleting at an ever increasing rate. There are concerns about food security as we approach peak oil. In this context, the discussion about local food will likely eventually become one of necessity. Many have suggested that Cuba is an excellent model for avoiding food shortages.

Eating Local with Limited Resources

All across the US, and even internationally, there are campaigns promoting local food. The arguments in favor of eating local are numerous. Eating local is healthy, it puts money back into the community, is better for the environment and does not waste our quickly dwindling fuel resources. 

Sometimes, however, the problem is not educating people about the benefits of local food, but making it accessible to them. Food deserts are a major issue in the US, and for some people, finding healthy food options is nearly impossible, let alone local ones. Farmers markets and specialty grocery stores are a resource that may be too expensive, but not only that, they may only be found in more affluent neighborhoods. 

One response to the lack of healthy local food options in food deserts has been the guerrilla gardening movement. In the TED talk below, guerrilla gardener Ron Finley talks about how he has reclaimed abandoned spaces in his South Central LA community and turned them into urban gardens which are able to provide healthy food at a low cost. 

Farmer John

On the surface, Farmer John Peterson’s story doesn’t seem very remarkable: young man inherits family farm, the Farm Crisis of the 1980s brings financial hardship and near-ruin, and man struggles to overcome. We hear often about the challenges small-scale and family farms face, including expensive inputs (i.e. fertilizers), cost of machinery and fuel, excessive regulations, and unpredictable weather. We hear about the large number of defunct family farms. We hear about our government regulation and how often legislation seems to favor large agribusiness.

Perhaps then, Farmer John’s story really is remarkable. He inherited his family’s Illinois farm at 19 years old after his father’s death. During the 1970s, he enthusiastically embraced the era, attracting artists and hippies, at the cost of turning off his traditional neighbors. He became the object of rumors and death threats, accused of dealing drugs and sacrificing animals in worship to Satan.

The Farm Crisis of the 1980s nearly destroyed his farm. He had to sell off equipment and much of his land when the bank foreclosed on his loans. Farmer John managed to keep enough land to eventually start anew, and what arose from that, as a phoenix from the ashes, is Angelic Organics, a CSA farm that provides organic produce for over 1600 shareholders.

I embedded the documentary about his story, The Real Dirt on Farmer John, below. 

Too Busy for the Farmers Market? Try a CSA!

I have already written about my love for farmers markets, and I have been chatting quite enthusiastically with friends about upcoming Saturday excursions to our local market. What I have been hearing, however, is that many people just don’t have the time to go on Saturdays or during-the-workday-hours of the weekday markets. For many of my friends (and I am certain they are not alone), even those who value the farmers market, just cannot squeeze them into their schedule because of other obligations. Even I, at times throughout the season find myself so overbooked that getting to the farmers market is so unlikely that it elevates to guilty pleasure status. So what is the alternative for people with work, school, children’s sporting events, and anything else that may coincide with their market’s operating hours but still want farm-fresh produce and goods?

Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is an excellent option. But what is CSA? Early models of CSA date back to Japanese farms and biodynamic farms in Germany and Switzerland in the 1960s. Today, a farmer will typically offer a certain number of shares to the public for purchase each season. These shares provide the funds needed to operate the farm, and in return, members receive a weekly share of the season’s harvest.

What I feel makes CSA so awesome, aside from the great produce, is that it creates a direct relationship between farmers and consumers. Members have the benefit of knowing where their produce is coming from, and the farm’s growing practices. Farmers benefit from having cash flow early in the growing season, and it gives them the opportunity to produce quality food, sustainably. Of course, because we are talking about crops, there is some measure of risk involved, but that is part of the community experience of CSA; farmers and members are jointly invested in the success of the season's harvest.

Every CSA farm is a little bit different, so it can take some research to find the one that fits you and your household best. Some things you’ll want to research and compare:

-      The harvest share: How big are they and what are they made of? (Love Farm Organics LLC has a nice example of a farm’s page that explains possible shares. They also have a link to their newsletter which lists past shares.) 

-      Distribution days and locations: How will you get your bounty? Where will you pick it up and when?

-      Length of season: I have seen some memberships that buy you 18 weeks, some that buy you 28 weeks. Research this carefully.

-      Available options: Not all CSAs are created equal. Some allow vacation weeks. Some have other food items (dairy, meat, jam, honey, etc.) available. Some allow substitutions. Some give you discounts at their farmers market stalls or farm stores.

-      Cost: Full or half shares. Berry shares. Some CSA farms offer scholarships to cover a portion of the share cost. Are you on SNAP? There are many CSAs that work with SNAP.

Whether you decide to go the CSA route, try to squeeze the farmers market into your schedule, some combination of both, or neither, I wish you a happy and bountiful season!

References & Resources:

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The issue of food transportation in our world is a major one. Each year 200 billion metric tons of food are transported globally, 35% percent by land, 60% by sea, and 5% by air. This leads to significant vulnerability of the food in possible contamination. Especially when it comes to shipping items that need proper refrigeration and temperature control. 

The International Association for Food Protection is a non-profit association that provides members with information on scientific, technical and practical developments in food safety and sanitation. They wrote this in-depth manuscript “Food Transportation Safety: Characterizing Risks and Controls by Use of Expert Opinion” highlighting many of the current issues with shipping food internationally. An interesting read on a subject that may not be getting as much scrutiny and attention as it needs. They end the assessment by saying:

“This study serves only as a preliminary assessment of current food transportation and holding practices for food commodities. Both the lack of literature on the subject and the broad nature of the expert elicitation suggest a need for further study regarding food safety hazards involved in food transportation. In particular, the food transportation industry may benefit from a baseline quantitative assessment of both the frequency and severity of food safety hazards and the degree of implementation for various safe food transportation practices and preventive controls.” 


Michael Pollan is an author, journalist, activist and professor of journalism at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. He has written several books on the topic of our current, flawed ways of providing food to our nation. He goes into greater detail about the way that human societies have obtained food, the current industrial system, the big organic operation, the local self-sufficient farm, and the hunter-gatherer. 

“Pollan's discussion of the industrial food chain is in large part a critique of modern agribusiness. According to the book, agribusiness has lost touch with the natural cycles of farming, wherein livestock and crops intertwine in mutually beneficial circles. Pollan's critique of modern agribusiness focuses on what he describes as the overuse of corn for purposes ranging from fattening cattle to massive production of corn oil, high-fructose corn syrup, and other corn derivatives. He describes what he sees as the inefficiencies and other drawbacks of factory farming and gives his assessment of organic food production and what it's like to hunt and gather food.”

Pollan’s expertise on the subject provides an in depth look at the pitfalls of our current food systems. Here is an video where he speaks more on his cause:


If eating organic and providing support to a sustainable community is something you are looking for, then Organics To You is a great company to support. They are a locally (Portland, OR) owned and operated produce delivery company. They began in 2001 with the goal to provide the finest, farm fresh, local organic produce and groceries directly to your door. You can’t get more local than that unless you grow them yourself. 

Organics To You is just one of multiple CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) companies that has popped up around Portland and the rest of the nation. More info, including where to find your local CSA can be found at

Here is a link to their Yelp page. 


The Food Alliance is an alliance that provides the food and agriculture industry with sustainability standards, evaluation tools and certification programs. Their goal is to:

Protect, conserve and enhance soil, water, wildlife habitat and biodiversity
Conserve energy, reduce and recycle waste
Reduce use of pesticides and other toxic or hazardous materials
Maintain transparent and traceable supply chains
Support safe and fair working conditions
Guarantee food product integrity, with no genetically engineered or artificial ingredients
Ensure healthy, humane animal treatment
Ensure continual improvement of practices

Definitely worth checking out if sustainability and buying local is on your radar. They even have this nifty map showing the location of certified suppliers. Another step local businesses can take is to become Food Alliance certified, which will guarantee that all the food products they are sourcing fit the code. 

Comparing Prices: Local vs. Organic

Local and organic are not the same thing. Organic foods are those that are free of chemicals. Local means they are grown on a farm in the nearby area (but this doesn’t mean the huge corporate farm if you live near one of those). These are generally much smaller than corporate farms, but they supply high quality, healthy products. Local farms may or may not use chemicals in their practices. Unless you know the farmers you won’t really know their growth methods, but when you live so close to the farm you can create that relationship with the farmer so you know exactly what you are getting! With local food you are purchasing the freshest ingredients because they are coming from your own community. Local the products often contain less chemicals then the standard non-organic product because they do not need the additives used to preserve freshness while traveling. Organic foods on the other hand, even without these additives (unless local), still have to travel hundreds or even thousands of miles to get to you!

The best option is to buy local organic foods! Then you get the best of both worlds! But sometimes your wallet needs to make the decision between organic or local. Below are a list of a few price comparisons of the same items found at a farmers market and an all-natural grocery store (prices will vary depending on your location and time of year):

2 pints of local strawberries: $7.00
2 pints of organic strawberries: $6.98

1.5 lb (2 total) local red peppers: $3.75
1.5 lb (2 total) organic red peppers: $7.48

0.5 lb (1 total) local yellow pepper: $1.25
0.5 lb (1 total) organic yellow pepper: $2.99

2 heads of local lettuce: $4.00
2 heads of organic lettuce: $4.98

1 bunch of local radishes: $1.50
1 bunch of organic radishes: $2.49

1 bunch of local broccoli: $4.00
1 bunch of organic broccoli: $7.00

2.5 lb of local squash and zucchini: $3.75
2.5 lb of organic squash and zucchini: $7.49

Farmer’s market (local) total: $25.25
Grocery store (organic) total: $39.41

In many cases organic produce may be almost twice the price of local produce! However this does depend on where you shop, shopping at an all-natural grocery store like a Whole Foods or New Seasons will generally be a little more expensive than your more common grocery chain like Safeway or Albertsons. But there is still an undeniable difference in the price of some local items versus organic. In general local ingredients at your local farmer’s market will be less expensive than buying organic products from the store. If you didn’t think it was worth it to head over to your local farmer’s market, it definitely is! You can buy the freshest ingredients that support your community while saving money!

Comparisons were made by Kaynan Goldberg, you can check out her blog here:

Portland Couple Exemplary Success at Sustainable Living

It is certainly a Portland mindset to think of a successful mode of living to live Green and often modestly. Right here in our own city we are starting to encourage green living by offering more modes of green and sustainable living. One such example is this couple of the Portland area who took this idea and made a home based on the idea of simple and sustainable living. Right here in our own backyard. 
They wanted to live in the most simple mode possible, also as in sync with nature and sustainably as possible.  Some of the ways that they did this was to construct  a space which was just big enough for living, specifically a 704 sq ft home. Without the superfluous need for extra closets or bathrooms they decided to have something that served its purpose at its simplest form would be a way to encourage green living and energy saving. Some of the things that the house has is a green roof,  a storm water barrel with permeable pavers, and a rain garden. They received a grant for 9,000 that the city awarded them for the green roof which helped offset the cost of construction. The other amenities which come to be apart of the luxury of having a smaller space which uses less resources and save them money with tax breaks but also with the reduced use of resources that are costly as well as a depletion on the environment.
They are most excited about the money they will save by this mode of sustainable living. While the two of them have higher education ambitions, they are looking forward to using the money for their future development. 
They are proud of their energy saving performance and the idea of simplistic green living which is right here in our backyard. The couple also notes that they love when people in the neighborhood stop by to admire and understand the place, if you find yourself in the neighborhood stop and say hello!

Read more here

Food, Inc.

Food, Inc. is a great documentary about the food industry in this country. It highlights the wrongs, injustices, and shocking facts about the way it's run and what it does to our bodies and our environment. The major food industry is full of opportunities for health risks. Watching this film was extremely eye opening for me and as hard as it was to watch I'm very glad that I made myself sit through the whole thing. Watching the way that the animals are treated was devastating while at the same time seeing the way they handle the food through assembly lines and through the whole production process did nothing but make me sick. It really made me realize all of the benefits of buying from farmers markets and from local farms that i know don't deal with major corporations and farm the good old fashioned way. I recommend that anyone who hasn't seen this documentary check it out! Food, Inc. directed by Robert Kenners.

Advocating Against The Source

            Food Inc. (2008) is a documentary film on the farm and food producing methods of the 21st century. I had first seen this film my freshman year of college in 2010, but had not taken the time to consider the thoughts presented in the film until taking this course. The documentary displays many stories of real people who have had encounters, bad and good experiences, as well as interviews with actual farmers. The stories in the documentary include force feeding animals to mass produce product, poor care and malnutrition of farm animals, and a tragic food poisoning incident with a young toddler boy and what his family has done to fight the system. This film as directed my attention towards these topics and has motivated me to investigate them further in hopes of coming to a self-realization of caring more about what I put into my own body and what I am helping promote by purchasing certain foods and products. A synopsis of the documentary film can be found at

            The care and poor nutrition farm animals endeavor is a matter that I decided to look into further as the other stories from the documentary typically occurred from the way that the animals were fed and treated. An advocacy group has created a webpage titled to educate and inform the public on the serious topic of malnutrition for farm animals. Corporately ran farms force feed animals to mass produce the products they supply for fast food restaurants that in turn is fed to our families and friends and leaves a horrible imprint on our own health.