Nowadays, it's all about sticking close to home. It's also become increasingly important to know the nutrition facts—that is, where the food came from and how it got to your table.
Eating the earth's plenty is designed to be as natural as things come. Although not every place may be best suited for turning to your backyard for dinner, the Pacific Northwest is primed and ready, especially during late summertime.
An easy way to start the process is by turning to the kitchen. Take stock and decide which items can be purchased at a farmers market—those items that are found in the ground before the grocery store. No massive overhaul is needed. Instead, try swapping a few items each week. For example, decide to only buy apples at the neighborhood market, and farm-fresh eggs straight from the supplier.
Farmers markets are speckled throughout the Eastside and in nearly every Seattle neighborhood. The markets provide the rare opportunity to speak with the person who grew the tomato you're about to use in your summer salad. The merchants are always eager and available for questions about their farming processes.
"You can inquire about what you're buying and what you might be seeing that isn't typical of what a box store may sell," said Alicia Manning Billow, Charlie's Produce's Program Sales Account Executive. "The process of walking through a farmers market can be more of an experience than just grocery shopping."
An even easier way to get homegrown produce is through Community Supported Agriculture (CSA). This food-subscription program brings the goods directly to your doorstep. Most of the produce is 100 percent organic and delivered at the peak of freshness.
Much like a market, consumers purchase directly from the farmer. They simply "subscribe" to the program, and each week (or depending on the program's schedule) during the farming season a box of vegetables is delivered. It's a great way to discover new veggies, practice different recipes and enjoy all of the vitamins and none of the chemicals. Subscribers typically have the option of visiting the farm and learning how the food is grown, as well.
These market food fests keep small farms in business by cutting out the middleperson. Between farmers markets and programs such as CSA, the business stays within the community, benefiting both the supplier and the consumer. "You are helping support your neighbor," Alicia said.
With Washington's quickly changing seasons, some more forgiving than others, farmers rely heavily on the market season during the summer. "Farmers in the Pacific Northwest have a very small window to make their living for the year. Depending on what they grow, they make their money on average in a four-month period of time—some more, some less. Our local purchases keep farming alive in Washington," Alicia said.
Besides putting money directly back into the state, buying locally is much more green—a big, leafy, nutritional green. It's one way to reduce your carbon footprint because the food you buy in Washington isn't traveling as far as other options. "You're not purchasing product being hauled by semis or trains from other growing regions," Alicia said. "Box stores are feeding the masses and must pull from all parts of the country to feed those people. They must have everything available to the consumer, be cost effective and competitive in the process. Many box stores do offer a local selection but usually supplement it with product secured from other locations."
Washington offers some of the best produce throughout the nation, and there are dozens of programs throughout the state that recognize the value of our bounty.
The Bellevue Club restaurants and catering department order produce through locally owned Charlie's Produce, which is the largest independently owned produce company in the Pacific Northwest. Charlie's supports local farmers, and has been doing so for more than 30 years.
It's one of the reasons why the Club's restaurant menus change seasonally; produce is purchased fresh, in-season and locally.
For the Carnivores
If you like a little meat with a side of veggies, there are plenty of sustainable options for the meat lover as well. Farmers markets often have meat, poultry and seafood, the most famous of which is Pike's Place Market.
Some of the market's vendors, such as Don and Joe's Meats, order from local farms. In Washington, there's Washington Beef, Choice American Lamb and Draper Valley Farms, among many others. Draper Valley prides itself on its sustainable farming and free-range birds with no antibiotics, hormones or preservatives.
Eat Wild Washington is a great source to find farms that meet your personal criteria. It lists the farms that have been certified for producing grass-fed meat, eggs and dairy products.
With only a few months left of the farmers-market circuit, it's time to step outside and gobble up the greens while they last, and stock up on fruits and preserve them into your favorite jams to get through the cold winter—fruit vendors can offer up the proper techniques.
Turning locavore doesn't have to be as Jurassic as it sounds. Start small. Those small steps will eventually balloon out to T. Rex proportions.
Thursdays, 3-7 p.m.
Through Oct. 11
First Presbyterian Church of Bellevue
1717 Bellevue Way NE
Saturdays, 10 a.m.-3 p.m.
Through Nov. 17
First Congregational Church
752 108th Ave. NE
Tuesdays, noon-6:30 p.m.
Through Oct. 4
Southeast parking lot, in front of Stone Gardens
Saturdays, 9 a.m.-2 p.m.
Through Oct. 13
Historic Pickering Farm
Wednesdays, 2-7 p.m.
Through Oct. 17
Park Lane, from Lake Street to Main Street, downtown
Sundays, 10 a.m.-3 p.m.
Through Oct. 31
Southeast 32nd Street at Mercerdale Park
Saturdays, 9 a.m.-3 p.m.
Through Oct. 27
7730 Leary Way
Wednesdays, 3-7 p.m.
Through Oct. 3
801 228th Ave. SE
For a full list, visit seattlefarmersmarkets.org.
Put the Fruit to Use
You've purchased your fresh fruit from your local farmers market: now comes the fun part—eating. Blackberries are in-season and make for a delicious cobbler. Here's a recipe to try at home.
2½ cups fresh blackberries
1 cup sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup milk
½ cup butter, melted
Whipped cream or ice cream, if desired
1. In medium bowl, stir together blackberries and sugar. Let stand about 20 minutes or until fruit syrup forms. Heat oven to 375°F.
2. In large bowl, stir together flour, baking powder, salt and milk. Stir in melted butter until blended. Spread in ungreased eight-inch square pan. Spoon blackberry mixture over batter.
3. Bake 45 to 55 minutes or until dough rises and is golden. Serve warm with whipped cream.
Other in-season fruits that make for great dessert recipes:
Apricots, blueberries, boysenberries, cherries, figs, kiwis, limes, mangoes, peaches, plums, raspberries and strawberries.