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Going Local

Updated: Sep 19, 2022

Robin Ryland of Homestead Gardens

What does it mean to "act locally?" We often think about the health benefits of buying locally-sourced food, but it isn't only that. Going local can mean just walking around one's community and getting to know the neighbors, it can mean shopping at Mom and Pop stores, or getting involved in a community garden. It can be volunteering with local charities or even participating in local politics.

I'm trying to get better about acting locally, and I definitely need to bring more intentionality to the effort. For example, when I order an item from Amazon instead of getting it at the local hardware store, (which I pass on a regular basis) that's not local. Or when I buy bananas or avocados from the grocery, rather than finding a suitable substitute from our region, that's not local.

I have decided to focus on food as a first step because the benefits ripple beyond me to the farmers and sellers. At first I would stop occasionally to buy produce from vendors on the street, or traipse over to our pseudo-farmers market in our small urban village. But at some point, I realized I can do better than purchasing out-of-season produce grown on the other side of the world, even if it was coming from small shops. I have nothing against these businesses. After all, avocados and bananas are way better than chips, and these sellers are often bringing fresh produce into areas that might otherwise be a food desert.

The stumbling block for me has been convenience. It's almost impossible in our modern society to avoid the pressure to get things done more quickly. But this pressure rarely leads to healthy choices. Breaking the convenience habit isn't easy, but with some effort and planning it can be done. I chatted recently with a friend who has cultivated a community garden plot in the Northern Liberties neighborhood of Philadelphia.

"I wanted to work with the earth and make something grow with my hands," he explained. Getting the garden going required planning. Even before he was granted a space, he volunteered to demonstrate his interest to the organizers. Then, as a first-time gardener, he invested energy into researching varieties of vegetables to decide what would be suitable and set up his planting schedule. Although it was time consuming at first, eventually he settled into a routine of waking up early for the watering and weeding chores. And the effort has yielded more than just a few tomatoes. In addition to eating more healthfully and saving some money, he has connected with his fellow gardeners and strengthened his ties to the community.

I have great admiration for my friend's efforts, but in my suburban neighborhood, people tend to grow gardens in their own backyards. I've given all of our available space over to trees, so there's not enough sunlight to support more than a few herbs on the patio. But that doesn't mean I have no options beyond the big-box stores.

I have recently discovered that I pass a farmer's market every Saturday morning on my way to a volunteer gig. The sellers at the Overbrook Farmer's Market in West Philadelphia grow their produce in Lancaster County outside of the city, and they carry those fresh tomatoes I've been looking for. If you live nearby, they're open from 9am to 1pm every Saturday morning right up until the weekend before Thanksgiving.

I always imagined a good farmer's market would involve an expedition beyond my usual route. But by opening my eyes and doing a bit of research, I found those tomatoes and other in-season produce are widely available at farmers’ markets around the city. The sellers at Overbrook also offer jams and irresistible baked goods, so check out the link above. And if you live outside of Philadelphia, I bet there are markets near you that may also have been hiding in plain sight—which is pretty convenient after all.

So, what local actions have you tried? Please share!

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