Like many city kids, some of my fondest childhood memories are set amongst the fruit trees of Eckert’s Farm, rows of apples in all shapes and sizes extended as far as the eye could see. I vividly remember reveling in the incomparable taste of those small stippled apples, and the wonder of picking food from a tree. Growing up, my visits to farms became less frequent, but the sense that there was something amiss at the supermarket grew stronger.
Missouri is in the heart of our country’s incredible agricultural bounty. Why were the shelves filled with tomatoes from Israel, asparagus from Argentina and pineapples from Costa Rica?
A whole movement has grown out of just this conundrum. Called ‘locavores,’ people across the country are searching out food grown within a few hundred miles of their home. The effects of eating this way are surprisingly far reaching. At its most simple, local food is more delicious! Farmers growing for local customers can concern themselves with providing the healthiest and most delicious produce rather than food with a shelf life long enough to make it through the journey from farm to packaging plant to truck to grocery shelf.
Eating local gives rise to another healthy practice: eating what is in season, which forces us to have a more varied diet with a variety of minerals and nutrients. In April, you can find fresh maple syrup from Illinois, heirloom apples, artisan goat milk cheeses, pastured lamb and bison, country chicken eggs, grass-fed Belted Galloway beef, pecans, raw honey, long grain rice from Stoddard County, whole wheat flour from Cape Girardeau County, radish shoots from Eureka and Amish fruit jams and jellies.
Sounds pretty tempting. But the benefits of eating local reach far beyond the plate. Less shipping, packaging and processing mean less fuel and carbon dioxide emitted, so shifting to more local food systems helps reduce global warming. A typical carrot travels 1,838 miles to reach the plate! Small farms, like the ones you’ll find selling at the farmers market, re-invest more money into local communities than large farms, like the ones that supply grocery stores, which tend to order from global suppliers for feed, seeds and farm supplies. Buying locally also builds community, creating personal connections between the people dedicating their lives to growing food and the rest of us.
The great news is, it has never been easier to eat locally in St. Louis. In the last few years, year-round farmers markets have sprung up, Missouri farms have begun weekly deliveries of eggs and milk, and grocery stores specializing in local food have opened, say local Slow Food leaders Shannon Connelly and Kimberly Henricks, who helped compile the list below. Chef Anthony Devoti of Five Bistro and Chef Chuck Friedhoff of Persimmon Woods Golf Club—both devoted locavores—listed half a dozen restaurants that design their daily menus around what is available from local farmers. And if that is not enough, new Web resources allow you to find everything from fruiting trees on public land (whose fruit is up for grabs!) to the services of a local forager. So grab your market basket and a friend, and go taste what’s local now!