5 New Ways to Avoid the Supermarket

Blossoming local food movements mean it’s easier than ever to avoid questionable ingredients in typical supermarket foods.

March 16, 2012

The local food movement is on fire, and farmers and innovative small businesses are making it easier than ever to feed your family without even setting foot in a box store or supermarket. (By staying out of places crammed with packaged foods, you'll be more likely to avoid toxic food additives.)

Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture's Farming for the Future conference in State College, Pennsylvania, last week was a testament to the snowballing demand for organic. More than 2,000 farmers and foodies forged connections and sought advice on bringing healthy, sustainable food options directly to consumers, often with no middleman required.

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Here are 5 unique ways to source local food without crossing the threshold of a supermarket.

Pay-as-You-Go Shares
You've probably heard of community-supported agriculture (CSA) shares, which a customer purchases to share in a farm's harvest before the growing season begins, and then receives fresh produce throughout the farmer's growing season. While this traditional CSA model remains popular throughout the country, it's not a good fit for everyone, particularly farm-food seekers who don't have a lot of extra cash available to pay up front costs, which can start in the hundreds of dollars.

The Rodale Institute, an organic research farm in Pennsylvania, is experimenting with a new, pay-as-you-go program called Agriculture-Supported Communities. People commit to purchasing a season's worth of produce, but pay in small weekly amounts, not one large lump sum.

CSAs aren't limited to produce anymore, either. More recently, offerings can include meat, eggs, honey, cheese, and even wine shares.

"People crave a regular reminder that they're supporting a farmer," Worldwatch Institute fellow Brian Halweil, editor of a local food magazine on Long Island, New York, called Edible East End, said at the PASA conference.

Backyard Shopping
Gourmet greens in the supermarket can be costly, but you can likely find more nutritious (and free!) salad mixes in weed patches in your own backyard, according to backyard herbalists Faye Burch and Grace Lefever. For instance, lamb's-quarter is a versatile weed that can be eaten fresh or dried and ground. Cut young leaves through the summer until it flowers for a nutrition-packed (more so than spinach) and cost-free dinner green. This time of year, scout out winter cress and chickweed for wintertime greens. For some digital assistance in gathering edible weeds, check out the Wild Edibles Apps for smart phones.

Shellfish Gardens
Shellfish have long been vital to the health of coastal economies and the health of their people. High in mood-boosting nutrients, oysters also work like water cleaners, filtering contaminants from water bodies. Depending on where you live, you could try your hand at raising your own oysters. In New York, Cornell University's Southhold Project in Aquaculture Training, or SPAT, trains amateurs in raising oysters along their own waterfront properties or in SPAT community "gardens." Oyster gardeners are allowed to keep half of what they raise and return the rest to repopulate oyster beds.

Internet Innovations
It's pretty easy to stay out of the supermarket during the growing season, but the winter months pose obvious challenges. Enter Farmigo.com, a new online ordering service that connects farmers and meat producers with customers and host sites. Customers can buy food on the site, which is then delivered to a nearby pickup location, a process that's similar to the way a Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA) membership delivery works.

Eggzy.net is another great local-food start-up. If you have a backyard chicken flock, register with the site and you can sell your eggs to people in your community on Eggzy's "virtual egg stand." As the site notes, "Don't eat eggs from strangers," which is usually what you're doing when you buy them at the supermarket.

LocalHarvest.org is a more seasoned website that has been connecting farmers and local-food lovers for several years now.

DIY Indoor/Outdoor 'Shrooms
Cultivate your own mushrooms at home and you'll never give the store-bought version the time of day again. You can cultivate your own outside fairly easily using the log method, or even grow them indoors using a handy kit from Back to the Roots.