Alternatives to shopping at the farmers market

Shopping at farmers markets and grocery stores like Lucky’s that sell local goods is not the only way to bring fresh, local food into your home. Gainesville offers the locavore community two other alternatives. The other major ways to supply a locavore’s diet in Gainesville are community gardens and a program called Community Sponsored Agriculture, also called CSA.

Community gardens are large spaces of land set aside for members of a community to use to grow their own vegetables. It is often difficult to find a space in an urban or suburban area that is large enough to grow a personal garden. Community gardens help people by giving them a plot of land so that those who want to grow their own food can do so even though they might not have the available space at their own home. These public, outdoor spaces help promote healthy living and make places to grow fresh, local food accessible. If the desire to grow your own food is there, the gardens are here to help make it a reality.

Gainesville offers many community gardens. The City of Gainesville’s Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs Department has created five gardens throughout the city. The Grove Street Neighborhood Community Garden, the Green Acres Park Community Garden, McRorie Community Garden, the NE 31st Ave. Community Garden and the SW 40th Place and SW 30th Terrace Community Garden are all places to look into when searching for a nearby community garden.

Community Sponsored Agriculture is another way to get local food. CSAs help city residents get direct, reliable access to locally grown food by developing a mutually beneficial relationship between farmer and consumer. Becoming a member of a CSA involves purchasing a share of a local farmer’s harvest. Consumers pay an upfront fee for the entire growing season, and in return the farmer will deliver the share of food to a convenient pickup location on a regular basis. Every CSA is run slightly differently, but many offer deals that include goods from other local farms and offer a few order sizes.

CSAs create a relationship between local consumers and local farmers. They help people establish a connection to their community through food and offer a dependable source of fresh food. It is common to see CSAs advertising at farmers markets, but a list of many of the ones near Gainesville can be found online.

When debating whether or not to sign up for a CSA, remember that they revolve around the growing season and all shares are sold before the harvest begins. This allows the farmer to properly plan out how large each share is. Joining a CSA is a commitment to a local farmer and to the community.

Locavores have many options when it comes to obtaining food, and researching the lesser-known available local food sources is important when planning out food purchases.

The cons of a locavore lifestyle

There are always two sides to every story, and the locavore movement is no different. I mentioned the benefits of this lifestyle in my previous post and thought it was only fair that I talk about some of the negative aspects as well.

While being a locavore teaches you about what produce is in season when, it does limit the types of food you have available. If you want strawberries but they are not currently in season then you will be out of luck.

A similar downside is that you will only have access to foods that can be grown in your climate and region. For example, oranges are a staple here in Florida but many other states do not grow them. If you live in a state that does not grow the food you want then you would have to break your locavore rules to get some.

Another thing to remember when eating locally grown food is that just because it was grown a few miles away does not always mean it is pesticide and chemical free. Make sure to ask whoever is selling the produce instead of assuming.

In Gainesville, we are lucky to have so many farms around us. Many places are not as blessed. Dry desert states with arid climates do not have the necessary soil to foster a variety of produce, and landlocked states do not have access to fresh seafood. The locavore lifestyle can be restrictive and its success as a movement is very dependent on location.

In theory, this is a wonderful way to eat and can help a community in many ways but it is important to remember that it will not work everywhere or for everyone. Having a continuous availability of such a wide variety of food choices has become the societal norm and reverting back to a somewhat limited diet can be a huge drawback for people.

With knowledge on both the pros and cons, deciding what level of locavore you want to be will be easier. Some people might find it works to eat completely local and others might only want to get half their food from local sources. Everyone has different food beliefs and needs and the important takeaway is that finding a middle ground that works for you will be the most beneficial.


The benefits of a locavore lifestyle

After exploring what it means to be a locavore, talking to local farmers and businesses and visiting my local farmers markets, I have heard about countless benefits of eating locally sourced food. The following is a list of the most common answers I got when asking about the best reasons to go local.

  1. Food that is grown locally is less likely to have pesticides. The food did not have to travel very far to get from the farm to the consumer, so there is no need for chemicals to keep the fruits and vegetables fresh for an extended period of time. Yes, the preservatives used in many foods are safe, but it is never a bad idea to avoid eating unnecessary chemicals.
  2. Buying locally also reduces the amount of gas and therefore diminishes the amount of pollution that food transportation usually contributes to our environment. Cleaner air and fresher food is a win-win situation.
  3. Buying food from farmers markets and local farms teaches you about growing seasons, so you know when certain foods are in season and when they are not. When buying from markets, the only foods available are those that are in season. Paying attention to the differences in produce availabilities between a grocery store and a farmer’s market will help clarify which produce is probably grown very far away or is filled with preservatives.
  4. Locavore lifestyles brings communities closer together. People gather in the same places to get their food and after a while get to know each other on a more personal level. Your bread baker becomes more than just your provider, he or she becomes someone you can call your friend. Community Supported Agriculture programs are a perfect example of the direct relationship you can develop with your food and your supplier when eating locally grown food.
  5. The money spent on local food stays in the community instead of leaving for a large corporation in a different county or state. It is recirculated and helps grow the family businesses instead of the large corporations.
  6. Local food sources tend to be cheaper than large grocery stores. Bulk purchases are common, and the more you buy the lower the price per individual item.

Other benefits include a fresher taste and a better feeling knowing that the food you are consuming was made with love. Those reasons are more abstract, but it was clear to me that those that consider themselves locavores have a deeper, more emotional relationship with their food. Food and the preparation of it becomes a meaningful experience that binds people together. It was a stark difference from the response you get when you ask someone about their feelings on the frozen meal they had for dinner or the ground beef they picked up at the store. A locavore lifestyle may not be for everyone, but being informed of the benefits can help people figure out if it is something worth trying.

My farmers market meal

How often do you cook an entire meal and know exactly where every single ingredient comes from? In my experience the answer is almost never. After buying so much local food at the farmers market I could not wait to get home and cook a completely local meal.

As I mentioned in my previous post, when I went to the farmers market I bought strawberries, kale, Japanese sweet potatoes, moringa tahini sauce and chicken. I had never tasted tahini before, and adding moringa into the mix made the sauce even more of a mystery. I tasted the sauce as soon as I got home to see what I would be working with. It was love at first bite.

The meal I ended up creating was pretty basic, but sometimes simple is best.

The lady who sold me the potatoes had said they were perfect for roasting, so I decided to take her advice. I decided I wanted to roast them in small pieces instead of as the whole potato. I turned my oven to 425 degrees and cut up the Japanese sweet potatoes into small coins. I was expecting them to be orange like every other sweet potato I have ever seen, but to my surprise they were off-white. I tossed them in a little bit of olive oil and spread them out on a baking sheet.

While the potatoes were roasting, I washed the kale and then sautéed it on the stove. I chopped the chicken into small squares, and by the time it was done cooking the potatoes were ready.


After roasting them for about 40 minutes, the potatoes came out slightly crispy with a soft inside.

I put the kale, chicken and potatoes into a big bowl and mixed in a big spoonful of the moringa tahini sauce as the uniting flavor. The result was a fresh, nutty and delicious flavor made even better because I knew it had all come from local farms and gardens. With some strawberries on the side to satisfy my sweet tooth, this meal hit the spot.


The finished product!

Shopping at a farmers market is an enjoyable experience in itself, and being able to bring your purchases back home and create something with them is a rewarding and fulfilling result. My experience exposed me to flavors and ingredients I would never have tried otherwise, and I will definitely be going back for more of that amazing sauce.

My Union Steet Farmers Market experience

This Wednesday, the weather was perfect so I decided to make the short walk down to the farmers market near my apartment and check it out. In the effort of living a greener lifestyle as well as a local one, I grabbed my reusable grocery bag to carry all of my goodies in.

The Union Street Farmers Market is held in downtown Gainesville from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. every Wednesday. There are about 50 different vendors selling anything and everything. From herbs and olive oils to freshly made pizza, this market seems to have it all.

I decided to see what all of my options were before making any purchases, so I first took a lap to just look. In addition to the cornucopia of fresh fruits and vegetables I expected to see, vendors were also selling ice-cream, freshly baked bread, Greek desserts, freshly caught smoked fish, jewelry, soups, juices, pretzels, soaps, goat cheese and Indian food. There was even a stage set up with a man playing his guitar. There are free samples everywhere, and I got to try homemade breads, pizza, oranges, goat cheese spreads and even goat’s milk fudge. Everything was either fresh, local, handmade or a combination of all three. 


The goat’s milk fudge was creamy, rich and delicious.


Free samples of each of the different types of fresh bread are laid out with labels for customers to taste.

My first purchase was a container of tahini moringa sauce from a woman named Sita. I had no idea what tahini or moringa was, so I asked for clarification. She enthusiastically explained to me that tahini is a paste made from ground sesame seeds, and moringa is an edible leaf with superfood qualities.

“I grow a lot of moringa to sell here so people are always asking me what it is. I made this little information sheet on it if you want to take a look,” Sita said.

Feeling good about my first local purchase, I made my way back to the man I had seen selling red, ripe strawberries and bought two pints of strawberries. They were picked that afternoon from a farm only 30 miles away in Starke. He offered me a sample and I have never tasted a sweeter strawberry. That strawberry alone was enough to convince me that local food is the way to go.

I finished my second loop through the market and bought Japanese sweet potatoes, which I learned are starchier and less sweet than regular sweet potatoes, kale and chicken breast that came from a farm only 30 miles away.


My final purchases were kale, Japanese sweet potatoes, strawberries, tahini moringa sauce and chicken breasts. The grand total was $25.

Shopping at a farmers market gives you a completely different, entirely more pleasant shopping experience than when you go to a normal grocery store. It is not only an exchange of goods and money but also a free exchange of information and knowledge. Everyone I spoke to was eager to teach me about his or her product. I learned about pea sprouts and what to pair them with, the moringa herb and all of its superfood benefits and the process of turning goat’s milk into cheese and dips. I left with not only a bag full of fresh food but also a mind full of new facts. Maybe it’s just me, but farmers markets leave you feeling more in touch with your community. 

For those of you who are interested in going to the Union Street Farmers Market, it will be moving back to its original location at 111 E. University Ave. starting March 2.

Gainesville restaurants that support local food suppliers

After doing some research, I found a list of local Gainesville restaurants that are known to support local food. Maintaining a locavore lifestyle can get tricky when dining out because it is hard to know exactly where your food comes from. It is common for restaurants to use food that was grown or processed hundreds of miles away, but finding restaurants like the following helps locavores get a break from cooking.

The Jones, Mildred’s Big City Food, New Deal Cafe, Sweetwater Organic Coffee and Civilization are all supporters of local food and make an effort to buy local as much as possible.

My roommate and I decided to check out The Jones this weekend to see how they support the locavore lifestyle. On their website they mention their dedication to supporting the local community by purchasing from local family farms and promoting a farm-to-table philosophy of eating. Their clear vocalization of their commitment to the community flows seamlessly with the whole idea of being a locavore. Their menu restates their commitment to local farmers and acts as a subtle reminder that their restaurant focuses on feeding their customers fresh food.

“The biggest benefit is definitely the quality of the food,” said Michael Wolford, the kitchen manager. “You don’t have to worry about who has touched the food or how long it has been frozen. You can actually go and look at the chicken you’re going to be eating.”

The Jones has been a locally sourced restaurant since its beginning, and it has developed long-term relationships with local farms. Cowlick Farms supplies chickens, the beef comes from Full Circle Farm, and produce is purchased from many different places including Siembra Farms.

“We want to give back to the community. We keep it local to support the Mom and Pop shops and just help everybody out when we can,” Wolford said.

The Jones is at 203 SW Second Ave. and is open every day.

Finding places that support the locavore lifestyle like The Jones does shows how feasible it is to eat locally, especially in a city like Gainesville. Make a conscious effort to look around your neighborhood for food sources, and you will be rewarded with food that nourishes your body and your community.


Kimberly Menezes, a sophomore at UF, smiles as she walks into The Jones for lunch. “I know this is super cliché, but the food here just tastes so fresh,” Menezes said. “I wake up craving their zucchini fries sometimes.”



What it means to be a locavore

Locavore (lo·ca·vore): A person whose diet consists only or principally of locally grown or produced food.

The word was coined by Jessica Prentice, a woman who fell in love with eating local foods and became part of a team supporting this kind of lifestyle in San Francisco. When she and a few others began promoting this way of eating, they realized the lifestyle needed a name. The word locavore was born. Most people who consider themselves locavores define local as anything grown or made within 100 miles of their homes, but this is a loose number that varies depending on different communities. Locavores shop at farmers markets or at supermarkets that sell locally grown food. They believe that buying their food locally helps reduce pollution from transportation, helps support smaller local businesses within their communities, and provides them with health benefits such as fresher food grown with fewer chemicals and pesticides.

So now that we know the basics of what it means to be a locavore, the next question is how does this apply to Gainesville?

If being a locavore sounds like something that is worth a shot, this city is here to help. Gainesville makes it easy to be a locavore. Whether you prefer to dine out, shop at the store or grow your own food, this city has what you need. Many of the restaurants buy and use local food in their kitchens. There are regular farmers markets in and around Gainesville every Monday, Wednesday and Saturday. There are grocers that sell local produce and products. You can join a Community Supported Agriculture program (CSAs), which partners consumers with farmers to help them pay for operating costs in return for a share of the harvest. For those who are feeling ambitious, there are even community gardens that rent out land plots.

Transitioning to a locally sourced lifestyle will take time, thought and awareness, but locavores swear by it and I am looking forward to seeing for myself what all the excitement is about.