How to Build a Local Food Community

Use these tips to seek out like-minded individuals, organizations and food producers to build your own local food community.


| March/April 2014



Helping in the Garden

Community gardens present unique opportunities to connect, in addition to getting some sunny gardening space.


Photo by Hero Images

When it comes to food satisfaction, few things compare to eating lettuce from the yard, eggs from your neighbor’s chickens and butter from cows raised on a farm you’ve visited yourself. Besides locating better-tasting, more nutritious and fresher food, buying locally puts you in the center of a web of food producers, transparently connecting economy and nutrition. But for those of us who don’t live on or next door to a farm, finding local food sources can seem difficult. Where do we start? How do we find others who want the same thing? All it requires is a little research, relationship-building and action.

Dig in

The first step in building a food community is meeting the right people. Search for local farms via websites such as localharvest.org and eatwild.com. Find farmers market listings at the United States Department of Agriculture or visit “Our Markets” at LocallyGrown.net to find online farmers markets. When visiting area stores and restaurants, look for signage that indicates local products are sold there. Once you track these down, start talking to people about where and how they source their food. “Like” farms and other producers on Facebook, or visit their websites to see if you can sign up for emails or other communication.

You might also make good connections by tapping into the foodie culture in your area. Check bulletin boards at the library, natural food stores and grocery co-ops for cooking classes and speakers. Try culinary academies, area colleges and libraries. Check event listings on the websites of local publications and the chamber of commerce. When you meet people who seem connected with area food culture, ask them how they stay in touch—many groups have listservs, enewsletters, websites or Facebook pages dedicated to communicating with one another.

Straight to the Source

Food sourcing doesn’t get more direct than buying from the farm. Find farms at LocalHarvest, then call to see if they sell direct to consumers. Buying directly often results in lower prices, especially if you pick it yourself. For example, Clark’s Pecan Grove in Mayflower, Arkansas, lets you take home half of what you pick for free. Berries are 20 percent off if you pick them yourself at Blue Heaven Blueberry Farm in Springdale, Arkansas.

Or buy an entire share of one year’s harvest from a farm by joining a community-supported agriculture (CSA) program. Most CSAs provide ample opportunity to connect with other members. When I was the farm manager for a small CSA in rural Arkansas, it was incredible to see the relationships forged over fresh produce. At weekly pickups, strangers realized they were neighbors and members shared recipes, traded gardening tips and made plans to attend food-related events together. Find a CSA program near you through the USDA’s National Agricultural Library.

Work it at Work

Your workplace might be a surprisingly fruitful place to build and grow a food community. For the person playing the role of workplace organizer and outreach coordinator, “fostering the relationships” is the foundation, says K.C. Compton, Senior Editor at Mother Earth News. Over the last few years, she has helped Ogden Publications, publisher of this magazine and home to about 130 employees, increase access to good food—right at the office. She helped the development of an on-site food garden by putting the word out, developing a step-by-step plan, identifying what resources would be required, then scheduling a meeting with the boss to ask permission. Now a volunteer garden crew dons rubber boots and clogs during breaks to weed, water and harvest fresh produce throughout the growing season. “Having a garden on-site provides new exposure for those that don’t garden,” Compton says.





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