Food for thought when buying localWritten by Shelly Okun | | firstname.lastname@example.org
For those of us who have grown up in Northwest Ohio, the annual trip to the apple orchard is a fond memory, one that we pass down from one generation to another. Most of us have driven by the many roadside stands and purchased picked-that-day sweet corn and tomatoes. However, how many of us know that in Northwest Ohio, our farm neighbors are growing a cornucopia of fruits and vegetables?
Locally, we have a multitude of family farms growing a huge variety of fresh fruits and vegetables. How do we know who they are and what they grow? How do we, as a community, encourage our favorite grocery store and restaurant to carry locally grown produce and why is it important?
The Ohio Department of Agriculture reports that agriculture is Ohio’s No. 1 industry, contributing to more than $79 billion worth of economic activity each year. There are a number of resources available to identify farm markets and pick-your-own operations. Among them is a Web site, www.ourohio.org, that allows one to search for local produce, and in addition gives information on what is available seasonally. Ask your friends and neighbors who they are aware of. Many of us have grown up hearing names like Mike Parran, the Sadowski family, the Bench family, and the Keil family.
These families have been farming and putting food on our tables for many generations. Call or visit them and ask what local grocery stores, restaurants or distributors they sell to. Better yet, visit them.
Although we all know about corn and tomatoes, how many of us are aware that in season right now are beets, cabbage, eggplant, peppers (sweet, bell and hot among them), zuchini, yellow squash and many more. Soon, we will be enjoying apples, butternut squash, acorn squash and pumpkins, which, by the way, you can pick on your own.
The most effective way to promote buying and enjoying locally grown produce is to ask the produce manager at your grocery store what they carry that is truly homegrown. Ask which farm the produce comes from. Make some suggestions regarding what you would like to buy and where they will find it. We can do the same thing at our favorite restaurants. Most restaurants and grocery stores encourage comments and suggestions. The next time you patronize the place where you made the suggestion, ask if they have made any progress. You will be pleasantly surprised at the result.
Finally, talk to your family and friends. Tell them where you have found locally grown produce, where they can buy it and what restaurants use it. Better yet, the next time you vist Sadowski’s, Keil’s, Bench’s, or Parran’s, take a friend with you.
Shelly Okun is vice president and a fourth-generation member of family-owned and operated Sam Okun Produce Co. in Toledo.