This month marks the second-ever Eat Local Month, organized and promoted by Lowcountry Local First. Last year, I blogged a bit about my experience eating local and I've got some tips for those of you making the attempt this go round.
1) Join a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) Program.
If you've never signed up to receive a weekly share from a local farmer, do it! It's like your own Iron Chef challenge. From week to week, you never know what you might get, and when the zucchini overrun your box, you'll be pushed to be inventive, transforming squash into everything from chocolate cake to frittata. A CSA is essentially an investment in a local farm. You pay them before the crops come in and you reap the rewards (or suffer the misfortunes) of the season. Spring shares begin mid-April, and you can visit charlestoncitypaper.com/dirt for a guide to local farms.
2) Shop at the Vegetable Bin.
As the overflow point for the GrowFood Carolina food hub, the Vegetable Bin (10 Society St. 843-723-6424) is a great place to load up on local produce. While they have plenty of stock vegetables (onions, potatoes, carrots) from Florida, you can also find delicate potatoes freshly dug from Johns Island, sweet Wadmalaw strawberries, and lots of fresh local greens. When our CSA runs out, we run to the Veggie Bin for our weekly produce fix.
3) Eat More Fish.
Locally grown pork and beef can be found, but it's definitely expensive and hard to come by. An easy and more affordable way to incorporate local proteins into your diet is to eat more seafood. Local fishermen keep a steady supply of fresh catch in the coolers at area seafood shops. And with shrimp season getting ready to start up, those tiny little creek shrimp will once again be available. We like Crosby's, Wando Shrimp, Backman's, Huff's, and Cherry Point. If you're really adventurous, you can contact guys like Fred Dockery and Tommy Edwards and work with them directly. Abundant Seafood also offers a Community Supported Fishery with seasonal subscriptions that work out to a remarkably affordable price per pound. Call (843) 478-5078 for more info.
4) Forgo Fast Food.
Last week, my 9-year-old daughter and I sat in the Duke's BBQ drive-thru on James Island, waiting for them to fry up a fresh batch of okra for our barbecue basket. At one point, she looked over at the people walking into McDonald's and said, "Why would you go to McDonald's when you could go to this great place?" referring to the locally owned and operated Duke's, which serves up an incredible array of fried chicken, pulled pork, and housemade sides. That's the kind of attitude you should cultivate. Local businesses support the local economy. And many of the locally owned fast casual joints in town, like Black Bean Co. and Roti Rolls, support local farmers.
5) Ask for Local.
In recent years, as restaurants have embraced the farm-to-table philosophy, it's not as necessary to prod waiters about where something came from. Most of the time, they'll announce it on the menu. But if you have to ask if the shrimp is local, and it isn't from around here, refuse it. That sort of stance makes a difference, particularly if everyone feels the same way. Sooner or later, the restaurateur will get the message.