Ironically, most of the food products grown in California can be grown in other places, especially for a local market. As a result, you can find many of these same products locally, especially if you live in a temperate climate like we do.
Besides, fresh-picked fruit is much more flavorful and nutritious than anything you’ll ever buy from the store, since local fruit is picked ripe and eaten almost immediately, instead of being transported across the country!
If you don’t grow your own food, you can still get fresh fruits and vegetables from local suppliers!
You just have to know where to find deals on fresh produce and how to preserve all of that bounty for later. In this post, we’ll be talking about how to find local fruit and preserve it yourself.
Where to find local fruit (and other produce)
Before we figure that out, we need to define “local.” Really, there are degrees of local when it comes to food sources.
Regional means food produced within a day’s drive away.
The exact definition of local varies, but it most commonly means food produced 300-400 miles from your location. Of course, local is more about relationships than an arbitrary number. Freshness aside, it’s more important that you know and trust your farmer instead of just buying food from X miles away.
This isn’t about sourcing food, but rather thinking about where it’s held. Where is your food supply? In most cases, next week’s food isn’t in the grocery store yet! Keep that in mind.
Grow Your Own
With minimal inputs, you can also grow, process, and store your own food. That’s probably the closest option for everyone.
In this blog post, however, we’ll focus on finding regional and local food sources that you can preserve and store yourself. If you buy local, in-season fruit in bulk, you’ll get great deals. Finding a bushel of apples for $10 or less isn’t uncommon. Yes, processing the fruit takes time, but it goes quickly with lots of helpers. (Kids love helping…and nibbling!)
Farmers markets offer a wide, easily accessible selection of products. At a farmers market, it’s also easy to talk with multiple vendors at once, saving you relationship-building time.
Despite what you might think, farmers markets aren’t necessarily selling just local produce. Some markets do have a distance requirement for vendors, but others may have aggregators. For example, local farms may produce some of their own products and supplement with products from other sources. Other companies may be primary aggregators, selling products entirely from outside sources.
In addition, produce at the farmers market isn’t necessarily organic. In fact, many times it ISN’T organic. However, realize that just because it isn’t labeled Certified USDA Organic doesn’t mean it wasn’t raised organically. Many small farms don’t get officially certified but still use organic growing practices, so talk to the farmer and/or visit the farm to find out.
If you find a farm-direct source, you’re getting the freshest produce available. It’s also a great option for getting local fruit (e.g., you-pick berry farms or orchards).
You will also find the best deals at farms/orchards, even if they aren’t you-pick farms. Many orchards do quality control while picking, and they only sell the best specimens. Ugly or blemished fruit will be set aside. These are called “seconds” or “deer apples,” and you can buy them for very cheap prices–a bushel for $10! (For reference, a bushel = 18in x 12in x 24in box.) Bulk discounts are also a way to cut costs.
Finally, farm-direct sources allow you to cut out the middleman and really know your farmer. It’s efficient.
Unfortunately, farm-direct sources sometimes offer a limited selection. Most of these farms specialize in just a few products, such as blueberries or apples. In addition, travel may be required, depending on where you live in relation to the source.
Community Supported Agriculture (CSA)
This is an important option, one you should consider. It’s a member-based system where the members and the farmer share the risks and rewards of the harvest.
One of the biggest problems with farming is that most of the costs are upfront and a return isn’t guaranteed, especially during difficult seasons. Partnering with the farmer is much more efficient and prevents waste, while also allowing for delivery to a local location on a routine basis. (Some CSAs offer home deliveries, while most deliver at a central drop-off location.)
Like other farm-direct sources, a CSA may provide a limited selection of produce. Depending on what CSA program you belong to, your fruit will probably be mixed with other vegetables and herbs. In addition, you may receive products you don’t prefer or products you’re unfamiliar with. (You might find a new favorite, so this could be a pro.)
CSA value depends on the season. Poor harvests lower the value, while good harvests give you more for your money.
Cons aside, this is still a fantastic model, since it makes farming wholesome, organic food viable for farmers.
This cooperative model pools purchasing power for buying many different items, including food products, health/beauty products, and other items you can’t find locally at affordable prices. Normally this model isn’t as popular for buying produce, but it never hurts to check your local area for a buying club/co-op.
In addition, buying clubs/co-ops offer better prices on products. Even if a product is available locally, this model cuts out the middleman, slashing costs.
Unfortunately, buying clubs/co-ops usually require administrative labor and time. The smaller the co-op, the larger the cost. Many clubs/co-ops have a labor requirement instead.
Where to Find Food Sources
There are several directory websites that list local farms:
If you’re looking for something specific, just do a Google search for what you’re looking for in your area (e.g., organic blueberries in Virginia).
Check with friends, family members, and neighbors. Sometimes, they have extra fruit they’d be willing to sell or give away. In addition, contact someone in your area who knows about local food sources. That might be someone like a local farmer or another family that eats a lot of organic produce. Weston A. Price Foundation Chapters are great resources for finding these people! Use Facebook or LinkedIn to connect directly with them.
Get involved with local food events where local producers and consumers hang out. Go to farm-to-table dinners and other events. Ask local restaurants if they host farm-to-table events. If they don’t, encourage them to try it. They’re great events for connecting with experienced, likeminded people…and good food.
Once you’ve gotten your fruit, you need a way to preserve it. Unlike other kinds of food, local fruit just doesn’t keep long in the summer heat. Thankfully, it’s also very easy to preserve.
Drying is the best preservation option, since it doesn’t require a continuous energy flow to keep the fruit preserved.
PantryParatus put together a quick reference for preserving food, and it links to several articles about dehydrating food yourself.
Also check out this Dehydrating eBook and video package from Traditional Cooking School.
More Dehydrating Information:
Pressure/Hot Water Bath Canning
Canning is an awesome option, especially for jams, jellies, and preserves. Just realize that canning requires a lot of energy to accomplish.
Basically everything you need to know about canning is here at Simply Canning.
You can freeze almost any kind of local fruit–whole berries, sliced stone fruits, and even processed apple sauce! Do remember that you’ll need a backup plan in case of power outage. Without refrigeration, frozen fruit spoils quickly.
PantryParatus includes some information about freezing food in this quick reference.
Additional information can also be found here at SimplyCanning.
Fermentation preserves (at least for a short period of time) while activating the nutritional value of many foods. This is a healthy and delicious option for you.
Learn all about lacto-fermentation in this Fermentation eBook and video package.
Also check out the articles and recipes at Traditional Cooking School, like this recipe for Spontaneously Fermented Sparkling Apple Cider.
You may (or may not) have a blueberry farm in your area. But with the resources in this article, you will certainly find a local supplier for fresh fruit that you can enjoy this summer and preserve for the winter. If you find a particular resource that’s helpful to your search, let us know by posting it in the comments or contacting us here. We’d love to add it to the list!
We hope you enjoyed learning how to find local fruit and preserve it!