Our packed agenda at Moss Mountain Farm included lots of topics, all built around a common theme: Farm to Home. One of the fun events was a shop-around with sampling that included lots of local makers and farmers and their wares. It was so fun to see vendors like Homayd (where I bought a coconut oil-based shampoo bar), Jelly Madness (orange-rosemary jam – yum!) as well as beef farmers and processors, vegetable farmers making probiotic sauerkraut and Grower’s Gift Spaghetti Sauce – a canning operation that gleans extra crops to benefit the Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance.
There were also lots of baby animals. Angora Bunnies. Goats. Even a baby raccoon!!!!!!!
All of this fun sampling and shopping was designed to whet our appetites for the next agenda item: a forum on Arkansas Grown. This is a government-funded initiative to make Arkansans more aware of where their food is made, and to seek out local producers and restaurants that serve local product.
I try to shop local, but by no means exclusively. When my wallet is feeling pinched or I’m short on time, I’m not at all above stopping at the big box retailer, picking up some Chipotle….yada yada yada. It can cost additional time and money to shop local. But you get better tasting food and you boost to the local economy. In fact, if we all just increase our local shopping by 5%, it will generate a $5 million increase in revenue for the local economy!
And if you’re on a fixed income, don’t rule out local. Many farmer’s markets accept SNAP (FKA food stamps). In fact, some markets offer double dollars for SNAP that is spent at the farmer’s market. The goal? encourage those on fixed incomes to seek out fresh food, rather than opting for the processed food available at the grocery store.
What to do if you’re wanting to buy more local products? Here are a few suggestions that I plan to incorporate into my market trips and dining-out:
- Seek out the store manager or the department manager at your grocery store of choice and tell them you make shopping decisions based on availability of local food. I find that Edwards Food Giant does a pretty good job of sourcing local products and their service is the best in Central Arkansas. I’m also told that Kroger is trying hard – but is having trouble finding local farmers who can keep up with the demand.
- Make a date to go to your local farmer’s market for a fruit and veggie run each week. The Rivermarket Farmer’s Market is open in downtown Little Rock on Tuesday mornings during high season. (If you shop this market, be sure to ask where the food was grown – some vendors are not local.) During my last trip to the market, I was able to get everything I needed to make a delicious tomato salad with local Kent Walker feta cheese. I topped the salad with some baked chicken and basil from my little backyard garden and we had dinner for the evening. The whole dinner for 4 cost less than $15.
- Look for the Arkansas Grown sign at the local restaurants you visit. Some to try in the Little Rock area: HAM, Cache, Red Door, Trio’s (there are tons more – this is just a starting point). If your favorite restaurant isn’t serving local food, ask them to!
Tomato Salad with Basil-Yogurt Dressing
For the salad:
1 large Arkansas summer tomato, chopped into bite-sized pieces
1 head of red leaf lettuce, torn into bite sized pieces (err on the small side here. it’s annoying to get a large leaf of lettuce in your salad bite)
1/4 lb local feta, cut into small cubes
For the dressing
1/2 cup greek yogurt (I like Fage)
1/4 cup olive oil
1 large minced shallot
Juice of 1 lemon
1/2 cup fresh basil, cut into chiffonade
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Place the salad ingredients in a large bowl. In a smaller bowl, whisk together the dressing ingredients. Toss the salad and dressing together right before serving. To make this a main dish salad, you can add some sliced chicken or some drained chickpeas. You may want to reserve a bit of the dressing to top the chicken and place it on the salad plate beside the salad.