How To Eat Farm-Fresh On The Road
Words by Kit Whistler, Idle Theory Bus
Photos by J.R. Switchgrass
Editor’s Note: While Kit is an omnivore, the tips that follow apply to all eaters – on the road and off!
“How do you grocery shop?” is, hands down, one of the questions about fulltime travel I receive most often. People don’t expect my answer: a long manifesto about the pleasures of small raw dairies in Amish country, or cutting micro greens from a hoop house in the foothills of the Sierras.
In my last 3 years on the road, it has become increasingly important to me to buy groceries directly from small farmers who treat their land, plants, and animals with respect. It may sound impractical or idealistic, but I’m here to tell you that it’s totally feasible (and totally enjoyable!) to invest your grocery budget in farms that grow the best food money can buy.
Shopping this way is a commitment. It takes strategy and know-how. Time and planning. But trust me, it’s also a lot of fun and the best way out there to connect with the true local flavor of a place and its people. Not to mention the physical advantages. It’ll build your body strong. You’ll be adventure ready, full of energy. And dinners around the campfire? They’re about to explode with flavor.
Here Are My Top Tips For Eating Local And Fresh On The Road:
Attend Farmer’s Markets. They Rule!
Local Farmer’s Markets are the most convenient spots to procure fresh, nutrient dense food. From veggies and fruits to kraut and cheese, I often buy a week’s worth of food from the stands in a one-stop shopping trip. Markets also happen to be a ton of fun! With live music, local artisans, and congregating locals, it’s like a mini-fair, without the corndogs. Just get yourself a coffee from that cute little stand and let the people watching-or, for the brave, the dancing- commence.
Finding your destination’s pop-up market is super easy. A quick Google search results in local markets, no matter which town or city you’re passing through. Metropolitan centers often host markets in a different neighborhood each day of the week, which means you’ll never miss out.
Ask Farmers For Recipes
If you haven’t heard of a particular vegetable or cut of meat, don’t shy away! Ask the farmer their favorite way prepare the mystery ingredient. In my experience, farmers are excellent chefs in disguise. They cultivate their crops with great passion and love teaching others how to cook delicious meals using the fruits of their labor. Who knows? You may even come across a favorite new dish or snack, like the live sea urchin I ate in San Diego, caught fresh that morning and sprinkled with lime. Weird, yet mind-blowingly delicious.
Simplify Your Meal Plan
Design a roster of convenient meals, ones that are straightforward and easy to prepare. If you’re buying the best food available, elaborate and time-intensive dishes are unnecessary. Your goal as a locavore is enhance the incredible flavor that bursts from superior ingredients. Just remember: quality always compensates for lack of fanciness.
A simple spinach and apricot salad with soft goat cheese is a great no-cook lunch option. Grass-fed ground beef is inexpensive and quick, ready to be browned and served in burgers or tacos within minutes. Salami, cheese, and fresh fruit make an excellent snack. Pastured eggs can be whipped into an omelet for a filling breakfast, or hard-boiled and bagged for perfect snacks on the go. Freshly baked bread with local jam is heavenly for a late-afternoon hot tea moment.
With these go-tos, cooking is no longer laborious, but fast, fruitful, and simply delicious.
Use this App!
Okay, it’s not quite an app, but it works all the same. LocalHarvest.com is a Yellow-Pages-meets-Etsy directory of farms that infinitely simplifies your search.
Simply type in the area code or town you’re passing through, and a comprehensive catalog of farms will pop up, large and small, organic and conventional. Often, the farm’s profile features their address and phone number, along with a list of available products.
Bonus: Local Harvest also contains an extensive index of farm-related festivals that double as unique cultural events. Once, we discovered a small Bluegrass festival in the Ozarks, by searching for local pastured pork! We feasted on some of the best barbeque we’d had.
U Pick, U Save
Get your hands dirty! Picking strawberries in Florida or peaches in Colorado is a great way to explore a new place. And, from friendly turkeys to furry bulls, you’ll almost always make a new farm friend.
State-line visitor centers are stocked with state-specific agritourism guides. These pamphlets lead to the U-pick opportunities available on your route. Nothing tastes better than food you’ve harvested yourself, and a farm visit can rival a day hike in adventure and exercise. You also save a ton of money; the produce you pick is sold at a quarter of the retail price! My favorite? Blueberry season in Washington. I ate 2 pounds by myself in one afternoon!
Take Byways..and Watch for Handwritten Signs.
Everyone knows that the secret to an epic road trip is, well, an epic road. Byways are where vibrant stories and picturesque views reign. Know what else they have in store for you? Local food.
As you follow the road less traveled, scan the roadside for backyard gardens and chickens roaming in front lawns. People in the country are always happy to sell you a dozen eggs or tomatoes from their hobby garden. Farmers will warmly welcome a customer at their front door.
If there’s no sign, no worries. Just knock and ask. You’ll usually make that person’s day—and sometimes, they’ll even invite you to dinner. We arrived at this farmer’s door looking for greens and wound up staying as hired help for a month. Leaving your comfort zone can be so rewarding.
Learn Your Seasons.
I always choose local and in-season over organic, because I’m a sucker for good flavor. The hardest part about seasonal eating is learning produce seasons. Luckily, the website SustainableTable.Org has a handy in-season search function that can’t be beat. Select your destination and date, and you can easily discover what’s ripe right now. Use it! One bite into that tree ripened peach, and you’ll be happy you did.
Shopping at a conventional grocery store? Never fear: you can still find good produce! You just have to know what to look for. Informed that peach season arrived in August, I recently put on blinders and hunted down the stone fruit. Every conventional store, even Wal-Mart, carried a selection of local peaches as they were being harvested. Peachy!
Give Yourself a Break.
Don’t be a fundamentalist. Some days, some weeks, will be crazy. You’ll survive periods of work or adventure madness. You’ll endure the Dollar General monopoly that agriculture activists call the “food desert.”
Those times, you’ll eat cheese fries at the small town diner. You’ll buy a Twix bar after your hike. You’ll indulge in pie and shop at Winn Dixie, and you’ll enjoy it at that! A journey is about growth and should be fun. Don’t get down on yourself and don’t hold yourself to legalistic rules. Enjoy the process. Food and travel are about pleasure and adventure. Relax and be sure to enjoy every bite.