Kim Werst (pictured center) with cooking class participants at our West 7th store.

In honor of August being Eat Local Month at the co-op, we’re pleased to highlight local eating tips, tricks, and suggestions from our friend Kim Werst, a local food educator, entrepreneur, and food justice activist. You may recognize Kim as one of our class instructors – she co-teaches an on-going series titled Cooking with Co+op Basics that we offer on a monthly basis. These free classes feature budget-friendly, from-scratch cooking techniques; recipes that feed a family of four for under $10; and tips for shopping the co-op on a budget. Additional information about Kim’s efforts to eat closer to home can be seen on her website.

Attend an upcoming Cooking with Co+op Basics class to learn more from Kim about healthful homemade cooking using local ingredients.

Cooking with Co+op Basics: Homemade Veggie Burgers – East 7th store
Wednesday, August 16 | 6:00-7:30 p.m. | Free to attend

Cooking with Co+op Basics: Zucchini Parmesan – West 7th store
Saturday, September 16 | 10:30 a.m.-12:00 p.m. | Free to attend

Read on to discover ways you can eat local all year-round!

How long have you been eating local?

Each year I become a bit more devoted than the last. I really started avoiding imported produce and dairy about six years ago while living in Chicago where there were no large food co-ops at the time that sold lots of local produce. I grew more serious about it during the summer of 2013 and have avoided non-local food sources as much as possible since then.

Why do you choose to eat local?

I usually describe it like a bike wheel with each spoke representing a different reason:

  • Environmental – Eating local reduces the amount of unrenewable fossil fuels used to transport food across the country and around the world.
  • Humanitarian – Eating local presents an opportunity to know who produced my food and how it was made, in addition to ensuring they have fair working conditions and earn a living wage.
  • Economic – Eating local means more of my food dollars stay in my community and less go to larger corporate interests who often profit at the expense of the most vulnerable.
  • Taste & Connection – Eating local means greater tasting food and a greater appreciation of its seasonal availability.

How often do you eat local?

Every meal I make is local in some way! I can’t remember the last time I made something that wasn’t sourced with at least some or most of the ingredients from a local source. I cook a lot as a way to unwind and turn off my brain. I have the privilege of time and space to do this regularly. When I eat out, I generally choose places that purchase local ingredients.

What led to your love of eating local?

I attribute my love of local eating to a few things – working with Mike Phillips of Red Table Meat Co. at the Craftsman restaurant where he turned me onto the joy of eating locally, having a brother who worked at Birchwood Cafe who turned me onto how hard it is for small local farmers to make a living in our current food system, and wanting to reduce my own carbon footprint. Over time, the relationships that I made with farmers and local food co-ops led to my love of teaching about eating local and cooking with local ingredients.

What do you view as the main benefits of eating local?

A lot of it goes back to the bike wheel analogy I made – each benefit relates to the other. As naturalist, conservationist, and environmental writer John Muir stated, “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.” I’ve found that when we start to identify where food comes from, many other issues present themselves, such as racial inequalities, environmental issues, economic inequalities, food access issues, public health issues, and more. That being said, I think the biggest benefit in eating local is uplifting and educating others and voting for the world you want with your food dollars.

Where do you find local foods and what are your main sources?

I get all of my meat, produce, dairy and dry ingredients locally unless I’m doing something special for a guest or an event. I make exceptions for things like seafood, spices, sugar, chocolate, coffee, citrus, avocados, and grains and beans, but I try to source these from producers who treat their workers and the environment fairly. To make this work year round, I rely on my garden, freezer, pantry, and retailers like Mississippi Market to supplement what I don’t get direct from local farmers through things like farmers markets and CSA shares.

What tips do you have for eating local and supporting local food production?

We live in an amazing area full of wonderful community-owned food co-ops and an abundance of local farmers, but they need your on-going committed help to support them. Stay motivated and remember not everything has to be as convenient as we’ve been marketed to believe. My biggest tip is to start “seeing” the story of the food you buy. Imagine the people picking your food and how it was transported. Don’t hide from that reality and you’ll be more inspired to maintain your commitment to buying and eating local.

How can people incorporate more local foods into their diets?

In short: Be incremental. Be realistic. Be inspired.

  • Be Incremental – Trying to suddenly change your habits is jarring and eating local can be expensive, especially when you have a family to feed. Be soft with yourself and don’t feel guilty if you can’t do it all. No one is perfect. Start with switching 1-2 food items at a time and work your way toward eating more local foods.
  • Be Realistic – Start by assessing what you or your family eats now – what are the main things that might make a difference if you switched them to local sources? Preserving local food is also a great way to ensure you’re able to eat local year-round. It’s much easier than canning and works really well to preserve the freshness of most foods when they are in season.
  • Be Inspired – Read books or listen to podcasts that get you excited about local food and inspire you to cook. Talk to your friends and local farmers about what they grow, cook, and eat. Two of my favorite books are An Everlasting Meal by Tamar Adler and Chez Panisse Vegetables by Alice Waters. A lot of eating local is finding how to get your money’s worth. Find uses for the stems of things, make your own stock with scraps and bones, repurpose leftovers, freeze what you don’t use right away before it goes bad.

Who is your favorite local food producer?

Hands down Kalona SuperNatural dairy is my fave fave fave! Dairy producers have such a hard time breaking even with operating costs, and Kalona operates with so much integrity. Plus, they love their animals and treat them with respect. Their sour cream and full fat Greek-style yogurt are the best I’ve ever eaten! I also use their milk to make yogurt and their yogurt as a starter culture. For butter I love Hope Creamery. Kalona SuperNatural and Hope Creamery dairy products are both available at Mississippi Market!

Do you have any tips for budget-conscious local food shopping?

Offset the cost of grass-fed meat and dairy or cage-free eggs with bulk grains and legumes. You can save a load of money by shopping in the bulk department. Skip out on eating meat for every meal and replace it with non-meat proteins. “Less meat, better meat” is a mantra I’ve heard and can get behind for cost savings. Have grains and beans cooked and ready at the beginning of the week so you always have something to mix with your veggies. Don’t waste anything and be okay purchasing and consuming non-ideal produce. Plan so you don’t waste things. The environmental savings you get from buying local goes out the window if you’re producing food waste that can add greenhouse gasses to the atmosphere when thrown away in the trash. And of course, attend one of my upcoming Cooking with Co+op Basics classes at Mississippi Market!