Think Globally, Eat Locally

Is your food racking up more frequent flier miles than you?

Urban Renewal

by Gay Lyons

Unless you've made a deliberate decision to consume only locally grown foods, chances are the last meal you ate traveled a long way to your table. How far? According to Alisa Smith and James MacKinnon, authors of The 100 Mile Diet , a journey of 1,500 miles is not unusual. While not everyone is up to the challenge of eating only food grown within 100 miles from home, as Smith and MacKinnon did for a year, we can all benefit from making the effort to find more locally produced food.

There are lots of reasons to consume foods grown or made locally. Shipping food long distances is expensive and detrimental to the environment. Supporting local businesses is good for the local economy. Fresh food is better for you. And as any taste test will verify, food tastes better when it doesn't have to travel far to your table.

Contrast a tomato picked from the vine with one harvested in a distant state, trucked across several state lines and artificially ripened. They're not even close. The best salad I've ever eaten was made from lettuce pulled from the ground a few minutes before it was placed on the plate. And who doesn't love a blackberry straight from the bush and warmed by the sun?

When you grow it yourself, you know it's fresh, but the good news for those of us who aren't gardeners is you don't have to grow your own to enjoy fresh, locally grown fruits and vegetables. You can find them at markets open year-round, at â“pick your ownâ” farms and at seasonal markets and stands. Here are just a few sources of local produce

Farm Fresh Produce (3617 Sutherland Avenue) definitely lives up to its name. Owner Frank Ownbey buys directly from area farmers and offers as much local produce as he can find. Right now the first tomatoes are starting to arrive along with summer squashes. And it won't be long before peaches are available, perfect for one of summer's best desserts, peach cobbler, served warm with ice cream. You can also find good local produce at Horn of Plenty (9132 Middlebrook Pike) and Pratt's Country Store (3100 Tazewell Pike).

Three Rivers Market (937 North Broadway), Knoxville's food co-op, offers lots of locally produced foods. There's a good selection of locally grown produce, but the market offers other local products as well. For example, you'll find whole grain breads from Hillside Bakery, sweet treats from Harb Chocolate, hot sauces and salsas from Big S Farms, sheep milk cheeses from Locust Grove Farm and farmstead cheeses from Sweetwater Valley Cheese.

Chain supermarkets are not the best source for local produce, but some independent grocery stores offer local produce. For example, Butler and Bailey Market, 7513 Northshore Drive, often has locally grown vegetables in the produce department.

There are lots of â“pick your ownâ” farms within a short drive of Knoxville. Strawberries are a popular choice, but you can find other fruits and vegetables as well: blueberries and blackberries, corn, tomatoes, okra, pumpkins. For an extensive list of farms in East Tennessee, go to . In addition to phone numbers and addresses, you'll also find lots of other information, such as canning tips, a nationwide guide to strawberry festivals and a handy list of typical availability dates to give you an idea what's in season when. This season, because of the effects of the late spring frost, it's especially important to call ahead and see what's available.

Another good resource is . In addition to being a great source of information about local produce, farms and farmers markets, you can also find out about other local products such as Tennessee freshwater shrimp, native trees and plants, local wineries, honey, cheese and many others.  

Shortly before 3 p.m. on Tuesdays and Fridays, May-October, the parking lot at Laurel Church of Christ at 3457 Kingston Pike starts filling with the vehicles of eager shoppers. Operated by the Farmers' Association for Retail Marketing, the market offers an incredible variety of locally grown and produced fruits and vegetables, flowers and plants along with eggs, bread, cheese and meats. I've never been to this market without seeing someone I know, but it's not a place to socializeâ"at least not until your shopping's done. Experienced shoppers know which items sell out fastest and hit those lines first. I've learned to hit the tomato stands first.

You'll find an assortment of vegetables, herbs, meats, breads and other food items at the Market Square Farmers' Market on Wednesdays (11 a.m.-2 p.m.) and Saturdays (9 a.m.-1 p.m.) between now and November. On Wednesdays, the market looks much like any other â“tailgateâ” farmers market, but on Saturdays, its ambience and the assortment of non-edible offeringsâ"clothing, handmade note cards, jewelry and other itemsâ"make the market a popular destination. Many shoppers combine browsing the market with dining and shopping on the square.

Give the 100-mile diet a try. Maybe start in a small wayâ"a meal or a day or a week. Or try something simpleâ"like replacing grapes from Chile with apples from Cosby.


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