Shop Locally

I write a monthly column for a local publication called Tidewater Women called “What’s in Season” (you can see all my other publications and press on my MORE BEETS page). The column usually just reviews whatever local produce is around that month, where you can get it and then a few recipes on what to do with it. But for December, I was inspired to write something more . . . well, inspired. More like my holiday mantra, if you will. The column is below, in it’s entirety and can be found in its original form on the Tidewater Women Website.

Shop Locally

The holidays are upon us, and there is no escaping them. As I contemplate what I love about the holidays, I must confess that shopping is not one of my favorite things. It isn’t that I hate giving people things or that I’m not generous. It’s just that the materialism of the whole thing really weighs me down. After my 15th trip to Target or my 5th Amazon order of the season, shopping just starts to feel meaningless. What is this stuff? Does the person I’m buying for need it? Where did my money just go? What multinational, billion-dollar corporation did I just stuff the pockets of?

I know I’m not the only person looking for a more meaningful way of giving, and so I offer up a solution: shop local. There are several reasons to shop local this season. The gifts are more likely to be unique or one-of-a-kind. Shopping local helps support your local economy. It helps support an artisan, farmer, producer, or craftsman, therefore ensuring that these members of our community have a better holiday season. Finally, the gifts will seem thoughtful and creative.

My 30+ person extended family does a Pollyanna-style gift exchange every Christmas, and last year the gift I contributed was a locally themed basket of goodies, which included goat’s milk soap, locally produced wine, jam, peanuts, and other items representative of Hampton Roads. My cousin Sara ended up getting the basket, and I told her if she didn’t like it, I would switch gifts with her. To my delight she loved it! She even texted me a few months later when her soap ran out, asking where she could buy more. She appreciated the thought, creativity, and uniqueness of the gift. She didn’t mind that it wasn’t the latest and greatest piece of technology or a gift card to her favorite store or that it didn’t hold the highest dollar value. The basket of locally sourced gifts meant way more than that because it represented a half a dozen family-owned companies or producers, all being supported by my local purchases.

Here are some great ways to shop local this season. Many farmers markets are holding special holiday markets including Old Beach Farmers Market on 19th street at the Oceanfront in the Croc’s parking lot, which will have a holiday market on December 15. Additionally the Portsmouth City Farmers Market will be open every Saturday through December 22, the Smithfield Farmers Market will be open for holiday markets on December 1 and 15, and the Virginia Beach Farmers Market on Dam Neck Road is open every day, year round.

Several retail outlets also carry locally produced items, such as Heritage Natural Market on Laskin Road, Westside Produce & Provisions on Colley Avenue, and any of Taste Unlimited’s six locations. You can also sign up for Coastal Farms Co-op, which sources products from over 50 area farms and producers and uses an online ordering system with weekly drop-offs all over Hampton Roads. A co-op membership or CSA subscription would also make a great gift for the person who has everything. And while there is not a lot of variety in fresh produce at the moment, there are still wonderful local food items that make great gifts—like fresh baked bread, homemade dried herb seasoning, jams and jellies, salsas, cheese, honey, peanuts, wine, and more.

So this holiday, skip the long lines at the store and start a shop-local revolution! The person on the receiving end of your gift is sure to be delightfully surprised and possibly inspired to support, shop, and give local themselves next year.
For more information on the markets and businesses listed above, visitwww.buylocalhamptonroads.org

Rachel Burns
 is the director of Buy Fresh Buy Local Hampton Roads. Visit 
www.buylocalhamptonroads.orgwww.facebook.com/buylocalhr, and www.twitter.com/buylocalhr.

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Going once, going twice . . .

I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned this yet, but I pretty much have the best job ever. Case in point, yesterday for my “job” I met with two women who have just started a Food Truck business called Wrap-N-Roll and are interested in sourcing some of their ingredients for their healthy-but-yummy wraps from local producers. Let me re-cap: 1. Food Truck 2. Healthy but yummy 3. Local ingredients. FTW!
Here’s their food truck, which is actually a re-vamped RV from the 80’s, which I LOVE:

Wrap-N-Roll Food Truck

This beast has been given a second life!

I met them at the Virginia Beach Farmers Market, which hosts a produce auction every Wednesday night. This was my first time at a produce auction, but I thought it would be a good place to take them so they could purchase local product in bulk, meet the farmers, get a feel for local food pricing, etc etc. The whole thing is a little daunting and the auctioneer is seriously talking a mile a minute. For a southern girl like me who is used to hearing people talk …. uh…. slooowwweeerrr….it was a little hard to keep up with. Halfway through the auction the market manager and my former boss showed up and suggested I only try to catch every 10th word or so. He was right, but fortunately I wasn’t bidding, although it was incredibly tempting – everything looked so good!

Produce Auction

Peaches, cabbage, watermelon and a mixed box of corn, egglplant, tomatoes and peppers.

Yeaaaaa….THAT good. My food truck ladies bought what they needed and the whole thing worked out great. Maybe next week I’ll go back and do a little bidding . . .
Produce auctions are great for restaurants, retail outlets and just ordinary people wanting to buy in bulk for canning, jams or jellies, or other preservation methods. The prices are a steal and the product is incredibly fresh. Most of farmers who grow the product are actually there at the market. In fact, two of my very favorite farmers were there yesterday – Jim and Anne Bright.

Jim and Anne Bright

Anne and Jim are long-time family friends and Anne was even the mistress of ceremonies at my wedding. I love anything where I get to talk to farmers about what they’re growing – they are the most knowledgeable and helpful people. In fact, one of the ladies I was there with wanted to purchase a box from them, but along with other products she needed, it also included beets, which she had no idea what to do with (for shame!). Before she could even finish bemoaning this fact, Anne had given her an easy, but no doubt delicious, recipe for them. Which brings me to my next point:

New Local Food Program with USDA

Click on the image to go to the USDA food compass

If you can talk to the person who grew your food, then you don’t have to worry about things like “what country did this come from? What are their safety and food standards? Was it sustainably grown? Were herbicides or pesticides used? How fresh is this? What do I do with it? How do I store it?” All the answers to those questions are standing right in front of you! And then when you support restaurants (like Wrap-n-Roll) and other outlets who are also sourcing local product, you don’t have to worry about the same things when you’re eating out. Yay for food safety! And sustainability! And supporting your local economy! You get to eat fresh, local, delicious food and as a bonus – you’re a superhero! FTW!