Expert>>> Tim Schlitzer
Executive director, Food Routes Network,
Arnot, Pennsylvania (www.foodroutes.org)

Why is local important?
Eating local foods really represents sustainable agriculture, where food is grown for the local community. The problem is that less and less communities are able to feed themselves. We've become this society where a community may grow lots of food in, say, Iowa, but it's all corn or soybeans, and it's all shipped somewhere else; and tomatoes and other things are shipped in. With oil pricing getting higher, Food Routes feels that this is unsustainable long-term.

So what does that mean for the person shopping for dinner?
Our "Buy Fresh Buy Local" program revolves around the idea that the consumer is the only thing that stays local—wherever you go or move you have to determine what local means for you. In New Jersey, 50 miles or 20 miles is a lot different than in Kansas, where 100 miles is not that close. We really hope that people talk to the seller about what local means—in terms of where and how it was grown, and the health and safety of the food.

Does that mean I shouldn't buy organic?
We prefer local and organic. Food labeled "organic" has been grown a specific way. Local is something that you check yourself; it's an interaction between a farmer and consumer. We've gotten totally disconnected from our farmers. I don't think we'll see everybody growing their own food again, but people are wanting to know their farmer.

How can we implement this kind of eating style?
Start with something that you know can be grown locally and in season. Things like eggs, milk, and butter are pretty much available year-round. Then pick one item to try and get to know the farmer. Get involved in a local Buy Fresh Buy Local chapter, or go to our website to find restaurants, markets, or co-ops that feature local foods.

Your favorite foods might not need to travel across the country before winding up on your plate. Head to your co-op or neighborhood market to find locally grown fall ingredients.

illustration: trina dalziel