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8 Ways to Join the Local Food Movement

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How to turn a lawn into lunch, swap preserves, glean, boost your food security and live the good life.

By Sarah VanGelder Posted Apr 3, 2009

1. From Lawn to Lunch

To convert your sunny lawn to a lunch box, remove turf in long, 18-inch strips. Cut the edges of each strip with a sharp-bladed edging tool. While one partner rolls up the grass like a jellyroll, another slices through grass roots with the edging tool. Remove about an inch of rooty soil with the top growth. When the roll gets heavy, slice it off and load it in a wheelbarrow.

To compost the strips, layer green sides together, then brown sides together, ending brown-side-up. Cover the stack with soil and mulch (straw, chopped leaves, or shredded bark) and let stand for 10-12 months.

Make beds 10 to 20 feet long and six to eight feet wide (so you can reach the center from each side). Mulch three to four-foot wide paths between beds (grass left in the path will infiltrate your beds) to accommodate a wheelbarrow. Now fork over the soil strips and remove as many roots as possible. Aerate beds with a garden fork, sinking it as evenly and deeply as possible.

Spread on two or three inches of compost, then set plants about six inches apart, in staggered rows. Top with a mulch containing corn gluten, a high-nitrogen protein that prevents weed seeds from germinating.

2. Eat Your Vegetables

Some 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions are caused by meat production. The USDA attributes 14 percent of all deaths in the U.S. to poor diets and/or sedentary lifestyles. You can improve your health and the health of the planet by following food columnist Michael Pollan’s simple rule: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”

3. Party with Your Preserves

Ten quarts of pumpkin puree in the pantry, and not a jar of tomato sauce left? Throw a canning swap party. Here are some tips and recommendations from

Plan ahead.

Gauge interest with your friends early on. Then remind them throughout the planting, growing, and harvesting season to set aside extras for canning and swapping.

Don’t be afraid to grow a lot of something.

If you’re a budding salsa artist, plant that extra row of tomatoes. Or if you see a good deal on a box of local pears — get them.

Try new recipes on your swappers.

Bust out that crazy 5-alarm salsa verde recipe you’ve always been scared to try. Make sure to can extra so you can pop a jar open for samples.

Be aware of what constitutes a “fair” trade.

This is simple. You’re all friends and canners who know how time-consuming canning can be. Be open and ask what your neighbor feels comfortable receiving in exchange for one jar of Grandma Edie’s apricot chutney.

Think outside the Ball Jar.

Not everything at the canning swap party has to be pressure-canned or boiled in a hot water bath. Dried items, homemade baked goods, candies, and homebrewed beer are all eligible. You’ll be amazed by what can be preserved from the season’s bounty.

4. Glean Those Fields Clean

A lot of perfectly good food is left to rot in farm fields and under fruit and nut trees. With a bit of work, you can gather a group to “glean” this free food, providing fresh, nutritious food to your community.

To glean in your area, talk to farmers, gardeners, and orchard owners. Explain your purpose, share a copy of federal “Good Samaritan” law, which protects them from liability, and ask for written permission to glean.

Recruit gleaners. Family, friends, students, and members of your faith community are potential volunteers. You can also put a notice on craigslist, bulletin boards, at farmers markets, or in the local paper.

Contact food banks, shelters, and other facilities to check on their needs, and to arrange delivery times.

On gleaning day, bring collection baskets and buckets, snacks, water, and other necessities that will ensure a successful expedition.

As the day ends, gather your freshly harvested food, thank the landowner, distribute something to each gleaner, and leave the land in better condition than you found it.

5. Shop Outside of Supermarkets

It’s easy to see, taste, and feel the benefit of locally produced food, but for many of us it’s a hassle to locate alternative food sources. Local foods are not nearly as well-advertised or visible as chain supermarket foods, so even those who want to give locally harvested food a try may not know where to get it. Here are some ways you can find local food sources in your area.

Get the lay of the land; consider what types of agriculture are natural to your environment. Does your area have a history of blueberry farming or cod fishing? Are there traditional foods that have been neglected in the fast-food age?

Talk to old timers, ask around at farmers markets, look for road-side food stands and U-pick places. Watch for hand-painted signs. You may find a wide variety of freshly harvested foods and get to know new communities and regional traditions at the same time.

Visit,, and to find sources of affordable and environmentally friendly food.

6. Start a Community Garden

Start by calling a meeting (or better yet, a potluck) to decide what kind of garden you want, what locations might work, and how to manage plots.

Identify possible sites. Look for land that gets plenty of sunlight, has a water source, is convenient to get to, and is free of soil contamination. You could consider combining back yards if several neighbors are involved.

Identify the owner of the land and negotiate a lease long enough to make it worth building the soil and the community involvement. Invite immediate neighbors to join.

Test the soil for nutrient levels and contaminants. Clean the site, mark plots with gardeners’ names, and, if possible, include on-site storage for tools and equipment. Also designate a spot for compost.

When the first planting season comes around, consider hiring someone to turn the earth, or throw a work party to build raised beds.

Meet now and then with your fellow gardeners to swap seeds and seedlings, advice, and produce, and to resolve any difficulties. Have potlucks to enjoy the harvest.

For more ideas, including sample bylaws and insurance policies, go to

7. Plant a Row for the Hungry

As unemployment rises, more people are wondering how they will put food on their table. How can you boost food security at home

  • Skip the so-called convenience foods; processed foods almost always cost more for what you get.
  • Form a buying club to get healthy food in bulk at discount prices.
  • Grow your own — start a community garden, or transform your lawn or parking strip (see #1 and #6).
  • Buy in season, or harvest and preserve it yourself.
  • Study (and/or teach) the art of cooking and preserving tasty, nutritious food on a budget.

… and in your community:

  • Contribute something from every shopping trip to local food banks.
  • Glean (see #4 above).
  • Plant a row for the hungry and donate the produce to a shelter, day care center, neighbor, or food bank.
  • Start a food bank out of a faith center or community center if there are no similar programs nearby

8. Share Your Table

The best antidote to fast-food culture is as simple as your table. Invite friends and a few strangers to a local-foods potluck. In good weather, eat outside. Share an evening of conversation and enjoy the good life.


Sarah van Gelder, Anne Lovejoy, Kim NochiM, and Heather Purser wrote pieces for this article as part of Food for Everyone, the Spring 2009 issue of YES! Magazine. Sarah is the Executive Editor of YES! Magazine.

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  • Carmen

    I agree with much of the information here. But, "make beds…six to eight feet wide so you can reach the center from each side", not unless you are about 10 feet tall since your arms would have to be extremely long. That is, unless you are planning to walk on the soil inside the beds which is a no, no.

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