Why I Buy Local

I am routinely asked where we shop, why we shop there and how we found the places we shop at in the first place. Here is all the info and probably more then you thought you needed to know!

We started the whole Real Whole food journey, as you all know by now, a couple of years ago. When we started it, we were buying everything from grocery stores. I knew we had a couple of local places like butchers and orchards, but I thought there was no way we could afford to go to them. I am always on a TIGHT budget.

I had an app on my phone and tablet that I used to figure out grocery lists with an area included for what the prices were per store. I was able to see what each store offered as normal pricing. We also belonged to both Costco and Sam’s club. I was still searching for the best deals every time I did the grocery shopping. But knowing the regular prices was a gift from the Gods!

It wasn’t until my kids BEGGED me to stop off at a local orchard one day (advertising fresh blueberries) that I got a real wake up call. I was shocked to see that their prices were the same as or cheaper then what I was paying in the grocery stores and big boxed stores.

Hubby and I started to rethink everything at that point. We put the word out to anyone we could think of for info on their favorite butchers, poultry shops to get turkey and chicken, creameries, and fresh eggs.

It did not take us long to figure out what we were missing all this time in our food lives. Our bank account said THANK YOU as well!

Let’s begin shall we….

Orchards, Farmer’s Markets, and Pick Your Owns 101…

What is the difference between orchards, farmer’s markets, and pick your owns?

Orchards

Farms that tend to mainly grow fruit trees and nuts. Apples, pears, peaches, you get the gist. That is the heart of their business. They tend to sell products related to the things they grow. Apples, peaches, pears, and sometimes products they make, like applesauce, juices, fruit butters, jams, and preserves.

Farmer’s Markets

Local food markets, where farmers sell their goods to the general public. Often veggies, fruits, meats, bakery goods, dairy, flowers and plants, and homemade bath and soap products.

Pick Your Owns

Farms that charge you, the consumer, a certain amount per pound to come into their fields and pick your own fruits or veggies. Usually at a discount. They will tell you where and what you are allowed to pick.

Now you know what they are…

Not all orchards, markets, and pick your owns are created equal. I will say this one again….NOT. ALL. ORCHARDS. MARKETS. AND. PICK. YOUR. OWNS. ARE. CREATED. EQUAL.

Just like grocery stores, different markets, orchards, and pick your owns, offer different foods and different prices. Some will grow everything they sell, some will not. For those that do not grow it all themselves, it is important to ask if they know exactly who grew the items and where they were grown and how they were grown. Often, in my experience in our local markets, farmers will join forces and swap products to be sold at various markets in the area…aka…they help each other out. I am all kinds of good with this as long as they can answer my questions. If not, I continue on my search for awesomeness elsewhere.

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There are two kinds of farmer’s markets and orchards. One is legit farmers selling their products. The other is called “farm market”. This is a market where buyers resell produce they bought at a wholesale market at a cheaper price and sell to you at a marked up price. Nice huh? The produce is usually not local and often comes from multiple states away or other countries.

So how can you NOT fall victim to these kinds of farmer’s markets and orchards?

Do your research and pay attention.

Ask the farmers questions. If the person you asked a question to does not know the answer, ask them to find someone who does. They should know what is theirs and what is from another farm or orchard. They should also be honest. There are some out there that are not! I went to a farmers market once where the farmer told me EVERYTHING he was offering was from his farm that he personally grew on the property. When I wanted to purchase several pounds of carrots from him, one of the staff on the farm, brought out a 50 pound bag of carrots with a label on it that said it was from a company in Mexico. Seriously??? The worker was immediately chastised (in front of me) for bringing out the bag to the table instead of taking a basket into the barn and filling the basket there. Neither one was appreciated by me. After that, we never went back. I am not saying that all farmers do this!!! I am saying that if you ask them where the foods come from that they are selling, they should be honest. Case in point, there is an awesome tiny farmer’s market in Gettysburg that I will drive to throughout the spring, summer, and fall. In this farmer’s market, there are multiple vendors selling items. There is ONE particular vendor that I will go to exclusively. Why? Easy….They were honest with me. They are a family owned farm that also sells items from neighboring farms. They know the neighboring farms well enough to tell me about any chemicals used on the crops and their growing practices. Also they are incredible and offer me deals “because I am so easy to work with”. Another clue that something isn’t on the up and up is when you are buying bananas in the north in the fall, or melons in May. Use your gut and ask questions!

Tips For The Farmer’s Market / Orchard / Pick Your Own Newbies…

Know What Vendors Will Be There:

Many farmer’s markets offer many different products from several different vendors. They can offer breads, soaps, flowers and plants, meats, dairy, fruits and veggies, just to name a few. There is usually something for everyone.

Know Your Seasons:

Before you go to the market, see what is in season. It will make your shopping easier. You will already have an idea of what each vendor will have. If you ask for strawberries in the middle of July, except them to give you a really weird look. Do not be afraid talk to the farmers / vendors there and ask about produce / products they will be offering soon.

Shop around:

Many vendors will offer the same produce and products BUT at different prices. So look around and get a feel for the vendors and what they are offering. Same with orchards and pick your own fields. They are usually NOT the only ones in the area. You just may have to drive a little farther to save more.

Timing Is Everything:

If you want to avoid crowds at a farmer’s market, either go shortly after it opens (but NOT as soon as it opens) or before it closes. There are pros and cons to doing both. The inventory is at it’s best when they first open. Many of the High Demand items will sell very quickly. However, shopping closer to when they close can score you INCREDIBLE deals. Many vendors would rather sell at a discounted price then to reload the vehicles and cart the stuff home. Also going when the weather is not at it’s best (raining, cold, etc) can grant you some killer deals and GREAT products!

Do Not Assume:

Just because you are shopping at a farmer’s market, orchard, or pick your own, does not mean that you are getting certified organic foods or chemical free foods. This does not mean to walk away or freak out on them, running for the hills like there are zombie geese chasing after you (that one was for you Tristen!)….You all should know how I feel about this subject by now. If not, read here, it will fill you in and maybe give you some food for thought.

ASK QUESTIONS!!! You are your health’s best advocate!!!  I will say this one again. Louder if you need me to. You. Are. Your. Health’s. Best. Advocate! Don’t know what to ask, start with these questions….

Do they spray? What do they spray? What are their practices? What do they feed their livestock? How much grass are they exposed to? Is their farm open to the public? Do they sell what they grow? Can they tell you about where the products came from and what their practices are like? How far did the food travel? It should travel no more then a few hours to get to you.

You might just find out that you have an incredible source for fresh and healthy foods!

Buying Power:

Many vendors at orchards and farmer’s markets will offer you deals if you buy in bulk, when you ask. It can be typically anywhere from 5% – 30% off of the original price. However, do not undermine them by trying to barter prices for small amounts of produce. They are generally NOT impressed with you at that point! They will do their best to not bitch slap you or laugh in your face. Can’t promise anything though! Everyone wants to save a buck, I am no exception to this. But insulting the farmers, yea, is NOT the way to do it.

Bring Small Bills:

Always bring smaller bills. $1’s, $5’s, and $10’s are the best. $20 is good if you buying in bulk. However, the rule of thumb is the smaller the better. Some places do not offer credit card payments of any kind. This is in part to keep the cost down. And they usually do not have an ATM there. If they do, SCORE, you just got lucky!

Bring Your Own Bags And Coolers:

Most markets, orchards and pick your own, will not have bags for you to use, so make sure to take your own. If they do offer bags, it was more then likely the farmer paid for them. Either way, bring your own. We bring our own bags with us when we go. The vendors are more appreciative. Also many markets, orchards and pick your own, sell other products then just fruits and veggies. So grab a cooler in case you want to sample anything else while you are there.

Be Prepared For The Unexpected:

Dirt and bugs are often found in the treasures you buy at these places. At least you know they are fresh! Don’t worry about it. Just make sure to clean them well when you get home before eating any of it. Just like grocery stores, you have no idea how many hands have touched your newly acquired foods.

Attitude Is Everything:

This is true in most aspects in life. If you are nice, they will usually be nice in return. Remember, they are often out in the weather, that we are generally hiding from, for HOURS! They have been dealing with people all day. Some nice and some…not so much! Understanding will go a LONG way!

Ask The Experts:

See something you have never seen before or heard of something but have always been too to afraid to try it? Here is your chance! Ask the questions and you shall receive all kinds of answers! Just be respectful of their time. If they are swamped…Do not ask for a gourmet recipe from them!

Dress For The Weather:

Most farmer’s markets are outside. Dress for the weather so that you are comfortable and can relax and really enjoy all that there is to see and buy!

Buy The Uglies:

Some of the BEST tasting produce is the ones that are ripe and ugly looking! They are often referred to as “Seconds”. I go out of my way to find them! They are often sold at a pretty significant discount.

Do Not Be Afraid To Drive:

I have driven an hour+ just to got to a farmer’s market, orchard, etc. I have found INCREDIBLE places and deals by doing so. You never know what you will find when you are willing to travel!

R–E-S-P-S-E-C-T The Farmers:

They are there to pay their bills and put food on their tables. They worked HARD for what you are buying! This is their livelihood. You try working in fields all day in weather that is often considered UNBEARABLE and Mother Nature is either your best friend or your worst enemy just to put food on the table. You may see things differently. Watch handling their produce too much. It can only handle so much before it bruises. I will usually just tell them what I want and have them get it for me. I have found that they have never steered me wrong by doing this. They are generally just as picky as I would be if not more so!

As you can tell, we LOVE to buy from our local farms, orchards and do the whole pick your own thing too. The fruit and produce are INCREDIBLE!  We fell in love with the freshness and customer service. It did not take us long to want to explore more local places.

There you have it…my list after several years of doing the whole farmer’s market thing. If you have not checked them out, you really should!!!!!!!

There is a small local store here, called McCutcheon’s. A newly retired father, son, and his daughter in law started the company in 1938 with a used apple press they bought for $25. What started out as a retirement side business pressing apples for local orchards and farmers, quickly turned into a very successful business that sells jams, preserves, peanut butter and juices just to name a few of the many items in their store front under their own label made with local fruits and veggies. Today, it is a 4th and 5th generation run store. Their store front still sells their homemade products and also sells local foods and products from other vendors. Their goal is to keep as much of the products sold in the store as local as they can.

Butchers, Poultry, And Eggs Oh My…

Hubby started talking to friends of his that hunted and began telling them about all the local fruit and veggies I had been finding. They, in turn, sent us in the direction of several meat markets they use to process their game. I was done with all the recalls on meat that were beginning to pop up everywhere. The thing that really ended the whole grocery store meat buying for this family was finding out that some companies use dyes in their meat to make it appear redder and fresher. That did it for me!

After finding several different butchers in our area, we picked our favorite butcher based on price, quality taste testing, and customer service. Many people that live within a 2 mile radius of this particular butcher have no idea that this incredible place even exists. Our choice was Shuff’s Meat Market, located in Thurmont, Maryland. It is a 2-3 generation family owned business started by the current owner’s grandfather. The story behind Shuff’s is like so many local businesses. Absolutely awesome!

The current owner, Robin, started her reign in the business in 1996 after her father passed away. The original owner of Shuff’s was Robin’s grandfather. He bought the property of land that Shuff’s stands on in 1951 for a couple of hundred dollars and a steer. He went to local farms and would slaughter and hang to dry their livestock in their barns. He saved up every cent he made and eventually built the building that still stands today as his business grew!

Today, Shuff’s Meat Market not only supplies meat to the general public, but they also supply meat to many of the top restaurants in and around Frederick County Maryland. Every year they participate in The Farmers and Hunters Feeding the Hungry program, which was founded by a Washington County Maryland resident in 1997. The program allows hunters to donate deer to participating processors, which then provide food banks with manageable cuts of venison for those that would otherwise not have any meat to eat throughout the winter months.

Ask any of Shuff’s employees about the internet, most have no idea about it.  They work all day, go home and work some more. The internet to them is luxury they do not have time for or want to make the time for. Family is what they are all about.

One of Robin’s biggest MUST DO RIGHT is killing all their livestock humanely! There is no cutting corners or cutting quality when it comes to their livestock and the treatment of their livestock. This is one of her BIGGEST pet peeves…..Although they are not certified organic, their practices are, in my opinion, the same as you would find if they were certified. If you have any questions, all you have to do is ask them. They will answer you honestly. One of my favorite things about them, is that I am not a number to them. I am a person. I went into Shuff’s not long ago with my oldest daughter. She wanted their homemade CRACK…aka….beef jerkey. It is literally CRACK in a bag! OMFG!!!!!! They would not sell it to her unless she promised not to give it to me or open the bag with me around. They know that I am allergic to Italian seasonings and this particular batch had one of the Italian seasonings in it. They actually remembered that! Needless to say I was a sad Panda, however, my daughter was in HEAVEN! She got to eat the entire bag all by herself! The fact that they actually remembered not only that I was allergic to the seasonings but the jerkey contained it is yet another reason I keep going back.

WARNING: IF YOU ARE NOT A MEAT LOVER OR IF YOU ARE AN ANIMAL ACTIVIST….PLEASE SKIP THE PHOTOS BELOW. I WAS ALLOWED TO TAKE THE PHOTOS OF THE HOGS FROM HOOK TO DISPLAY CASE (AND CHOSE TO) SO THAT PEOPLE COULD SEE THAT WHEN YOU ARE PURCHASING FROM A BUTCHER YOU ARE GETTING FRESH MEAT! NOTHING INJECTED WITH DYES OR FROM UNKNOWN SOURCES, ETC!

While researching butchers in our area, we began to hear about a local turkey and chicken farm called Hillside Turkey Farm also located in Thurmont, Maryland.

Hillside Turkey Farms is a USDA inspected third generation farm and plant specializing in poultry. They sell to both the general public, and like Shuff’s, to many of the top restaurants in and around Frederick County, Maryland.

Just like our fruits and veggies, meat and poultry, we also get our eggs locally. We have even been allowed to help gather the eggs before. I pick up a set amount of eggs weekly and get to see the chickens in action. They are legitimately free range and LOVING life! There is even a couple that “escapes” daily. They explore the farm and return to the rest of the chickens when they are ready to relax….

What I learned is that buying local means I save money, I am not just a number, and I am helping to sustain my local economy. And the food…OH THE FOOD. It is without a doubt one of the best decisions we have ever made.

Want to find local Farmer’s Markets in your area….
LocalHarvest.org
FarmersMarket.com
USDA
Pickyourown.org

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