Eating Local in a Small Town
After my great success shopping at the Milwaukee Winter Farmer’s Market, I was left with a question. How hard would eating local be in other areas, especially in smaller towns?
As it so happened, we had time booked this weekend in Fish Creek, Wisconsin. With a winter population under 1000 (which swells enormously in summer), it is more of a resort area than a typical small town. But shops that don’t do enough business in winter close their doors until spring, so I decided it would still be a reasonable way to research this question.
I started out at the local health food store, Greens N Grains, in Egg Harbor, one town south. Here I was readily able to find local meats, cheeses, and beer/spirits. They even had a couple fresh local vegetables: turnips and greens from a local greenhouse grower. The store employee I talked with suggested I come by and try the small café in the summer when the owner would be serving foods made with her own garden produce. Ummm, yes!
My next stop was Waseda Farms in Bailey’s Harbor. While primarily a farm that raises animals organically (in the Temple Grandin gentle-handling tradition), they have found that adding a farm store is an effective way to market. Here I was not surprised to see their own very extensive set of frozen meats that included pretty much anything you could want from sausages to steaks to stewing hens.
But they also carry a nice supply of other local items. These included the ubiquitous Wisconsin cheese, but also milk and butter. They also had a variety of local canned foods, some local fresh vegetables and even some frozen “convenience” food for local in a hurry! Most interestingly, they had a couple very unique items: Worcestershire sauce made in Milwaukee using local beer and on-the-vine regular and cherry tomatoes grown in the Chicago area. Both came home with us!
I should mention a few other local store resources. There is local fish, smoked and sometimes fresh frozen at Charlie’s Smokehouse about a half hour north. If you are looking for Wisconsin ice cream you can find Cedar Crest at the Piggly Wiggly. And in the true Wisconsin tradition, local sausage, cheese and beer/cider/spirits are pretty much everywhere. Finally, traveling a bit further away to the larger town of Sturgeon Bay would potentially open up additional options.
Winter Farm Market
My final stop was the monthly Bailey’s Harbor Winter Farm Market. Featuring more crafts than food, I was initially disappointed. But then I spied the Flying Tractor Farm selling a variety of local meats. They mentioned they often had salad greens but their supplies go first to the Greens and Grains store I visited earlier.
Next I visited the Pat’s Patch Organics booth. They had a variety of winter storage items as well as lovely fresh microgreens. They mentioned their salad greens had sold out earlier in the day. Hmm, just like Milwaukee’s market—shop early!
Here I purchased some dried leek tops, which have a chive-like flavor, and garlic. My garlic supplies still look good, but I consider garlic like air. If I run out of local garlic, I’m going to have to go rogue.
I’m going to include one additional resource, a farm called Produce with a Purpose. Located in Fond du lac, WI they are mid-way between Milwaukee and Green Bay and make deliveries to both towns. They run a CSA in the summer but have a more unique model in winter. Here you order a custom box at a minimum of $20.
We got an experimental Milwaukee delivery last week and picked up about 10 minutes from our house. We selected beautiful purple and pink potatoes, mushrooms, purple carrots, kale, lettuce, Chinese cabbage and cilantro. It was all beautiful—and could be an occasional buy even from Fish Creek. The 65 mile trip to Green Bay wouldn’t be a weekly occurrence, but I could see timing a monthly visit around this delivery if I were a permanent Fish Creek resident.
My conclusion about eating local in a small town? It would probably require a little more planning than in a larger city, especially for less commonly grown items like flour and rice. And fruit continues to a challenge, though I’m confident that (very) little additional searching would turn up a variety of local canned fruit and local cherries in many forms.
You’d probably also need to go outside the 90/100 mile local bounds into (near) regional more frequently. But just like in Milwaukee, you could survive fine without preserving a winter’s worth of food.
Yes, it’s clear that eating local isn’t as big a challenge as I had thought. Could the partying grasshopper have had it right? This knowledge will certainly factor into my eating habits after our experimental year.