Your Guide to Eating Local on the Road
Don’t give up on good food just because you’re on vacation. Seek out and eat local food, no matter where you are.
By Karen Lanier
Vacation food doesn’t have to be fast-food. There are a number of ways you continue to eat the local, healthy food you love when traveling. Finding farm-fresh fruits and veggies can be fun and rewarding when you bypass the drive-thru and opt for pulling over at farm stands. With a little extra planning, you can map out a road trip full of farm-to-table restaurants. If you are camping or RVing and don’t want to haul food from home, load up at the local farmers’ market when you arrive at your destination.
If you’re ready to take a break and hit the road, here are some tips and resources to make the most of your nutrition expedition.
1. Treat Yourself to Farm-to-Table Dining
Packing and preparing fresh food is not the easiest part of taking a vacation. If you look forward to someone else whipping up organic and fresh meals from sustainable farms, take a look at the Eat Well Guide, an online directory with travel maps and details on locavore restaurants. Most include links to the restaurant’s site and list their specialties and price range. Eating at farm-to-table restaurants helps you to get a taste—literally—of the local flavor and learn more about what’s growing in that region of the country or world.
However, if you’re looking for a more-affordable, on-the-go option, the Chipotle restaurant chain might be your best bet for guilt-free fast-food. With more than 1,600 locations and a commitment to stocking their restaurants with as much local meat, dairy and vegetables as possible, choosing to stop for a quick burrito can make a healthy social and environmental impact.
Another, perhaps overlooked, meal option is the café-style food served at many farmers’ markets. Years after being a regular at the farmers’ market in Santa Fe, N.M., I still wake up some Saturday mornings craving their breakfast burritos made with freshly roasted green chilies. Market vendors might include bakers and coffee roasters, as well, so finding a farmer’s market can mean finding a meal that’s hot and ready to eat.
2. Seek Out Farmers’ Markets
A few websites make it easy to find out where and when markets are happening.
Local Harvest is probably the most-used site. It’s an online shopping tool, as well as search engine for markets, farm stands, restaurants and more. A nice feature is the "Local to” map at the top of the home page, which highlights events and featured members for any given area.
The best mobile app for finding markets on the road is Farmstand. It’s new, hip and as fun to use as Facebook (even borrowing the recognizable "F” logo but in a red background). The app depends on its users (that’s you and me) to post updates about what’s hot and fresh. Photos are big bonus. Market times and locations pop up to help you find the nearest market on any given day. For better or worse, the details of these markets can be added by anyone, so use with caution and make corrections if you run across errors.
3. Stop at Farm Stands
Crossing over a state line on the highway? Take a break at the welcome center and ask for a map of farmers’ markets and farm stands, which some states publish. While small, pop-up roadside stands are not always consistent or predictable, isn’t the best part of vacation the spontaneous, unplanned adventures?
To find the freshest deals and meet some interesting characters, get off the highway, take the back roads, lose the smartphone and put away the map. Go where the speed limit drops below 35 mph. Stretch your legs in small, rural towns, talk to locals, and get to know the farmers selling produce under umbrellas in dirt parking lots.
You can take a look at what’s in season before you head out on the road with the Natural Resource Defense Council’s Eat Local website. For example, a handful of states have blueberries available in late July, including Alaska, Oklahoma and Rhode Island, and you can plan to seek out berries as you travel.
4. Vacation Where the Food Takes You
If you want to get a deeper immersion experience in local food on vacation, you can find U-pick farms on some of the sites listed above, including Local Harvest. Staying on a farm for a night, a week or an entire season might also appeal to you. Agritourism farms, farmstays and bed-and-breakfasts are a growing option for finding peace and quiet, physical activity, and great food.
Suppose you have no route picked out and are wide open to experiencing a new location. Using the Eat Well Guide, for example, I entered "bison” as a keyword. The results numbered more than 1,400, so I narrowed it down to bed-and-breakfasts, eight in all, that had something to do with bison. This led me to find Wild Winds Buffalo Preserve, just a five-hour drive from my home. They offer lodging in tipis and honor the legacy of the buffalo. Now that sounds like a vacation destination with some substance!
Farm-based bed-and-breakfasts give children a unique place to play and create memories with their family. They might be off the beaten path and cost a bit more than the Holiday Inn, but you’ll be treated like family while you absorb the culture of the surrounding area.
5. Be a Prepared and Conscious Agritourist
If you allow food to be your tour guide on your next vacation, you won’t be traveling like the typical vacationer—and that’s OK. Here are some additional tips to prepare you for your foodie road trip.
- Only buy what you can consume in a day or two. Vacationing is not the time to stock up on a bushel of Brussels sprouts that will ride in your hot car for two weeks.
- Shop for easy snacks. Choose finger foods that you can quickly munch raw, including peas, sweet corn, peaches, carrots and cherry tomatoes. This will keep kids happy for miles.
Bargain-shop for seconds. Farmers often are willing to sell bruised or aesthetically challenged produce, end-of-market leftovers, or unusual fruits and veggies at a discounted price to move them off their tables. Since the produce won’t sit around for long, you can afford to cut off bad spots.
- Check out the source. Don’t be afraid to ask a seller if they grew the produce or bought it off a truck from Florida. Be suspicious of locals selling grapefruit in Montana because the food may have traveled farther than you have.
- Carry a cooler with ice. Be prepared to chill your deals, and you’ll feel ready for spontaneous pull-offs to visit any farm stand that catches your eye.
- Carry cash. While many markets accept checks and cards, cash is easiest for the low-tech salesman whose office is a tailgate. Besides, who wants a paper trail when you’re on vacation?
Disclaimer: All the websites included in this article are updated at the convenience of the businesses, so it’s always a good idea to get the phone number and call the market, farm or restaurant before visiting.
About the Author: Karen Lanier thought it was impossible to grow her own food and still take a vacation until she read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver and was inspired to garden, educate and travel. Karen is starting her first year as a schoolteacher and looks forward to summers off to practice what she preaches.
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