By Lindsay Courcelle
Many years ago, my husband and I went to Italy to volunteer on farms, also known as WWOOFing. WWOOF stands for World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms. WWOOFers, as volunteers are called, pay a small fee and gain access to the contact information for local farms and then can arrange to stay on those farms where they work in exchange for room and board.
At one particular farm in Italy, the host noticed my canvas bag emblazoned with the skyline of Rutland and inspiring text advocating to “buy local”. The host asked me about it and I told him how we try to support our local economy whenever possible. His smart reply was, “then why are you here?”
It was a good point, but my wanderlust and desire to learn from far away cultures will never fade away, as is the case for many localvores. Here are some tips for finding local foods when you travel.
First, research the locale before you leave town. These days, the world wide web provides all sorts of information about the places you might visit. A quick search for “local food” or “locavore” in the area you will be travelling is sure to provide you with some ideas and starting points.
I always find farmers markets when I am traveling, usually by looking online or picking up a local publication that lists events. If I still can’t find the market hours or location, I ask around. Farmers markets are a great way to support the local producers, though in many big cities the farms may be quite far from the market. I remember visiting Seattle and hearing that some growers were coming from the other side of the state. Still, a farmers market is a great way to support farmers and eat some fresh, tasty food.
When at the farmers market, talk with vendors about their favorite restaurants or grocery stores that buy local. It’s best to do this sort of chatting after you’ve purchased something from said vendor and always being aware of other potential customers who might be shopping behind you. But if you find a vendor in a quiet market stand, you are sure to get some great ideas for places to check out.
Have you ever seen the magazine Edible Green Mountains? It is a free publication all about local food in our state, and there are “Edible” versions across the country in most metropolitan areas. I love to pick up Edible Austin when I visit my brother, and read about the local food scene there. Besides the articles, the advertisements often feature restaurants using local foods, or grocery stores that buy from local farmers.
And for the more adventurous traveler, WWOOFing provides an amazing way to immerse yourself in the local food and farm scene. We have eaten traditional Basque cuisine on a blueberry farm in Southern France, picked blood oranges in an ancient walled orchard in Italy, and shared amazing conversations with farmers and homesteaders at WWOOF sites around the United States.
Guided tours of farms or food are another option. Sometimes farm tours will be free. Other times there will be a fee to visit. Food tours might take you to different shops where you’ll try artisan food products. Or consider a cooking class to learn how to prepare the local cuisine yourself.
Similar to the way AirBnB brings travelers inside peoples’ homes instead of hotels, bookalokal.com lets you step into a stranger’s home for a dinner party, many featuring the local cuisine. Anyone can sign up to host a dinner at their home. Tourists pay to attend, in lieu of going to a restaurant. You can read reviews and menus on the website, as well as see photos of the meals. I have not yet tried this, but hope to as soon as possible. I love the idea of sharing a meal, learning about the place you are visiting, and perhaps making lifelong friends over delicious food.
If you are heading out of town, remember these tips and consider putting some funds into the food community you visit. If you’re in Vermont, I hope you’re enjoying all that these beautiful summer months have to offer.
Lindsay Courcelle and her husband Scott own Alchemy Gardens, anchor farm for the Shrewsbury Institute for Agricultural Education (SAGE). Learn more at www.alchemygardensVT.com.
Originally published in the Rutland Herald on July 26th, 2016.