January is almost half gone, and the same thing might be said for most of your New Year’s resolutions. (It gets easier to find an available treadmill at our gym every day.) But one promise to yourself that’s probably easier to keep than you think is to eat local more often in 2014. In fact, several Midwest states provide such an embarrassment of riches on this front that if we don’t make some effort to eat local, we should feel as sheepish as a Denver resident who can’t ski.
Each year, the Vermont-based—and splendidly named—organization Strolling Of The Heifers ranks all 50 states on a Locavore Index based on the number of farmers markets, CSAs (learn about them here) and regional “food hubs.” In 2013 (the most recent list), North Dakota ranks #4, Iowa #5 and Wisconsin #9. In fairness to the lowly ranked Ohio (#36) and Illinois (#39), the index includes a metric for population, which stacks the competition against Midwest states with large urban centers. Check out the full list here.
The raw numbers on several of the Heartland states are even more impressive than their positions on the list. When the Heifers list was compiled, Iowa had 227 farmers markets and 108 CSAs. That's a pretty solid figure when you think about dividing those among 99 counties. Wisconsin put up even bigger stats with 298 farmers markets and 257 CSAs located in just 72 counties. And down at #22 overall comes Michigan with a gaudy 311 farmers markets and 269 CSAs.
Many of our states here in America’s proverbial breadbasket catch a lot of grief for growing endless miles of row crops that can’t actually feed a hungry human being without processing. In a twist on Coleridge, it’s sometimes a case of corn, corn everywhere, but not a kernel to eat. But even in the big ag states, pockets of local farming flourish, and most of these farmers not only do the dirty work of growing the crops and animals, but make it easy to buy via market stalls and CSA deliveries.
So 2014 is as good a year as we’ve seen in decades when it comes to buying more of your food from the folks down the road, even if you live in a cul-de-sac behind the mall. Plenty of states have indoor markets operating even in winter. And if nothing else, a Saturday morning trip to the farmers market makes buying eggs and bread a whole lot more entertaining than pushing a cart through the supermarket.
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