Knowing your food and your farmer. We talk about this, but why is it important? So you can support farmers who practice sustainable agriculture that improves the land, soil, and animal health; to provide healthy nourishment for your and your family; and ultimately to glorify our Creator through our recognition and pursuit of food systems that honor His design.
But how can you know if a particular food source is a wise and healthy choice? You start by talking to the farmer who produces it, asking questions that pertain to the type of food you’re buying.
This is the Local Food 101 series, where we’ll cover types of local food, along with the particular questions you can ask to determine the quality of the food being offered. We have already covered chickens and eggs, beef, and fruits and vegetables.
In this post we’ll tackle herbs — those lovely herbs!
What Are Herbs?
Herbs include any plant whose seeds, flowers, or leaves are used for flavoring, food, medicine, or perfume. It's quite the big list! We'll refer to culinary herbs — such as basil, thyme, marjoram, sage, mint, etc. — in this post, but this information applies to any other herbs as well.
Similar to the post on buying fruits and vegetables, make sure the soil is cared for and that chemical sprays are not used on the herbs. You can tell if they are in good condition by making sure the herbs are not slimy, dry, or wilted. It only takes a quick glance and you'll know whether the herbs are fresh and healthy!
Did you grow these herbs in pots? What soil did you use?
Herbs are often grown in containers instead of the ground, so ask if they were potted, and find out what type of soil was used to grow them. Was it commercial potting soil with additives, compost from the farmer's backyard, or some other soil?
Do you sell bundles of herbs?
Herbs are often sold as potted plants at the farmer’s market. This is attractive and charming, but it makes them more expensive since you're paying for the potting materials as well as the herbs. If you care for the herb all season long and enjoy using it in the kitchen, the investment may be worthwhile. However, in my experience, they won't last for more than a meal or two since one recipe can consume an entire plant. If you're set on buying a potted herb, be careful to use only a few sprigs at a time.
Ask if your farmer sells small bundles of herbs, though — they are usually very inexpensive and cost-effective.
Do you offer discounts?
I love to buy herbs, but since they seem to be a less popular farmers market item, farmers are often very happy to give discounts if you offer to buy large amounts. Herbs are easily dried (see the Dehydrating eCourse or eBook) — or freeze them in olive oil-filled ice cube trays.
Herbs found in the wild are sometimes foraged and sold at farmer’s markets as well. You can buy delicious, unique, and eclectic local herbs this way, but it is wise to ask the farmer where they were foraged and what they know about the land. For example, herbs gathered from a ditch, pond, or field may be grown in chemicals or runoff from pesticides used on nearby conventional crops.
I wouldn’t rule wild herbs out completely, but I would be careful to ask where they were found. If they were grown and foraged from the farmer’s own land or somewhere he knows to be chemical-free, enjoy the beautiful wild-grown herbs!
What are your favorite herbs to purchase? How do you like to use them?
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