Buying Locally Grown Produce Has Never Been Easier

Buying Local food

Follow these tips to buy locally grown food (photo credit: BigStockPhoto.com)

One of the things Arizonans can do to show their appreciation for the farmers and ranchers that work hard all year round to provide fresh, locally grown produce, meats, and dairy products is to commit to purchasing local whenever possible.  To many people, this generally equates to purchasing these items from a local farm stand or farmer’s market.  But a new survey conducted by Supermarket News shows that it may be easier than ever to buy locally from wherever it is that you choose to shop.

According to the Supermarket News 2014 Health and Wellness Survey, around 85% of retail supermarkets use local products to populate their shelves.   The most commonly featured locally grown items are produce and flowers.   This is good news for consumers because it means you can make conscious choices to buy locally even on days when the farmers’ market in your town isn’t open.

Another place you can find locally grown produce, meat, eggs, and dairy products is from farms that sell direct to market.   There are more than 150 direct-market farmers and ranchers listed on Fill Your Plate.  When you combine direct-market sellers, local grocery stores, farm stands, and farmers’ markets, it is easy to see that fresh, healthy, locally grown Arizona products are accessible all around you.

To help you find these great home-grown products, here are some tips to help you find locally grown products wherever you shop.

1.     The Meat Counter

According to the Arizona Beef Council, more than half of the beef sold at grocery store meat counters across the state is locally raised Arizona beef.

2.     The Milk Cooler

When you purchase a gallon of milk, no matter where you are, you are more than likely purchasing milk from cows raised right here at home.  Around 98% of the liquid milk sold in the state is from local providers.

3.     The Egg Section

Whenever you buy eggs, look for the Hickman’s brand, the largest egg provider in the state.

4.     The Produce Section

While some stores will market local produce specifically using signs or tags that indicate where in the state it came from, don’t assume that products that aren’t marketed this way came from somewhere else.  Not all stores highlight local products.  The best way to figure out which fruits and vegetables are locally grown is to ask the produce manager.   They can usually provide information on where their locally grown produce products came from and may even be able to tell you how long a product has been in transit.

If you are ever in doubt about whether or not your local grocery store carries locally grown or raised products, ask.  If you find that many of the products you would prefer to purchase from local providers are not available in your local store, talk to the manager.  Customer demand is one of the driving factors behind each stores commitment to local sourcing.

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5 Quick Fixes to Help You Stretch Your Family’s Food Dollar

stretch food dollar

Follow these tips to help stretch your grocery food dollars (photo credit: BigStockPhoto.com)

Every family needs food; but since the grocery budget is one of the few “discretionary” budget items many families have, it is often the first one to get cut when times get tough.  As food costs continue to climb faster than our paychecks, feeding a family with limited funds is still something many of us have to do.  But don’t think that a smaller budget means you have to skimp on nutrition or taste.  With a little effort and these quick and easy tips, you can maximize the amount of good, healthy food you can get with every dollar you have to spend.

1.      Make a List

The easiest way to stick to your budget is to make a list and only buy things that are on that list.  If you see something you think you need that wasn’t on the list, make a note of it and check it when you get home.  If you really need it, add it to your list for next time.

2.     Plan Your Menu

It might seem like a lot of extra work, but you can make your money go so much farther by planning out all your menus in advance.  Some people plan a week at a time, others go for two weeks or even a month; so pick the timeframe that works best for you.  Once you plan out your menu, you can create your shopping list based off of the ingredients you will need for each menu item.  This helps ensure you will always have what you need on hand while also eliminating the purchase of extra items.

3.     Shop Infrequently

One of the worst things to do when you are trying to manage a limited food budget is stop at the store to pick a “few things up”.  Planning your menu and using a list should eliminate the need for this costly practice.  You and your wallet will be much better off if you plan ahead so that you can buy things when they are on sale and avoid impulse purchases that can easily break your budget.

4.     Keep Things Organized

A disorganized kitchen or pantry will almost always increase the amount of money you have to spend on groceries simply because you will buy things you already have but can’t locate.  Keep shelves organized and don’t overload the refrigerator so that you can easily see what you have and you are only buying what you need.

5.     Stick to the Basics

While basic food items like dairy, meat, fruits and vegetables can sometimes seem expensive, you’re gaining more value per unit and certainly more health benefits. The fewer processed food items you purchase, the more you’ll save.

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8 Great Ways to Get Outside and Celebrate Earth Day

Earth Day

Here are some inspiring tips for how to celebrate Earth Day (photo credit: BigStockPhoto.com)

There was a time, not too long ago, when the air we breathe and the water we drink were in danger of becoming dangerous to us.  In the 1960’s and 1970’s the long-term effects of industrialization were becoming clear and the toll progress had taken on the environment around us drew national attention.  Out of this new awareness Earth Day was born.

Originally intended to help raise awareness about the state of our rivers, lakes, forests, and air, Earth Day continues to fulfill that mission.  This year, use Earth Day as a great excuse to get outside and enjoy the incredible weather, beautiful scenery, and wide range of activities that make Arizona in April such an amazing place to be.

Our Arizona Farmers and Ranchers are Celebrating Earth Day Every Day. In Fact, if you want to celebrate “A Billion Acts of Green” (a theme for Earth Day a few years back) again, you need to check out our farmers and Ranchers.

Here are 8 ideas for letting Earth Day inspire you to get outside, get your hands dirty, and simply be thankful for all the wonders of our world.

  1. Don’t Drive – If there was ever a perfect day to leave the car at home and walk, jog, or bike to wherever you need to go, Earth Day is that day.
  2. Watch the Water – More so than most other Americans, the people of Arizona understand just how precious a commodity water can be.  Help the conservation effort by skipping the shower, waiting to wash the car, wearing those jeans once more before washing them, or anything else that cuts back on your water consumption for the day.
  3. Save a Tree – You can cut back on tree product consumption with a few single actions on your computer.  First, switch all bills from paper to online.  Second, request that your name be removed from the phone book distribution list.  Three, request that any paper statements be send electronically.
  4. Offset Your Use – Purchasing carbon offsets allows you to purchase clean energy “credits” that help offset your use of less clean forms of energy.
  5. Clean Up the Community – A great way to celebrate Earth Day is to gather up others from your community and volunteer to clean up a park, walk the sides of the road and clear trash, or do any other community-based activity to clean up the neighborhood.
  6. Get Something Growing – What better way to celebrate Earth Day could there be than to spend the day planting a garden, filling containers with vegetables plants, or doing anything that gets your hands dirty and helps something grow.
  7. Take a Hike – Earth Day may be focused on conservation but that doesn’t mean you can’t also use this day to simply celebrate nature.  Take a walk, go for a hike, or do a little kayaking to pay homage to our humble planet.
  8. Create a Compost Bin – Rather than filling trash bags and landfills with nutrient rich kitchen scraps, take this day to setup some space to start composting in your yard.  You will cut back on your landfill contribution while making an excellent soil amender for your garden and plants.
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Looking for Ways to Manage Your Land? There’s an App for That – Round 2

farming apps

Check out these farming apps to help you farm your land. (photo credit: BigStockPhoto.com)

Earlier this year, we took a look at how the “app” culture is helping Arizona farmers manage their land by introducing some of the best apps for farmers.  It turns out, however, that technology now plays such an important role in how farmers work their land that there wasn’t enough room to introduce all the amazing apps farmers are using to make their jobs easier.  So, here are some of the other smart phone and tablet apps Arizona farmers can and are using to grow local products and safeguard your food supply.

AgraScout 

AgraScout helps keep the producers and the buyers connected and communicating.  It provides tools for identifying pests, mapping fields, and creating detailed reports that farmers can use to get the most out of every available resource.  Available on Android, iPad, iPhone.

Grain Calculator 

Make keeping track of your grain easier than ever with this helpful and handy app.  It can quickly calculate the number of tonnes or bushels of grain housed in a round bin.  All you need is some simple dimensions to get a clear picture of how much grain you have on hand.  Adjustable settings allow users to customize for things like grain moisture and peak height.  Available on Android.

PeRK (Pesticide Recordkeeping) 

PeRK makes it easy for farmers to track vital statistics and usage information about pesticide usage.  The simple to use app can make any state-mandated recordkeeping data simple for the farmer to capture right in the field.  Available on Android, iPad, iPhone.

FarmLogic Dry Grain Calculator 

This incredibly beneficial app helps farmers make sound decisions regarding their grain crop.  It can handle information for 9 different types of grain and it provides the farmer with the information he needs in real-time to determine what percentage of the grain should be dried, how much should be combined, and other important revenue-dependent decisions.  Available on Android, iPad, iPhone

CHS Grain Trading 

This useful app puts the power of the internet in the farmer’s hands when it comes to managing crop sales.  Functionality makes it possible to monitor, accept, and manage offers and sales electronically from a smart phone.   Available on Android, iPad, iPhone

Manure Pit Calculator 

This app makes it possible for farmers to calculate the amount of space in a manure pit regardless of its shape, size, or current capacity.  With some basic measurements it tells the farmer how much overall room there is in the pit, how much is currently in the pit, and how much space remains.   Available on iPad, iPhone.

Field Tracker Pro 

Farmers can use this app to determine the amount of seed, spray, and fertilizer they need and then makes it easy to access and use that information from anywhere….even in the field.  It fuels better decision making by providing information about prior year planting and results.  With this information readily accessible from their smart phone, farmers are equipped to make better decisions based on hard data.   Available on Android, BlackBerry, iPad, iPhone, Windows.

 

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Making Sure Everyone Has Access to Locally Grown Food

locally grown food

Learn how low income families are able to fill their plates with locally grown food (photo credit: BigStockPhoto.com)

In the war against obesity, those in the lower income brackets have been losing ground.  Stuck between the proverbial rock and hard place, many low income Americans struggle to eat a healthy diet because they lack access to healthy options and resources to procure them.  But thanks to a growing partnership between the USDA and farmers across the country, the tide in that battle may be turning.

The rocks for these low-income Americans are something called food deserts which are urban and even suburban areas where it is difficult to buy fresh, local food that is affordable.  The hard place has traditionally been their inability to afford higher quality food options like fresh produce and lean meat.   While many low-income families receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP benefits, these healthier food options, when available were often still out of reach economically.  This means that those amongst us who were in the most need of healthy, locally grown food products generally had the least ability to access them.

Understanding the challenges many Americans face in terms of access was the first step in solving this problem.  The new partnerships being championed by the USDA are the second.  In an effort to make sure all Americans, especially those receiving SNAP benefits, can purchase the food they need to be healthy, a program of incentives was devised and is being lead by the USDA.  This program uses incentives to improve low-income access to healthy produce, dairy, and lean, locally raised meats and to encourage those households to use their benefits to purchase healthier food.

Here is what they have done.  First, to improve access, the USDA worked with private organizations like medical centers, churches, community groups, philanthropies, and charities to help open the doors of the more than 8,000 farmer’s markets across the country to SNAP recipients.  Second, that partnership worked to create local incentive programs that would encourage SNAP families to use their benefits at those farmer’s markets.

The program is based in part on research linking improved access to the products available from farmer’s market booths and farm stands with healthier diets.  By encouraging the farmer’s markets and farm stands to accept SNAP vouchers while also encouraging SNAP recipients to shop at the markets and stands by offering incentives, the program aims to provide better access to nutrition for low-income families.

A recently released report from the USDA demonstrates the success of the program overall while also highlighting some problem areas.  With almost half of all farmers’ markets and direct to consumer farms accepting SNAP benefits, great strides have been made toward ensuring equality of access.  However, the involvement and support, especially financially, the program has received from the private sector partners has been, and will continue to be critical to the success of the program.   Without their support, many of these programs would not exist and many other would not have the funding needed to provide the SNAP incentives.

Fortunately, earlier this year a bill was signed into law that provides additional federal funding for this program which will help ensure continued access to fresh, healthy, locally grown food products for Americans across the socio-economic spectrum.

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