Shop Smart: 5 Ways to Up Your Buy-Local IQ

Liz Solms, owner of Sweet Pea Nourishment, shares her local shopping secrets and tells us how to make sure “local” produce is legit

You’ve long heard the buying local buzz, but it can be much easier to do in theory than in real life, where the Acmes and Whole Foods of the world make one-stop shopping entirely too easy. And even worse, sometimes what you buy at a farmstand that appears to be local, actually isn’t. So we chatted with Liz Solms, owner of Sweet Pea Nourishment — a Philly catering company that only uses local ingredients — to get the lowdown.

Make it easy
. “People in the city get used to bopping around from one stand to the next to pick up local produce, but it can be hard for people in the suburbs,” says Solms, who recommends Farm Fresh Express, a Lansdowne company that will deliver locally grown produce, meat, and dairy right to your door once a week. “You order online, it’s 100 percent local, and it’s totally affordable,” says Solms.

Don’t be fooled by organic. Food loses nutrition the longer it’s refrigerated, says Solms, and that goes for organic food, too. “Local foods are exponentially higher in nutrition because they spend more time on the vine soaking up vitamins and minerals and less time losing vitamins and minerals during transportation.” The organic mangos you find at our stores, for example, have a very low nutrition content compared to the organic mangos you’d find in their natural habitat.

Know what’s in season. “Use common sense,” says Solms, stressing how it’s important to keep in mind what grows in our climate at what time of year to avoid picking up bussed-in impostors. For the end of June, Solms says to look for snap peas, snow peas, summer squash, zucchini, spring onions, leeks, and any type of lettuce. For July and August, you’ll still see zucchini and summer squash, but you’ll also start to see tomatoes, watermelon, blueberries, peppers, peaches, eggplants, cucumbers, and beans.

Avoid the middle-man
. “You want to go to farmers’ markets and stands that have producers only,” says Solms, who shops regularly at the nonprofit Fair Food Farmstand in Reading Terminal Market because everything from the baked goods to the dairy and meat is 100 percent local. “Otherwise, there could be vendors that say their stuff is local, but they might be getting lots of fruits and veggies from all over.” To find reputable spots in your neighborhood, check out Pennsylvania Buy Fresh Buy Local’s website. You can enter your zip for a list of farmer’s markets, farms, and restaurants that sell or use local fare right near you.

Beware of pre-made foods. Be careful when it comes to jams, peanut butter, and baked goods. “You’ll see some things that don’t make sense, like pineapple jam or stuff with peanuts or peanut butter,” says Solms. “It might be homemade, and it’s nice that it’s locally produced, but it’s not made with local products. More likely, it’s made from things that they’re buying in bulk.”