Make Yourself at Home With Local Food

Discovering the flavor of your new hometown

by Kim Place-Gateau, Navy spouse

We all have our well-worn strategies for making connections and becoming part of our new community after a military move. Maybe it’s through kids’ schools, church, sports, a new job or by joining a neighborhood organization.

But what about the farmers market, the pick-your-own strawberry patch, or the local brewery? Places like this play a vital, vibrant role in communities everywhere, and they’re perfect places to start new friendships, make connections with your new neighborhood and-a bonus!-find healthy, local food for you and your family.

You don’t have to be a foodie to want the best-tasting honey in town, or to crave delicious, fresh apples grown in your region. Who doesn’t want food that tastes great, after all? It isn’t just about good food, though; part of the reward of finding a terrific local brew or a source for goat milk is the conversations you’ll have with your new neighbors and local merchants. These conversations that can reveal shared interests that bloom into new friendships.

Find Local Treasures

So where do you start? How do you begin to find these local treasures? The investigation and discovery is half the fun, so let’s get started.

Start your scouting mission at your local library, city hall or community center. Look for a public bulletin board; they’re often a bonanza of local gouge, including the time and location of the farmers market, which kitchen stores are offering cooking classes and who’s having a yard sale (a terrific place to snag canning jars, cooking implements and more scoop on the local scene). And don’t forget your local paper-online or from the newsstand-hit up the ads, scan the local stories and check out the classifieds, too. Does your new city have a Facebook page? How about Twitter, Craigslist or baseguide? A little online detective work and you’re ready to explore.

Bring the Kids!

Got kids? Pick-your-own farms, state fairs and farmers markets are often organized with families in mind, with play areas, places for adults to gather and chat, and opportunities to learn new skills-think arts and crafts, pumpkin-carving or potato stamps. While the kids make new friends, you can connect with local parents who care about food and who can suggest other fun activities and resources.

Have a free afternoon with the kids? Alison and her kids got to know Tacoma by having food treasure hunts. Just choose a favorite treat, do a little online sleuthing, make a short list of places nearby where you might find the “treasure” and map ’em out. Then, off to the hunt! While you search for the best cup of chili, the takeout place with the most authentic falafel in town or the bakery with the most delectable cupcake, you may well run across a terrific cheese shop, a well-stocked greengrocer, a traditional butcher shop or a local microbrewery. Heck, you can’t miss finding non-food shops you’ll love as well.

Ask Around!

It takes time to get to know the lay of the land, and if you’re only going to be in town for a couple of years, getting a jumpstart by being proactive can’t hurt. Kerri Leigh Grady, a military spouse living in Norfolk, Va., does pre-move online reconnaissance to get an idea of what’s available, and then reaches out to local folks when she hits town. She finds that the connections she makes are about more than food. “It pays to reach out and find others in the community who share my interests. Through these contacts, I learn about the amazing opportunities in my new community, and I make connections to folks I might never have met otherwise.”

Get Involved

Many communities have created space for a community garden. Whether you’re a veteran gardener or you’re not even clear on how to plant a seed, there are opportunities-a-plenty at your local garden; they may offer gardening help and advice, and volunteer opportunities and host community events. Many of these offerings are open to kids, as well.

If you’ve got the time to give, volunteering at your local farmers’ market is a great way to get involved in your community while you meet people. You’d be amazed at the warm reception you’ll get, and there’s usually plenty to do. And what better way to get to know your local food producers? Alison Olt Kerr, a Navy spouse living in Tacoma, Wash., started volunteering at her local farmers market this spring, and now she’s hooked. “I met a whole new group of great folks-staff, farmers and other shoppers-and really, there is nothing more inspirational to me than being surrounded by a group of folks passionate about food!”

Once you find-or grow!-a bounty of fresh produce, how about taking the leap into canning and preserving? Not sure where to start? Your community can help. Try seeking out folks selling canned goods at the farmers market and ask them for resources, or check out the bulletin board at your local food co-op. In no time at all, you’ll have homemade jelly to trade for tomatoes, or pickles to trade for chutney. Brined vegetables and infused liquors are ridiculously easy to make, and who could possibly resist your charming personality when you’re armed with treats like these?

Everyone Wins

What’s not to love? Along with the health boost you’ll get by buying whole, recognizable ingredients, you’ll become a part of the fabric of your community and have a great time doing it. So once you’ve got those boxes unpacked, reach out to your new neighborhood through local food. You’ll fill your belly and your social calendar!

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