In addition to supporting our fellow community members, one of the reasons I prioritize shopping locally is that it often exposes you to new foods. I've found that even after living somewhere awhile, secret little gems tend to pop up into your world when you least expect them, when you think you've already learned everything there is to learn about local, seasonal produce. Sometimes, a plant just has a really short season, and sometimes, you just haven't been in the right place at the right time with an open mindset, yet. During my last week of a summer spent in Ecuador, I was served heavenly gatabatayuyu- steamed curly baby fern leaves - and I was like "Where has this been all summer??" In Senegal it took me a good 6 months before stumbling upon some women selling purple hibiscus juice, which made for an incredible cocktail and was quickly added to our weekly shopping list. I see these little surprises as rewards for presence, patience, and paying attention to the local agricultural community.
In addition to shopping at our farmers' market and local fruit stands, one of the ways we support local community businesses and broaden our palettes is by getting a weekly CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) box. Our first summer here in Rincon, Puerto Rico, our box was full of tropical fruits I'd never seen or heard of, and this is how I discovered a top five on my favorite fruits list: the mangosteen (pictured here with mango.)
This delicious fruit is made more amazing by the fact that it may take a tree thirty to forty years to mature and fruit! Planting a mangosteen tree requires forethought, dedication, and patience! Inside the fruit's hard magenta casing you'll find soft, squishy, sweet, sour white pulp surrounding small seeds. I dare say I love this fruit so much that I catch myself eating far more than my fair share at home, leaving my husband and son in the dark. What they don't know.... they don't know. You won't find these in a grocery store, though, not even in our small-town locally-owned one. No, I would have never come to know this fruit if it weren't for our local fruit stands and our local CSA, Sana Farms. And that's one of the greatest benefits of a CSA box membership - your kitchen is suddenly home to obscure fruits, or perhaps just a different variety of a vegetable with which you're already familiar.
Although the concept of a CSA box isn't especially new, its popularity has risen greatly in the past few years as people have become more aware of the source of their food. In exchange for a weekly, monthly, or annual membership fee, you get a weekly box of produce and maybe other food items as well. Usually you can give them information such as how many people are in your household and which fruits or veggies you absolutely will not eat. My local CSA even lets you choose every single week which items you want to include and which you want to pass on.
So what happens when you get food that you're unsure how to prepare? The most common downsides you hear about CSA boxes are "There's too much produce; I can't use it before it goes bad," and "I don't know what to do with half of the things in there."
Both of these 'problems' are actually blessings in disguise. Eating more produce and incorporating new plant foods into your diet are both fantastic things! Reserve some time each week to learn about new foods in your box and to find recipes to use with them. It might seem like a lot at first, but that one time you research that new food will add to your diet indefinitely - you'll now know what to do with a new fruit or vegetable for the rest of your life - that's amazing!
With regards to the problem of "not being able to eat it all before it goes bad" - if you're getting a box made for the appropriate amount of people (usually you can choose between 2, 3, or 4 people,) then the issue could be a mindset one. If you make eating what's in your weekly box a priority over buying more common veggies at the grocery store, you will eat through your box and it will become a new habit.
By signing up for CSA membership, you're simultaneously supporting your local community, being a little kinder to the earth, and broadening your nutrient sources. If you can't find a CSA where you live but would still like the challenge of incorporating new foods into your diet, you could just make an effort every time you're at a farmers market or grocery store to hunt out a fruit or veggie you don't normally eat, scoop it up, and let it take you on an adventure. Look up recipes - or better yet find someone who can share theirs - and let learning about this fruit or vegetable consume your attention and palette!