A hundred years ago, most Americans were unintentional locavores, consuming the majority of their calories from nearby farms, if not their own. There were no fresh strawberries in December, but there was a plethora of pickled cabbage. All that changed with globalization, and pretty soon Americans were eating exotic fruits from the tropics and Peruvian asparagus in November. Things were grand until suddenly there was a food revolution and millions of Americans decided they preferred locally-sourced foods because the flavor was better and the carbon footprint was smaller.
This locavore movement spread across the country, and as it did locavores discovered that not all locations were created equally. By the uniqueness of their geography, economy and culture, some cities were far better suited to make the locavore lifestyle easy and delicious.
We picked our top six cities for locavores based on proximity to farms, ranches and fishing areas; local enthusiasm for the locavore lifestyle; and the availability of locally-sourced ingredients through Community Assisted Agriculture (CSA), farmers markets, and farm-to-table restaurants. In the end we chose these came out on top…
6. DETROIT, MI
At first glance, industrial Detroit doesn’t seem like a hotbed for locally-sourced foods, but that’s rapidly changing. Burdened by poverty and limited food choices, locals have banded together through urban farming to make their city a healthier, safer place. There’s little startup capital, but thousands of abandoned lots provide the space for community gardens that other cities simply don’t possess. Detroit may not be a mecca for the best farm-to-table restaurants, but its population is more determined than any other American city to provide its own food, partly out of necessity.
- Eastern Market: This six-block public market hosts 250+ independent vendors that’s been feeding Detroit since 1891.
- Neighborhood Gardens: On streets where people once avoided going outside there are gardens suddenly sprouting up thanks to community organizations, student groups, and various nonprofits.
- The Greening of Detroit: This organization works to improve the city through tree planting projects, environmental education, urban agriculture, open space reclamation, vacant land management, and workforce development programs.
5. PORTLAND, MAINE
When you’re tucked away in the far corner of the country, importing food is expensive, so why not just produce it yourself? Portland could live on a diet of lobster, potatoes and blueberries, but the area farms and fishing fleet ensure the dinner table features a far more diverse selection. The city’s chefs embrace local ingredients, which isn’t hard when there’s so much fresh seafood on hand. There is active cooperation between the city’s restaurants and neighboring farms, especially Portland restaurant Vignola Cinque and its partner in produce Grand View Farm, its primary supplier of fruits, herbs and veggies. In addition, there are plenty of other delicious farm-to-table restaurants in town like Fore Street, Eventide Oyster Co., Bar Lola, and more.
- Organic Farms: Maine is home to the highest number of organic farms per capita in the country.
- Community Garden Program: The city oversees four community garden sites containing 118 garden plots.
- Excellent Foraging: The woods are full of black trumpet and golden chanterelle mushrooms, wild ramp, and various berries.
4. NEW ORLEANS, LA
More so than any other city in America, New Orleans is defined by its culinary traditions. Its unique history, cultural influences and geographic location have created a one-of-a-kind cuisine that’s dependent on the farms, bayous, and ocean that surround it. From its boudin and andouille to its gumbo and muffulettas, New Orleans is a city that lives to eat and they’re happiest when they’re eating local. The recent oil spill and hurricanes have battered New Orleans, but it’s no surprise the city’s chefs are at the vanguard of the area’s rebuilding efforts.
- Eat Local Challenge: The city just held The New Orleans 3rd Annual Eat Local Challenge, an event in which locals spent a month only eating foods grown, caught or raised within a 200 mile radius of New Orleans. Many filled their fridges with products from The Crescent City Farmers Market.
- Hunting/Fishing: The forests, lakes and bayous around New Orleans are teaming with fish and game, with much of it ending up in the stewpots of the city’s residents.
- Seafood: Louisiana is the number one provider of shrimp, oysters, crab, crawfish and alligator production in the United States.
3. SAN FRANCISCO, CA
San Francisco is an absolute locavore’s paradise, a place where eating local isn’t so much an ideology as it is a privilege. Located beside the ocean amidst a wide variety of microclimates, San Francisco—and the entire Bay Area—is at the confluence of pretty much all things delicious. Locally-sourced ingredients include wines and olive oil from Napa Valley, fresh oysters from Tomales Bay, sardines from that big, blue ocean, artichokes from Castroville, and fresh truffles and mushrooms from the forests. It’s a food-topia, an organic wonderland where the city’s chefs have fully embraced the flavors of local. Truth be told, San Francisco would have been number one, except the locals have yet to embrace gardening, chicken ranching, and producing their own foods like the next two cities.
- Ferry Plaza Farmers Market: This lovely market is kind of like an OkCupid matching local farmers with urban residents.
- Chez Panisse: The legendary restaurant of Alice Waters is located in neighboring Berkeley, her pioneering enthusiasm for local, organic ingredients influenced the Bay Area’s cuisine mightily, including San Francisco’s.
- CSA Parade: There are over 20 CSA deliveries in San Francisco alone.
- Farm-to-Table Restaurants: The city is littered with them, but a short list includes Heirloom Cafe, Seven Hills, Frances, Trace, Local Mission Eatery, Radius Restaurant & Cafe, and Flour + Water. One could go on and on.
2. PORTLAND, OR
Portland has been the flavor of the month for what seems like years now and that popularity simply isn’t waning. The rest of the country is sick of hearing about these über green hipsters and all their locally-sourced everything, but that’s just the truth. Fiercely local, Portland loathes comparisons to other cities, and strives to do things its own way. This means locals scour the hills for chanterelle mushrooms and comb the beach for sea beans and razor clams. They brew beers with local hops, and even cure their own charcuterie from the tastiest critters found in the Willamette Valley. Residents don’t just aspire to be locavores because of exceptional local produce, it’s also because of a stubborn pride Oregonians are known for. Portland is a city that loathes California imports, and that goes for their fruits and vegetables also.
- James Beard: The Father of Gastronomy was a product of Portland, and even though he took his talents to New York he always pined for the berries and shellfish of his Oregon youth.
- Portland Farmers Market: The organization runs six farmers markets, providing the city’s locavores with direct connection to 250+ local food vendors.
- Local Pinot Noir: Portland may be known as Beervana, but this Willamette Valley city resides in the shadow of some of the best Pinot Noir-growing vineyards in the world.
- Consider these 37 things before moving to Portland
1. SEATTLE, WA
Despite a shortage of sunshine, this northwest food town is surrounded by a bounty of fresh, local ingredients. The city’s chefs actively forge relationships with area farmers, foragers, and fishermen to secure the freshest local ingredients to power the city’s innovative cuisine. Seattle residents rely on CSAs like Local Roots for seasonal produce, and are regular visitors to numerous farmers markets. Locals grow their own veggies in city-owned “pea patches,” and backyard gardens or curbside garden boxes are a popular source of summer veggies. In the summer months, residents pick berries in vacant lots, at u-pick farms, or amongst bears in berry patches in nearby mountains.
- Fresh Seafood: The fish mongers at Mutual Fish and Pike Place Fish Market source local salmon, halibut, Dungeness crab, fresh oysters and spot prawns.
- Foraged Foods: Local chef Jeremy Faber left the kitchen to found Foraged & Found Edibles and now forages for mushrooms, huckleberries, nettles and more to sell to some of the city’s best restaurants.
- Chicken Ranching: Seattle is swimming in fresh eggs thanks to supportive local government, popular Seattle chicken coop builder Saltbox Designs, and programs by Seattle Tilth.