When Whitney Bonacorsi moved to Bangor from southern California a little more than a year ago, it was was important for her to keep buying most of her family’s produce and food from local farms. So every Saturday, her family of four goes to the Bangor Farmers Market. Her 2-year-old heads straight for the tomatoes and her 3-year-old usually chooses a box of duck eggs.

“I think it’s important that we lay that foundation of good, healthy habits and supporting our community,” she said, adding that even though the family moves a lot, she and her husband always try to find a way to eat local.

Now, more than ever, it is easier for families like the Bonacorsis to eat locally regardless of income level, lifestyle and size.

Despite this, eating local is still not the norm for most families nationwide, despite the many health benefits and increased access. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, a typical American meal contains ingredients originating from five countries. And even if it does contain domestically grown produce, it probably traveled an average of 1,500 miles before reaching the consumer.

But Maine farmers and local food enthusiasts say it doesn’t have to be that way.

Almost 40 markets throughout Maine started accepting Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits in the last two seasons, increasing accessibility to fresh, local, nutritious food. Others accept Women, Infants and Children benefits or offer credit card payment options.

Aside from that, there are countless ways to prepare lunches that include local, kid-friendly foods, many of which are available throughout the start of the school year and into winter.

“It’s a great way to get kids used to different foods,” said Brittany Hopkins, a farmer at Wise Acres farm in Kenduskeag. “Kids become much more imaginative and willing eaters.”

Hopkins said she often recommends small, sweet cherries, small cucumbers that can be perfect for little hands and even storage crops like carrots and beets.

“It may take a little more prep, but there’s still definitely [locally grown food] into winter that can be packed into lunches,” she said.

Pat Bears, a local food enthusiast, volunteers at the Orono Parks and Recreation Department teaching a gardening and cooking club for young students. She said when families support local farms, it not only introduces new foods to children, it helps foster strong communities.

“We talk about what farms make what food and make a lunch or snack made of either food we grew ourselves or purchased from local farms,” she said. “It makes eating education and helps them ask, ‘What am I eating and where did it come from?’”

She also said she’s found children are more receptive to trying vegetables in they are involved in the preparation.

“Kids that don’t normally eat veggies at home devour them when they’ve helped prepare them and made a salad bar for their own after-school program snack,” Bears said. “If kids are involved in the process of packing their lunch, value the food inside and are enjoying the process, they’re more likely to eat it.”

Dairy/meat products:

Eating local doesn’t have to mean just fruits and vegetables. Many farms throughout Maine offer meat, cheese and dairy products all year long. Several deliver to customers’ homes or provide a pick-up option at winter markets throughout the state. Websites like EatWild.com or mofga.net provide statewide lists and contact information for farms that offer everything from yogurt to chocolate milk.

Resources for families:

Local, fresh snack ideas:

Several farmers at the Bangor Farmers Market recommended vegetables, fruits and other food perfect for packing in lunch boxes and still available locally for at least another six weeks.

  • Small tomatoes
  • Pizza made with local cheese and sliced vegetables
  • Raspberries
  • Carrots (they come in colors other than orange too)
  • Small cucumbers
  • Yogurt
  • Sliced or snack-size bell peppers
  • Apples
  • Pears
  • Cubed cheese with a sliced baguette

Natalie Feulner

Natalie Feulner is a journalist and “semi-crunchy” cloth diapering momma to a rambunctious toddler named after a county in California. She drinks too much tea and loves to climb rocks but not at the...