11 Unique Ways to Eat Sustainably in Your Neighborhood

Ripe, fresh red tomatoes growing on vine
Paul Hudson / Getty Images

Once upon a time, people grew and canned their own food, concocted their own beverages (including the hard stuff), and shared their abundance with neighbors, family and friends. Grapes weren’t shipped from Argentina, and no one worried about food miles or long-haul carbon emissions.

Fast forward to now. The local food-and-drink movement has tried to re-create that living-local ethos, but even these efforts aren’t enough for some devotees. Enter the hyperlocals, a radical few who are reshaping the “close to home” dining and drinking habits of yesteryear for application in modern life.

1. Yard-sharing CSAs

Community-supported agriculture has relied mainly on growers with their own patch of terra firma (i.e., a farm) to grow and harvest food for members. But what if you’re a grower minus the soil? Why not ask others to donate their unused land (i.e., yards) as “fields”? Examples of this new local-eating craze include Magic Bean Farm in Seattle and Farm Yard CSA in Denver (which also uses a church yard in addition to residential yards to grow its organic goodies). Another take is Your Backyard Farmer in Portland, Ore., where gardeners create a custom organic garden on your property, maintain it, pick the produce, and leave a weekly harvest basket on your doorstep. If you’re looking for a yard-sharing CSA, want to “donate” your yard, or just hope to swap homegrown produce with likeminded neighbors, Hyperlocavore can match you up.

2. Invasivore Cuisine

What to do about all those invasive plants and critters decimating your yard and local ecosystems? Why not serve them up for dinner! Taking the notion of foraging one step further, the fledgling invasivore movement advocates munching on unwanted — but not untasty — non-native ne’er-do-wells like knotweed, barberry and Asian carp. The benefit: You stay local without worrying about over-foraging “wanted” species. Call it the invasive species diet ... or eating weeds. Either way, you can make your own invasivore delicacies — check out a sampling of recipes from the Mid-Atlantic Exotic Pest Council. Or try dining at an invasive-friendly restaurant.

3. Self-made Wine

Love those French Bordeaux and Italian Chiantis, but can’t justify their high-mileage, high-carbon hike to your wine glass? Consider making your own wine at a local vineyard. DIY wineries that let you actually prune vines, crush grapes and bottle your own custom wine batch are cropping up in urban and rural areas alike. Check out Brooklyn Winery, Sannino’s Bella Vita Vineyard on the North Fork of Long Island, and Crushpad in Sonoma, Calif., which allows you to make wine either on-site or online. With the help of an expert vintner, you get carbon-friendly local vino that tastes ... well ... like it’s straight from the vineyard and not your basement.

4. Sustainable Pop-up Restaurants

Young carbon-conscious chefs without the capital to start their own eateries are using some ingenuity to bring their “farm to fork” favorites to restaurant-goers. Instead of waiting for better economic times to hang out a permanent shingle, they’re opening temporary bistros and cafes — “pop-ups” — in established restaurants and stores during off days and after hours. Some are even setting up shop in people’s homes. Many pop-ups, like EAT and Hapa Ramen, emphasize local and organic dishes. The trend is so hot, there’s even a new spot in San Francisco called Rotation at the Corner, featuring a different pop-up restaurant every night (though not all specialize in local fare).

5. DIY Delicacies

Time was when eating local involved more than hopping down to the nearest Whole Foods for organic blackberry jam or raw goat milk cheese. It meant making these treats at home. Thanks to the recession and a yearning for simpler times, lost “home arts,” like canning, preserving and cheese-making, are on the upswing again. Many farms, organic food businesses, urban homesteaders and county cooperative extension offices are offering classes for DIYers seeking old-school goodies that don’t come from halfway around the world. Haven’t got time for a class? Try tapping into an online community like Canning Across America. Not sure why your jelly won’t gel or which salt yields the tastiest pickles? The National Center for Home Food Preservation’s FAQ page probably has the answer.

6. Artisanal Speakeasies

So you’re not quite ready to invest in canning jars and pickling spices, but want to savor all those handcrafted foods your neighbors are making. Or maybe you have extra homemade jams or pastas you’d like to offer, but don’t have a commercial kitchen or the funds to qualify for a spot at a “real” farmers market. Time to go underground. Covert food markets, like the San Francisco Underground Farmer’s Market, are quietly popping up to pair covert food makers with hyperlocal-food lovers. But don’t wait too long. These under-the-radar food emporiums could soon slip completely offscreen, as Brooklyn’s Greenpoint Food Market did last year when New York health authorities shut it down.

7. Nanobreweries

Microbrewers beware. Small just got smaller. Welcome to the nanobrewery — pint-sized, home-based brewers (most of them with regular non-beer-related day jobs) who are beginning to offer their craft pilsners and lagers to local restaurants and stores. Good news for brew enthusiasts and ale aficionados looking to shrink their beverage-related carbon footprints. Hess Brewing, which claims to be San Diego’s first nanobrewery, has compiled the Great Nanobrewery List of tiny artisan breweries around the country. Want to turn your homebrew hobby into a nanobusiness? Check out these pointers on equipment, licensing and other legal issues.

8. Garden Plant Adoptions

Pets aren’t the only ones left homeless after a death, divorce or move. Plants and backyard gardens often suffer the same fate, withering away from neglect. Thanks to a group called Wayward Plants, these abandoned and unwanted garden and houseplants have a second shot at life. Visitors to the group’s halfway homes, adoption events and pop-up shops often find great additions for their veggie gardens, orchards and windowsills. They save plants (akin to recycling local natural resources) and avoid a trip to the nursery, where plants are often shipped from long distances. Another variation: garden plant exchanges. If you can’t find one near you, consider hosting one yourself.

9. Artisan Distilleries

Spirit lovers, rejoice: A quiet revolution is unfolding, possibly in a neighborhood near you. Micro-distilleries are springing up across the nation, using locally grown grains to fashion artisan whiskey, gin, vodka and other spirits that are mainly available in nearby restaurants and bars. Handcrafters like Koval in Chicago, Highball Distillery in Portland, Ore., and Catoctin Creek Distilling Co. in Purcellville, Va., even tout their sustainable credentials with organic handcrafted spirits. To find boutique distilleries in your area, see the American Distilling Institute’s member map. Want to concoct your own? ADI also offers e-courses for aspiring artisan distillers ... and would-be moonshiners (another recession-fueled retro-trend).

10. Restaurants That Grow Their Own

Used to be you went to Grandma’s for farm-fresh homegrown cooking. Nowadays, you might be better off eating out. Many restaurants are adopting Grandma’s hyperlocal approach and producing their own food on site. Chicago’s Uncommon Ground has an organic urban rooftop garden, offering everything from heirloom tomatoes and shallots to bush beans and fennel. Poste Moderne Brasserie in downtown Washington sports a vegetable and fruit garden in its outdoor courtyard. And away from big-city space constraints, the Glasbern Inn in Fogelsville, Pa., not only grows a multitude of organic fruits and veggies on its 130-acre farm but also offers patrons grass-fed beef and lamb from its herds of Scottish Highland cows and Katahdin sheep.

11. Hyperlocavores

You’ve heard of the 100-mile diet, an effort by locavores to feast only on foods produced within a 100-mile radius of their homes. Well, now there’s the 10-mile diet; the 1-mile diet; and, yes, even the zero-mile diet (aka a backyard garden that produces everything — and we mean everything — you eat). Not quite ready for total immersion, but want to eat closer to home? Check out Local Harvest’s lists of nearby farmers markets, CSAs, and food co-ops. Or try the Locavore Network, which lets you specify your preferred distance to local growers and markets.

Photo credits:

Self-made wine: Getty Images

DIY delicacies: nicolasjon/Flickr

Nanobreweries: Landfeldt/Flickr

Artisan distilleries: osmium/Flickr

Hyperlocavores: postbear/Flickr