Some of the laying hens at Nature’s Choice Farm.

This past weekend, my hometown held its first-ever, local-food Harvest Festival. All the food and drink was grown, raised or created within about 250 miles of our town, with most of it from within a 30-mile radius. Guess what? The festival sold out of food within the first 90 minutes. Local food is hot.

In restaurants and in home kitchens, more and more people are turning toward locally produced food because it is fresher, has less impact on the environment and is good for local economies. It seems that many people, given the choice, would rather spend their dollars locally and help small farmers in their communities. Eating local—and involving kids in the process—is also a great way to connect kids with their food and promote healthy eating.

Over the summer, my daughter and I paid a visit to Nature’s Choice Farm in Grant Park, Illinois, about an hour from downtown Chicago. We’ve been buying our meat and eggs from Nature’s Choice Farm for about a year now. The pasture-raised (grass-fed) beef, pork, chicken and turkey is not only delicious, and healthful, it is locally and sustainably raised on a small farm within a short drive from our home. The meat is also processed within the state of Illinois. We normally pick up our meat and eggs at the farmer’s market or at a local delivery site, and we’ve had the chance to meet the farmers, Eric and Samantha Sexton, on many occasions. But visiting the farm in person gave us an even greater appreciation for the work they do and the quality of the food they produce.

Our beef comes from this small herd of grass-fed cattle raised about an hour from downtown Chicago.

On our farm visit, we rode behind the tractor for a tour, indulged in a pig roast, and gathered our own eggs from the hen house. For city and suburban kids, who may have never seen an egg outside of a grocery store, the chance to pick up an egg still warm from the chicken’s (ahem) bottom was truly an “a-ha” moment! For me, it was gratifying to see the pigs, cattle and chickens out in the open, free to roam and graze, in a peaceful, pastoral setting. The contrast to large “factory farms” was pleasantly apparent. Yes, this is a small operation. Even with a dedicated customer base, Nature’s Choice raises a herd of fewer than 40 cattle in any given season. (more…)

A big part of parenting now is being involved in kids’ media choices. As pop culture gets pushed down to younger and younger children, parents have to work harder to figure out which songs, games, movies and books are appropriate for their child’s age group. While the proliferation of technology makes our job harder in many ways, technology tools can also help parents in our quest to stay on top of the media our kids are consuming. Inspired by my friend Duong Sheahan’s post on her top five apps for college students, I decided to make a list of my favorite apps for what I call “conscious parenting.” Here are some apps I use to make media choices and to buy or rent books, music and movies.

Common Sense Media If you’ve never checked out Common Sense Media, you are missing out on a great parenting resource. This independent organization provides free reviews, advice and media literacy curriculum to help families and educators make good choices for kids of all ages. I love their 10-point mission, which reads more like a manifesto on “media sanity.” Reviews use child-development principles to determine age-appropriateness, but the site also lets kid and parent reviewers weigh in. The Common Sense Media app lets you read reviews of movies, games, TV shows, music, and more on the fly. Even better, the reviews are sorted by age so you can quickly find what is appropriate for your kid.

SoundHoundEver find yourself wondering whether that pop song on the radio is age-appropriate? Soundhound will help you figure that out pretty quickly. With this instant music recognition app, just let it “listen” to the song for a few seconds. Soundhound will identify the title and artist, and from there give you access to the lyrics. Take a look. Can you read them without blushing? Soundhound is also fun to use for identifying music you like, and finding new music you’ll enjoy.

Now that you know what’s age-appropriate, how to get that media quickly? Most of the parents I know are constantly on-the-go, so it makes sense to have apps that save time, like these: Assuming you already have an account, this app makes it super fast and easy to order books, movies, and music for your family.

Redbox:  If you like to rent movies from Redbox, you’ll love this app. It lets you find the movie you’re looking for at a Redbox near you, make sure it’s available, and reserve it for pickup. What could be easier? Again, it’s the on-the-fly convenience that makes this app so attractive. I’ve used it many times in the car on the way home from a soccer game.

Fandango: I use Fandango to find movie times near me. It also suggests nearby restaurants, if you’re planning a family night out. I  haven’t used it to actually purchase tickets yet. I find it to be reliable and quick, but I’d love suggestions on other movie apps.

Anything to add? What apps make parenting easier for you?