Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Local Grazing

It's full-fledged summer here in the Berkshires, and I'm doing the best to live each day as its own, resisting the urge to mindlessly move towards the weekend. Living on a lake has been such a privilege. I can savor the water, be it watching the sun move across the sky, kayaking and canoeing, practicing yoga, lounging, or even swimming. The depth off the dock is just about chest height for me, with clear water that's algae-free due to its own variety of herbicides, but otherwise the perfect temperature.


This year I wasn't as ambitious with my garden plantings, but I decided to fill the patio garden box with lettuces. The garden bed attached to my neighbor's home has dinosaur kale, bok choi, zucchini, a few tomatoes in serious need of cages to keep them upright, and hopefully beautiful rows of sunflowers. In the kitchen window there are basil and parsley plants growing in pots.The greens are absolutely thriving in this full sun and semi-frequent rains. I've actually reached a critical mass with lettuce, and find myself passing it along to friends and neighbors before it grows to tall and bitter. It is certainly the most gratifying vegetable I've grown yet, and the best part is its low maintenance and resilience. Less than 4 weeks after the first planting in a bed of manure-based fertilized compost (redundant, I know), the little leaves are bursting spirals of greens, yellows, purples, and reds, that can be plucked from the outside-in, or cut at the base for a full head. I relish in making a salad any time of day that was grown a few feet from my door.

As you may remember, I strive to keep my food purchases and consumption as local as possible--a locavore, if you will. In a polarized global economy where most supermarket produce has traveled thousands of miles for several weeks out of its indigenous season after being drowned in pesticides on an industrial farm that's indentured to the patents of its corporate parent seeds and utilizing underpaid migrant labor in hazardous conditions, well... you should be able to see why where your food comes from matters. Don't even get me started on meat. My heart squeezes in a terrible way when I think of the more than 450,000 concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) where cattle and poultry are trapped to a life of confinement, stuffed with corn, then slaughtered à la Upton Sinclar's The Jungle to become our $3 burger, also while exhausting water resources and producing methane gases. No, I'm not a vegetarian, nor a a devout PETA supporter; I simply believe in giving all creatures a life of dignity.

It's easy to assume that local, "natural" stores and markets are too much for your wallet. So, I challenge you to take a 1-2 week inventory of what you actually completely eat in your household. I'd make a bet that most of you waste at least 40% of what you've purchased, because it degrades too soon (also a symptom of industrial, far-traveled produce), the expiration dates are mislabeled, or you just don't feel like being reinventive using leftovers for new meals. I'm not blaming you; it happens. Maybe you went out for dinner more often than originally planned, or realized that no matter how hard you try, Brussels sprouts are gross in any form (not true for me~!). Those food stuffs in the garbage, though, add up as lost dollars and needless space in our garbage dumps, when it potentially could have been purchased by another family, rescued by gleaners, or donated to a community kitchen. I was really proud to be part of these efforts with the Campus Kitchens Project at St. Lawrence University.

While the prices at small-owned stores may be more expensive, you should inquire a bit further. Usually the products sold at organic shops and co-ops are from companies with equitable, sustainable sourcing and production processes. Think: fair wages for farmers in developing nations, no genetically-modified (GMO) plants, recycled packaging, a community-owned business model, and so on. At the store itself, these employees tend to be have a better living wage and working environment. This sounds like a pain the ass to do all this investigation, because unfortunately, marketers understand how to label, package, and brand deceitfully. We're all at risk here, but have the ability to be conscientious consumers and hold the food industry accountable. In our capitalistic society, dollars matter. The extra effort and overhead is an investment into your local economy. You'll buy a bit less, waste less, and enjoy it more.

Farmers markets proliferate New England this time of year in the open air, where children and pets can wander to produce, dairy, meat, coffee, jewelry, craft stands, all things imaginable, away from harsh supermarket lights and heavy crowds. Some cities have bustling markets, yet the shoppers tend to be relaxed and friendlier. It's great if you know in advance which farmer's will be there and zip in and out with your purchases, but it's also wonderful to stroll through for the holistic, sensory experience. Many towns are even holding winter farmer's markets so you can support your local producers year round.

I must give a shout out to the Downtown Pittsfield Farmers Market, whose wildly successful Double Value program has truly made the market economically equitable (say that five times fast). The Double Value Program is a money-matching program available to mothers, senior citizens and low-income residents who are using their SNAP, WIC, and Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program benefits. According to their website, the program’s reach far surpassed the market’s projections and in just thirteen weeks during the summer 2015 launch, putting over $20,000 worth of fresh food on the tables of families in need and leveraged federal SNAP dollars to support local farms and the Berkshire economy. As a personal antidote, I took advantage of this program when I was still an AmeriCorps VISTA receiving SNAP benefits. My food budget was limited to those dollars each month, yet this market afforded me twice as much incredible, local food. I'm so thankful for the visionary directors of the market, and the businesses that fund this venture.

At the farmers market, you can taste the difference. Your luscious, heirloom, tomatoes will remind you why it's worth the 11 month wait between seasons. Strike up a conversation with producers. Don't be afraid to ask questions; they want to share their bounty and labor of love. They will teach you so much more about nutrition and this world than a sticker ever will. The relationships that blossom will make you feel more connected and in touch with your community, while eating with a conscious. If you're not sure where to go, the USDA has a market locator that even filters the types of products available and accepted payments.

I can't wait for Saturday morning, the next downtown farmers market! And ifyou're in the area, please stop by so I can give you some greens.

1 comment:

Paul Eigbrett said...

I totally agree fresh from farmers market or pick your own are best! Great job again!