My mom was a nurse and so made sure we ate healthy meals. Each night we’d all sit down together as soon as the parentals were home from work and we’d have a meat and two veggies. Usually a home baked dessert afterwards. Sometimes it was delicious and sometimes I would have preferred to have a “no thank you” helping (i.e, liver).
As I struck out on my own I usually made a meat (never liver) and veggie, trying to skip desserts. Anyone who knows me personally knows I lost that attempt.
And once the kids were on the scene the effort improved and more veggies entered the picture (but never any liver). Most meals were made from scratch in those days but I had my shortcuts, like boboli or frozen bread dough to make pizzas and Betty Crocker brownie mix for the chocolate fix.
About seven years ago I started learning more about how the food we were eating was considerably different from the same food of my childhood. Concerns about pesticides, herbicides, genetically modified foods were one thing. But then I learned about how fish like tilapia was a farm fish which meant it was raised in man-made ponds that were often pretty polluted. And now, to complicate things more, Congress permitted country of origin information to no longer be on labels. So, really, where DOES that chicken come from?
Around the same time I began to get involved in the farm-to-table movement in West Virginia. To say I knew nothing is not an understatement. I grew up in the New York metropolitan area, and while New Jersey’s nickname may be the Garden State, I lived in the paved part. But I enjoyed visiting farms and asking questions and I learned.
I learned a lot and I learned only a smidgen of what they know. They, the magic makers who take a tiny little speck of stuff, a seed, and manage to make that turn into tomatoes or squash or spinach. Amazing magic. They know how to do it and it definitely takes a lot of skill.
Right now here in the Willamette Valley some of the farmers are finding some fields are drying out enough from the winter rains to get started, but others will have to wait for more sun….or at least more non-rain days. And then, later, they will deal with the vagaries of the weather, with heat and sunshine and lack of rain. And then, here in Oregon, the rains will start again, maybe in October, maybe in November, maybe with climate change whenever it does.
Those vagaries can make or break a financial year for our local farmers…and your local farmers too. I don’t care where you are when you read this, you have some small farms nearby. About a hundred years ago there were farms all over. The Garden State, for example, had earned its nickname because it was the vegetable garden for New York City.
So, accept this piece: there are farmers near you, raising food you can eat.
Before I started working with the farmers I met in West Virginia and here in Oregon, they used to be invisible. Either I never went down back roads or the roads I drove were not rural enough. But they were there, all along. Maybe just tucked back off a long driveway, or around the hill on the other sides. They are there.
Why am I belaboring that point? Because it is time, past time, for you to know your farmer.
I’ve been using that phrase for years and it seems more and more I am posting it almost weekly as new disgusting things about our food becomes known. But what does it really mean?
It means that it is once again time for you to understand that what you put in your body does make a difference. It means your food is even more important than who won March Madness. It means that it is time you understand the difference in your food can make a difference in your life.
I’m not talking any special diet here. I am talking knowing the source of what YOU chose to eat.
First of all, and maybe this is all you need to appreciate, it will TASTE BETTER! Why? Well, most of the fruits and veggies at the supermarket come long distances, flown in or by train or by truck. In order to be transported without spoilage, those fruits and veggies are picked green…not ripe. Almost everyone has eaten tomatoes in the winter and then a fresh tomato off someone’s backyard plant in the summer. THAT amazing explosion in your mouth is the humongous difference in eating something picked green and something vine ripened. ALL fruits and veggies are that way.
Not only that, but if you were brought up with canned vegetables, try all those that you decided you would avoid as an adult one more time, fixed from locally grown fresh produce. If you’re like me, you will be surprised. Those cans of spinach that Popeye crammed down his throat to get strong never convinced me….until I ate fresh spinach in a salad and then braved up and cooked some. Spinach is no longer on my “hate it” list.
Secondly, and this is a bit concerning to me, we know our infrastructure (bridges and highways) have not been getting the maintenance they should have been getting over the past few decades. If there is a problem, as there was with the blizzard here in Oregon in the Columbia River Gorge blocking I-84 and the railroad, the transportation of goods (including food) may be slowed. If I can get most of my food from local sources, I can manage quite well. Now the Willamette Valley is an amazing garden and so much grows here that we could get by with only a few things missing from our diet, but not all areas are this fertile. Nevertheless, there is food near you. Find out what it is and learn how to prepare it for your meals.
Third, while the economic indicators show that the recession is over, it just doesn’t feel that healthy yet. One way to have a tremendous impact on your local economy is to spend more of your money IN it. In other words, use local shops and farms and services instead of the large corporate entities as much as possible. I, for one, discovered that printing my labels for my canned products cost more at Staples than at a small locally owned print shop. A lot less at Copy Cabana! So, when I go in weekly during my processing season and pay for printing, I know that money will mostly stay right here in my town. The food I buy from local farmers helps the local economy the same way.
So how do you build a relationship with a farmer? One easy way is to identify where and when your local farmers’ markets are. Many market managers make an effort to plan the hours so consumers can stop during lunch hour or after work on their way home. Here in McMinnville, our planned market hours are expanding to noon to 6pm on Thursdays from mid May to Mid October. There are markets every day of the week within 30 minutes of here! Maybe in your area too.
When you go to your farmers’ market you will see four or five or more fruit and vegetable stands as well as other specialties with meat, bread, wine, beer, candy, and preserved items (yeah Can-Do Real Food!). Speak to the person at the booth. Ask about how they produce their food. They will be happy to speak with you! They are proud of what they do and love it when people show interest.
Some farmers offer a CSA. That stands for Consumer Supported Agriculture. This is an easy way to get more bang for your buck (more food for your dollar), but there is a catch, maybe two. First, you pay ahead, either by the month or the season or the partial season. This permits the farmer to have working capital during the growing season. Second, you will get some produce you may have never eaten before. That can be a hard hurdle to overcome, but ask the farmer for a recipe or use your internet skills to search for one. Make exploring new foods a regular family adventure. (When Graham and I first got together we did a cuisine of the week for a few months and learned new ethnic recipes. Now our exploration usually is a new veggie our farmers suggest.)
Look, some people (you?) have a close reliance on a hair dresser, a nail person, a massage therapist. We want what makes us feel/look/move healthy to be a regular, reliable part of our routine. Where is your decision about the source of your food in that list of important people? Where is the consideration of how you CAN influence your health with what you eat?
It’s easier than you think. There are many ways to find local information, but an easy place to start is Local Harvest. Stick in your zip code and hit the search button. You will then see a list of farms and more that are near you. Have fun exploring…..and share your stories!