Eat Good Food!
Last Saturday I spoke at a public, informational event at our local library called “From the Ground Up: Farm, Food, Table.” It’s a topic that I am very passionate about. Certainly it would be easier to conjure up the passion if I could see the ground or eat a freshly picked tomato. Lucky for me, I serve lots of local meats and cheeses and pour plenty of local beers and liquors. This keeps me in the local mode and on the edge of my seat for the upcoming summer season.
The term “Farm to Table” is somewhat cliché these days, but is as valid and important as ever. It means supporting farmers, eating in a healthy way, and taking care of our earth. None of this was more evident than in the commentary, videos and conversations at the library on Saturday. Scout Proft is the owner and manager of Someday Farm, a poultry and vegetable farm in Dorset, VT. Scout would like to implement more agriculture in our local schools. (I think that this is a fabulous idea and can’t believe that it has not already been put into place.) Scout also has a vision of bringing local agriculture right into our downtown. Imagine bee hives in Adams Park, fruit trees at the Rec Park and laying chickens behind the elementary school. How we would love to make downtown Manchester a vibrant agricultural scene! We CAN make it work. We just need to work together and be positive. The turnout at this symposium was certainly encouraging that these positive changes could be made and accepted as a super cool thing for any town.
We also heard from two passionate and hard working girls, Amanda Merrow and Katie Baldwin, who started Amber Waves Farm, a non-profit farm on Long Island. It sits on a piece of land that is in the Peconic Land Trust, land that is individually leased to all sorts of farmers. These girls grow vegetables and wheat, have built a grain mill and are in the process of opening an onsite eatery. They are “growing pizza!” And teaching kids and mentoring new farmers and donating produce to local schools. It was inspiring to hear their stories and to feel the positive energy from Amanda and Katie.
The next piece of this daylong seminar was lunch provided by Hadley Stock of Pink Boot Farm in Pawlet, VT, Oliver Levis of Earth Sky Time in Manchester and lots of desserts provided by local library supporters, my mother included. Lunch was delicious, made of mostly local ingredients, and the energy in the room provided evidence of such. It was fantastic to watch 80 people from all corners of our area talking about farming while eating locally grown food. The genuine interest in local food put a huge smile on my face.
Next Hadley, Oliver and I spoke to the audience about how we each get local food to the table. This was a great opportunity for us to hail the advantages and challenges of cooking and serving local food.
Hadley grows her own pigs on her farm in Pawlet, VT and owns The Farm Store in Manchester where she cooks up outstanding ready to go lunch and dinners with local meat and produce. The girl is a hard worker, travelling to farmers a bit out of the way who can surprisingly provide her with carrots, kale, potatoes and onions all winter long. She spoke of how she’d like to see us all rally for more education about where our food comes from and how it gets to the table. She’d like to see fewer restrictions on farmers. She’d like to slaughter her pigs in the field, not put them on a truck to be shipped to spend their last 24 hours in a place that looks and smells like death. (On a side note, and I could write an entire frustration-fueled blog about this, but why is it that someone who grows organically and naturally is required to go through rigorous compliance testing and pay crazy fees to say so, and anyone who wants to raise animals in unhealthy conditions or spray chemicals on their crops can do so with no questions asked?)
Oliver, who not only grows tasty organic vegetables, but also bakes delicious organic breads (that we serve at my local restaurant, The Perfect Wife Restaurant and Tavern) spoke about the weekly farm to table veggie dinners that he and his family do at The Wilburton Inn. It has grown from about 20 to over 100 some summer nights. That is fabulous for them and for the guests who have the pleasure of eating Earth Sky Time produce, which arrives within hours from the field to the table. What started as an opportunity to use garden surplus has turned into a celebration of local food and friends on a weekly basis! It is also outstanding exposure for the farm to table process, inspiring lots more home cooks to go out and shop on the farms, get CSAs* and be proud of where and how they shopped for ingredients.
When my turn arrived, I spoke about the conflicts between the American perception of a full plate and what is really necessary to nourish one’s body at dinner time. I believe that if a person could understand that five ounces of meat on a plate is truly enough, I could afford to use locally grown meat in every entrée. That means serving a five ounce filet mignon grown in Windsor, Vermont for $35. Can we get a hungry man to accept this? Will he be willing to fill up on roasted sweet potatoes, kale and onions in place of the other 3 ounces of meat? Will he simply understand that now he has room for Vermont Apple Crisp with Wilcox Vanilla Ice Cream? And would he perceive that value in a $35 five ounce filet mignon? I suppose I should just try it. This weekend I will put local meat on the menu alongside the same commodity cut and see what sells more. It’s the only way to get the answer. I really hope I sell more local meat. It would be so encouraging!
For now we will all keep preaching (for lack of a better word) about the greatness of eating locally grown and produced food. Let’s put our money where our mouths are, buying from local farmers and producers whenever possible. We need to support our farmers, keep our land “working” and nourish our bodies and souls in a way that harmonizes with Mother Nature and her song. Now, if you’ll excuse me while I go listen to some John Denver…
*Consumer Supported Agriculture- Consumers buy “shares” from a farm in the spring which turns into a weekly vegetable pick up for that consumer all through the summer. The money that the farmers raise through CSAs in the spring help them buy seeds, hire staff to plant, and support the process before any crops are harvested for sale. I actually take part in RSAs, Restaurant Supported Agriculture, which has the same benefits for both the farmer and me.