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Locavore Equinox: Balancing Out and Celebrating Each Moment

22 Sep

The last stretch of the Locavore challenge comes after the equinox.  That means it’s officially fall, but the balance of daylength and nighttime have symbolic power for the locavore.  The last week on the blog will focus on celebrating the delicious food and the truly awesome organic landscapes around us.  This is a week for us to show off a bit, with the celebrate the harvest dinners you might be planning for the weekend, but also to reflect on ways to work the locavore joy into our lives for the long term.  You’ve likely tried activities that you wouldn’t keep up all year round, simply because you can’t (think of berry picking in February–it’s just not possible in New York) or because you realize that the activity is a bit of a reach for you to do daily or weekly (not everyone wants to bake bread for their family every week).  The theme of balance that comes with the equinox (night and day are the same length) reminds us to think about the ways to pull back from the mania of checking off all the different locavore activities, to slow down after summer, to savor those locavore moments that really bring us happiness.  Sure, the abundance of September also encourages certain obsessions and the drive to put up lots of tomato sauce and salsa while we still can, but in the spirit of the equinox, let’s approach the last few weeks of overflowing market tables with a calm mindset.  Let’s not forget the joy this food (and the sound farming practices that got it to market) brings us and the local food it permits us to eat into the winter.

How to celebrate AND have balance?  This part of the challenge can be the point when you:

  • Decide to become a NOFA-NY member, because you know that this helps sustain farms in New York over the long term;
  • finally pick up a book related to food, farming, agricultural history, food justice, etc. because reading about farming is a different way to engage with your locavore brain;
  • take one last you-pick farm trip
  • engage the photographer or artist within yourself to create a lasting image that will remind you about how important farms are to our culture and communities
  • invite friends over to celebrate bounty (just don’t let it stress you out);
  • decide to patronize a locavore restaurant, because going out to eat is indeed part of your lifestyle and having a locavore option captures that balance that you’ll embrace as a locavore in the next 11 months (until September 2014).

Do whatever means most to you!

Last week, we heard from some of you on Facebook and Twitter about some of the celebrations of local food and farming.

On Facebook, Lynn Clow Burko told us “[I] resolved to purchase only local meats for my family and stuck to it. It can be done!”  Well done–sounds like you challenged yourself to do something new, and realized it was something you might work into your lives year-round.  A great example of stretching your assumptions and then realizing this fit into the balance of your budget and meal planning anyways!

Sarah’s family update for the week also exemplifies the concept of the change of seasons and inserting some slowing-down and balancing-out joy in her locavore activities. “With our CSA shares coming to an end and the vegetables taking a bit longer to grow and ripen in our garden, we have begun thinking about the fall season. Basil  has been plentiful in our CSA shares and garden this summer, and our final CSA share this week came with a basic recipe for pesto, so we’re making and preserving pesto for the final Locavore activity for my kids’ Locavore journals. It’s really the perfect recipe for my kids, simple and easy. Plus, we have a manual hand pump food processor that makes the whole process take a bit longer, letting us savor the work a bit more than with an electric processor. My kids help me cook often, but I suspect that making pesto will bring together a lot of our conversations and activities from this past month, making it a bit more of a memorable cooking experience for them. I also like the idea that through food preservation my kids will learn to avoid letting food go to waste and to think ahead when it comes to food and taking care of themselves.

A few Facebook friends shared their culinary endeavors with us.  Shannon Sodano told us that her potluck included, “homemade applesauce, stuffed tomatoes, sweet potato and leek soup, pumpkin apple and sage soup, beet salad with pistachios apple and arugula and homemade ice cream and watermelon and peach pie for dessert.”

A locavore potluck in Brooklyn.  Photo credit--Shannon Sodano, Sept. 2013.

A locavore potluck in Brooklyn. Photo credit: Shannon Sodano, Sept. 2013.

MaryBeth Anderson, also via Facebook, shared this image of a panzanella salad with us.  The local produce, herbs and homemade bread were balanced out with some special ingredients like olive oil and garbanzo beans.  A great example of finding the locavore option that works within her lifestyle.

MaryBeth Anderson local panzanella

MaryBeth Anderson’s local panzanella salad.

As for yours truly, I plan to visit the longer articles I’ve bookmarked for myself to read about our food system, to gain a more internal appreciation of the work we’ve been doing at NOFA-NY.  I won’t promise to finish the agrarian landscape-setting books I have checked out from the library, but I’m excited to make some forward progress this week, as the preserving projects take less of my time (I’ve called the end of my tomato-canning season since I have run out of pantry shelf space) and the new chilly fall weather encourages me to curl up in bed a little earlier each night.  On my list (still): Wendell Berry’s work, Turn Here Sweet Corn and A Thousand Acres.  I’m also planning to soak up more of the beauty of the farming landscape as I travel for one final on-farm work trip before frost settles in.

Let’s conclude this long read with something more powerful than words about balance and celebration.  This image of a sheep farmer (who is also our dedicated NOFA-NY board president) at dawn exemplifies the patience and passion of those who care for our land and for our bodies.  We celebrate these farmers every time we choose local and organic food.  Having this food available depends on all of us (don’t forget the ways you chose to take action), keeping a balance of locavore-positive moments all year.

Maryrose Livingston of Northland Sheep Dairy walks her pasture at dawn. (Photo credit: Liz Henderson, Sept. 2013)

Maryrose Livingston of Northland Sheep Dairy walks her pasture at dawn. (Photo credit: Liz Henderson, Sept. 2013)

Making a Locavore Community, One College Student at a Time

17 Sep

Editor’s Note: I asked Madeline Smith to write from her personal experience about the great way she decided take action on behalf of local organic food and farming, which fit too perfectly into this week’s blogging theme.  Maddy’s work has a primary impact on the ground in Geneseo, but secondary potential to inspire each reader to consider ways and means they each have to boost the farm-to-table connections in their communities.  Thanks, Maddy, for sharing your project’s top objectives and inspiring us to think about how we can make an impact beyond our kitchens and backyards!

As a second-year NOFA-NY intern I, Maddy Smith, learned most things I know about local organic lifestyles and food just from being at this place, working with the Locavore Challenge and field days.  My lunchtime peanut butter and banana sandwich, eaten alongside avid gardeners and CSA members at lunch, would be a prime example of where I started with locavorism (editor’s note: nobody on NOFA-NY staff is judgmental toward others’ lunches, though we try to encourage each other to embrace local and organic eating.  Maddy’s sandwich choice may have remained constant over the years, but I have it on good authority she’s sourcing local bread and locally-produced nut butters).  In June 2012, I was under the assumption that organic was good and local was Wegmans.  To no one’s surprise – not even my own – I was wrong.  Those boxes of organic cereal, pita chips, and organic mixed greens that I piously bought weren’t homegrown (well, not near my home), though their manufacturers successfully marketed them to appear as such. Sure, they were somewhat tasty, but not in the multi-faceted way that homemade bread, granola, and dirt-covered beets are; the supermarket organic packaged foods were an attempt to bring the feel-good feeling of local, from 3,000 miles away.

And that’s the mindset that I’m trying to debunk and expose, right here in upstate New York at the State University of New York (SUNY) College at Geneseo, my future alma mater, and current home. The college rewarded me with a hefty grant, or ambassadorship, to bring a local foods program to the community. With the help of a newly formed Local Food Council comprised of students, faculty, and community members, I’ll have much help, and can ensure that the program lasts after I (hopefully) graduate in May.

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An overhead shot of SUNY Geneseo in the heart of the Genesee Valley

The project is called Think Local Geneseo, and it involves three parts:

  1. Increasing student and community participation in direct-market agriculture like the Geneseo Farmers Market and facilitating a partnership between Geneseo’s Campus Auxiliary Services and a Rochester food subscription/delivery group called the Good Food Collective to provide shares for students, faculty and community members
  2. Encouraging a large percentage of local foods in the college’s dining services, which will be further promoted through the Local Food Council’s participation in Food Day, part of the national Real Food Challenge
  3. Organizing events in Geneseo, including college-community cooking classes, a Locavore dinner, and local food speakers. Oh yes – and tabling for the Locavore Challenge, of course547097_715530565130453_1210342970_n

I know – it sounds like a lot! Put another way, we are interested in getting people to eat local organic food, to understand and appreciate where their food originated, and building relationships between the community and its surrounding farmland. At Geneseo, we have everything we need for a local foods program to thrive: curious students, like myself; the lush agriculture of New York State, especially in the Rochester region; knowledgeable and supportive faculty; and a vibrant community already playing host to a weekly farmers market. What we don’t have is someone, something, tying all of these components together.

That’s where I come in. Consider me the “ambassador” of local foods in Geneseo, NY. You see, Through my small and hopefully high-impact creation, I aim to increase local consumption in the town of Geneseo and show people the benefit of supporting local and/or organic farmers, while also transcending the boundary that exists between the college and the community. It’s through places like the farmers market, produce share drop-off days, and local food cooking classes and dinners that this can happen. College students can embrace the town that plays host to them for eight months, and the community can appreciate the students as they loosen their grip on the stereotype of college students that pinpoints them as junk-food eaters, night crawlers and mailbox destroyers.

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A summer shot of a Thursday at the Geneseo Farmers market

It’s a project that involves a lot of planning, coordination, and self-motivation, as this is a completely self-directed pursuit. It takes confidence to implement a completely new program for a whole town, without having a single clue as to how it will pan out; while hoping for the best, I do have some self-doubt sometimes. When that happens, I reach out to others for support, like key students and professors who will provide apt feedback, along with community members who can lend many hands. Fortunately, as this is a food-based project, I can also turn to Geneseo’s dining services for help.  Dining services’ Executive Director is the force behind the grant, not to mention the brains behind the cooking classes and dinners. With support from New York State organic producers like Once Again Nut Butter, and donations from small businesses in Geneseo, I have high hopes for the fall and the 2013 Locavore Challenge, and what it promises for Geneseo and small farmers alike.

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I’m slowly realizing that I have a bundle of local food and farming information and resources that will be valuable to others who are eager to learn, and to those who already know: NOFA-NY folks, farmers, and leaders of the sustainable food movement included, who will all reap the benefits of each fresh Locavore to add to the growing list. Follow along with Think Local Geneseo, and share the Locavore Love!

For more examples of college-level farm-to-school initiatives, check out: Winter Sun Farms connects to area colleges, Skidmore College local foods initiative, Cornell Dining defines local and regional food items, Emory University’s sustainable food initiative, Local Food to Local Institutions pamphlet (free download)

Like Food? Be an Advocate! Here’s why and how!

15 Sep

Hello Locavores!  We’ll dive right in, as this is truly a long read.

What has Sarah been up to this week with her kids?  After being sick last week, she and her kids went out for some fresh air, and discovered a pick-your-own orchard not far from her house!  Check out this Locavore-positive experience she tells us about.  “We drove down a rocky dirt road following the U-Pick signs. My kids always enjoy a bumpy ride, and I know it usually leads to a place I want to be, so we already knew the day was on the right track.  I knew the hustle and bustle of the street was not very far behind us, but distance hid it from our view.  We were surrounded by water, trees, pasture and some scattered farm equipment. The sky looked so big, I remembered our activities are often at its mercy.  We had no company other than the insects.  I handed my kids their bright orange Locavore bags and started walking. We saw the apples hanging from trees on our right, but we could smell the peaches to our left.  My kids waited for the okay to start picking, almost like they couldn’t believe something so fun was mom approved. With a smile and a gentle “go on” from me, they ran down a row of peach trees. Watching them, I could see they were struggling to make the decision whether to hoard the peaches for later or taste every one they saw.  Later, when seeing the peaches on our dinner plates, they were visibly proud of their achievement.  While we don’t often roll up our sleeves and grow or harvest our food ourselves within my family, we should.  After all, I want my kids to understand that ‘doing’ is a part of eating. I know that if I continue to let my kids interact with food at its source, they will respect and advocate for our environment’s health, amongst other thing as they grow.”

Blog2_MorganPicking

Sarah’s final thought is a perfect segue into this week’s upcoming blog theme: Take Action!  We’ve all been testing our abilities to use lots of local and organic foods, engaging with others, encouraging friends and acquaintances to do the same, and we’ve had an introduction as to why that’s going to help our communities in the long run.  This week, let’s get into it more deeply.  Each of us can find an initiative to support, or even one to start!  Food activism starts in your shopping bag, on your cutting board, in your kitchen, and at your table (read this for an interesting take on anti-GMO culinary protest).  This is a real and good and important part of changing the accessibility of organically-grown locally-farmed foods (simply by creating more demand and thus allowing farmers to be in business).  Good job to you for being a part of it!

Let’s go beyond the plate.  If Sarah’s children, both under 5 years old, are getting involved by appreciating their food, then there’s no reason the rest of us shouldn’t ensure they will be able to do this in the future!  NOFA-NY spends a lot of time working behind the scenes to advocate for organic farming and food-access policies.  There are the more public issues, such as GMO labeling, that affect farmers and consumers.  But there are other questions and policies that need your support.  Beyond policy, local food just needs liaisons and catalysts.  Later this week, you’ll hear from a member of the 18-25 year old demographic who’s having a huge impact in her college’s community in New York.  You’ll learn what motivates NOFA-NY staff to continue to read policy briefs and why calling your government representatives is so important.

The on-farm situation, and what farmers have to put up with because agricultural policies don’t favor small-scale, diverse farms, needs work.  Beyond the fields, there are blockages to distribution.  It remains a huge challenge for smaller-scale farmers to provide food to their communities outside of the farmers’ market and CSA methods of distribution.  Often the issue of scale means a farmer can’t guarantee a certain crop at a certain time; while organic farmers work hard to prevent crop failure, they don’t have the safety of spraying something to kill whatever is eating their crop.  It’s a riskier way to farm, and that risk means that it’s also harder to market food to certain channels that demand consistency and a low wholesale price.  Supplying to restaurants and local grocers is becoming more common, and we want to lift up the chefs and farmers who are making that happen.  (That’s a fun way to be a food activist–dine at a restaurant that supports local farms, and then write an online restaurant review, or Tweet or post something on Facebook praising them for doing this and including key words like “farm to table” or “local produce”).  Policy change needs to happen on many levels–local, state and federal–if more farms are to have hope of supplying food to their own kids’ schools, to hospitals, to nursing homes, and to programs that allow for low-income households to eat as healthily as higher-income households.

Admittedly, policy reading doesn’t seem as interesting as recipe-browsing.  But if your education today sparks you to understand and react to the next challenge to farmers’ ability to grow organic food at a scale they enjoy and can manage, then that’s where the chain of activism takes off, and that’s what could secure your ability to have such great food to cook in years to come.

Local and organic food makes us smile.

Local and organic food makes Nancy, NOFA-NY’s Finance and Human Resources Manager, smile.  She lives in an area outside Rochester situated between many old farms, and she’ll keep smiling if more people get involved in protecting those great farms!

Challenge yourself to think of one local-food or organic-food question you’ve been wanting to learn more about, and spent the next 10 minutes researching it–even just bookmarking pages to read later.  Heck, we’ll even give you a free pass to eat some bananas and avocados (but keep them organic and fair trade, please) while you look up this stuff.  Be careful to find information that is grounded in research, facts and true events.  Watch out for claims and personal accounts that may not check out (because while they may support what you want to be true, the truth and facts are way more powerful).  Here are some suggestions:

Read about NOFA-NY’s official policy initiatives.  The information there should give you a taste of how we work and point you to many more reputable sources of information.  Note: becoming a NOFA-NY member gives you the freedom to vote on farm policy resolutions at our annual meeting in January.  Wondering how else, besides political action, NOFA-NY supports farmers from our office headquarters? For example, take a look at the list of organic farming programs and projects we are involved in.  Please do consider donating and joining as a member–your support is essential to help us continue to do our work effectively.

The National Organic Coalition (NOC) has a list of resources and media for you to get into.  Browse around all their site has to offer–they’re the real deal (disclosure: NOFA-NY and all the NOFA chapters in the Northeast hold membership with NOC).  Subscribe to their e-mail alerts for the latest on organic policy happenings (and action alerts to get involved–based on the zipcode you provide, they tell you who to call, and when, and what to say).

The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition is another group doing fantastic work to explain the laws, bills and policies that have such power (to do good or to harm) in our food system.  Keep up to date on the latest Farm Bill news on their blog, and browse their resources, too!

If mapping out local food systems and doing a local foods feasibility audit interest you, check out Farm to School Evaluation Toolkit  and Mapping School Food: A Policy Guide.  Don’t forget to read our blog post on Tuesday for a great example of youth stepping up to better the local food system.

Subscribe to the Northeast Food System e-mail listserve, devoted to the topic of food systems in the Northeastern states.

Worried as you watch land turn into big development lots for more houses, malls, and chain restaurants?  There’s some policy work you can read about, plus great organizations like American Farmland Trust (go to their website if only to watch the animated cow plod across the screen) and local land conservancies and trusts that can show you how you, while not a farmer, can help keep land in agriculture, can open up new land for new farmers who can’t pay the going rate versus rich developers, and more.

This is what we want in our communities...not more malls.

This is what we want in our communities…not more malls.

Wondering what challenges aspiring farmers face?  Look at this comprehensive national study  published in 2011 from National Young Farmers Coalition.  They can use your support, and are another trusted resource on farmer-forward policy, with a specific focus on how policies will impact the chances of new farmers.

Feel inspired already? Do you think you have the guts to start or get involved with food policy?  Mark Winne is a respected name in the food policy world, encouraging groups large and small to work for better food policy.  He says, “Broadly defined, food policy is a set of collective decisions made by governments at all levels, businesses, and organizations that affect how food gets from the farm to your table. A food policy can be as broad as a federal regulation on food labeling or as local and specific as a zoning law that lets city dwellers raise honeybees.”  You can download an entire Food Policy Council manual from Winne’s website that takes you through all the steps to starting a Food Policy Council to influence food policy like this, now that you know some of the issues and stakeholders!

The idea in giving you these resources is not to overwhelm or depress you.  It’s to show you that you can find some way to get involved off the plate.  Also, like our guest blogger Lea mentioned in her post on September 3rd, everyone gets involved somehow.  It’s not that some of us were born into a career of food and farm policy work (some of us find law easier to understand, sure).  Each of the organizations and initiatives mentioned here is run by regular people with a passion to help.  You don’t have to run an organization to help, but you should and can get involved and take action.  You can find something that means a lot to YOU, and devote yourself to learning about that.  Knowledge is power, as the old saying goes.  Where will your knowledge-power take you?  It’s so important that you, a local-food-eater, understand the challenges farmers face in starting and maintaining their organic farms, because you clearly know the reward is a better food system with tastier food!

This duck-egg-with-radish greens quiche made possible by a CSA share (and all the policy support allowing that farm to succeed), lovingly made by a food justice and food access crusader, NOFA-NY's own Nicky Dennis.

This duck-egg-with-radish greens quiche made possible by a CSA share (and all the policy support allowing that farm to succeed), lovingly made by a food justice and food access crusader, NOFA-NY’s own Nicky Dennis.

Gathering Around a Locavore Table: Tips for the best food event you can throw!

13 Sep

Today’s post is from Annie Levay-Krausse, writer of The Land of Peapodriot, a blog “Focused on seasonally, organically, locally and ethically sourced dishes; this blog is interspersed with posts on gardening, seed saving, soap making and Food Ethics.” She’s also the founder of SOLE of Buffalo, “a burgeoning food movement that connects people with Seasonal, Organic, Local and Ethical resources and information.”  She’s sharing her wealth of experience in planning great food-based events with us today.  These are the hot locavore tips, folks!

Congratulations! You took on NOFA-NY’s Locavore Challenge and are so excited about it that you’re planning a local food get-together.  Maybe it’s one of the Harvest Dinners–and you think you have a great chance at winning one of the prizes–maybe it’s a community event, a potluck, or an extra-special meal you’re planning on hosting for friends (like that all-one-ingredient party mentioned in Sunday’s Long Read).  Local food lovers are all starting to talk about these events and so should you!  They give you the opportunity to connect with a community of people who come from all walks of life but agree that food should be experiential and exciting and engaging and local.

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If you are eager to host an event this September, take the time to plan. It doesn’t have to cost you anything, but it will take time and patience to do it well. There are so many ways to make your event a success. These ten tips are ones I’ve developed over the last 12 years of hosting my International Dinners and a couple end-of-challenge potlucks, and will help eliminate the majority of your headaches, whether your party is four or one hundred and four.

  • Location: Pick a location that can handle changeable weather. It’s the end of September and New York is known for anything and everything weather. Snow squalls, thundershowers, 90 degrees and sultry, windy and icy cold? We’ve seen weather that can make your toes curl, and wouldn’t you know? It always seems to make an appearance just as your party gets started. So choose a place where you and your guests can dine in comfort. If it’s not your home, make sure you get permission and secure it on a calendar. A tailgater and potluck and baby shower happening in one location? Yes, and I’ve been there because I didn’t plan ahead. If it’s in a park, you will need a permit, which are inexpensive and very easy to secure.
  • Invitations: Paper invitations are quite lovely, but also consider your audience and the way you’re gathering information.  Either follow up with an e-mail or send an online invitation to start off.  This is an easy way to keep track of the head count. If you’re hosting a potluck, have the guests indicate which dish they’ll be bringing. This is a great way for both you and your guests to see what is being offered and what is still needed. It’s also a fantastic way of quickly answering questions, offering suggestions, and often can include a map and directions.
  • Food safety: Food can spoil fast. Consider chafers for hot foods and ice for cold foods. If you’re hosting a potluck, encourage your guests to bring dishes that do not need either. Otherwise, make sure you have enough space set aside in your kitchen, an oven or microwave, and plenty of refrigerator space.
  • Prep Ahead: Encourage your guests to prepare their dishes before they arrive so you don’t have to worry about providing cooking space.
  • Sharing: Have each of your guests bring enough of a dish for at least eight servings.  Request that they write a label with the name of the food and its ingredients so be set up with the food.  This is also a great way to have people display local-food pride!  They can label when something is a generations-old recipe, or when the main ingredients are organic and local!  Ask guests to bring more side dishes than desserts, and be sure at least one of the guests brings a salad.  For smaller parties, not everyone needs to bring a filling food.  Some extra-special pickles, condiments or sauces that complement the other dishes are quite welcome, and ensure that people leave feeling (slightly) less over-full.
  • Setting Up: Get an estimate at least three days before the party. Plan to rent, borrow, or ask guests to bring a few extra chairs and maybe even tables for your larger gatherings.
locavore spread staff inservice

Getting set up at a recent NOFA-NY staff potluck. A collection of dishes that we could serve at room temperature, and our collection of serving utensils at the end. We also boiled a big pot of water and enjoyed corn on the cob fresh from a staff member’s organic farm!

  • Serving and Layout: You can bet most of your guests will not remember to bring a serving spoon to go with their dish, I almost never remember and I’m always asking the host. Keep extras on hand. Organize the food layout with a definite beginning and ending. Set the plates, napkins and utensils at one end of the table near the food, so guests know where to line up. Start with the main dishes, then sides, then breads, and finally desserts. I recommend keeping beverages and glasses on a separate table.  If possible, set up a traffic flow that allows people to move down both sides of a table and still access the majority of foods.  If you’re serving a sit-down meal or a more intimate gathering, maybe keep a table to the side where extra dishes are to be kept.

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  • Glassware, Plates, and Silverware: Consider biodegradable and recyclable. Don’t forget you will need napkins, plates, spoons and forks. Guests tend to fill up whatever size plate they have, be it small or large. Go with a smaller plate (8 to 9 inches) so guests don’t overfill and waste food. They can always go back for seconds if they are hungry for more. [Editor’s two cents: We have a set of real plates that we use for NOFA-NY monthly staff potlucks and the occasional field day where we’ll serve food.  Our collection is entirely from thrift stores, which usually have very good prices on lightweight but durable sets of dishes and cutlery.  This is a worthwhile small investment for anyone who wants to regularly host meals, no last-minute trip to the store for biodegradable plates, which are probably more expensive than second-hand dishes after a few parties.  Cloth napkins also add an element of luxury to a meal, but that really depends on the size of your party.]SAMSUNG
  • Beverages and ice chests: So many others would ask their guests to bring a beverage along with their dish, but I can assure you, that’s a nightmare! Unless that’s their offering to the event, be sure to have water, teas, coffee on hand, and plenty of ice. All the other “stuff” can be an extra bonus. You do not want to have nothing but Kool-Aid like drinks because everyone left their organic ice tea or juices they made on their kitchen counter at home.
  • Cleanup: No one wants to clean up after a party, much less a big dinner, but it’s just as important as the prep was. Have plenty of trashcans and recycling bins available during the event, and plan some time at the end of the event to allow for cleanup. Make it a group effort. The fastest “cleaner-upper” could earn a prize of some sort, besides your adoration. [Editor’s tip: If someone is a last-minute guest or someone you know won’t have time to bring an edible contribution, they’ll probably welcome the chance to contribute by being the clean-up captain]

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Editor’s Ideas: While filling bellies is the main activity at an event like this, and though conversations will naturally flow once people sit together, don’t waste the potential of your event to really get people talking and building great locavore-positive moments.  Since this week’s theme is all about sharing stories, making friends and building community, perhaps you’ll think about a way to have people engage around locavorism at your event.  

  • As the host, make sure you introduce people with similar interests or roles within the food world.
  • Have some conversation-starters ready in case you need to break the ice.
  • Think of a quick introduction activity (could be as simple as having extra-large nametags and asking people to write their name AND their favorite September local food).
  • Print out some Locavore Challenge worksheets or interesting short articles on our food system and place them on tables, just in case people need a prop to start conversation.
  • Set up a photo-taking spot with some props and a backdrop (a bedsheet or some streamers will do).  Or do like Think Local Geneseo is doing with a laminated sign and dry-erase markers, where people write why they’re locavores.

Enjoy your Locavore party!  Thanks for being an example of local eating in your community!

The “C” and the “S” in CSA

12 Sep

As we work our locavore muscles to strengthen our community, it only made sense to have a reflection from Nicky Dennis, Community Program Coordinator at NOFA-NY.  Here, she shares her reasons for committing to Commmunity Supported Agriculture, and what that has meant during the 2013 season.

One of my favorite things about the Locavore Challenge is the invitation to grow closer to the community of locavores, to get to know your farmers and food producers, and to inspire others to join in on the fun.  When my boyfriend Nick and I were shopping for a CSA, community was a critical element in our choice.  We were looking for the opportunity to get to know the other shareholders and spend time on the farm, getting to know the farmers and their operation.  When we met Jolene from Morse Family Farm at the Canandaigua CSA Fair, we were enamored by the way she spoke so lovingly of her crops and the excitement she had for every step of their growing process, from selecting heirloom seed to the thickness of the plastic they use for their greenhouses.  She also realized we’d be eating the food, so when she talked about making a stock from mizuna and how they select varieties for taste and nutrition, my chef boyfriend was sold.  We had so much hope, on that snowy February day, for all the goodness that was to come in spring, summer and fall.  Farmers that passionate and involved in their growing process couldn’t fail, it seemed.  Who could have known what intense weather was coming up for 2013’s growing season, affecting so many farmers in the northeast?

First share

Our first week’s food from Morse Family Farm

We received several gorgeous shares of from Morse Family Farm in the spring.  Then Jolene told us that the farm would have to take a break from distributions for about a month.  She explained how the incessant rain had compacted soil on top of their newly planted seeds (they might not germinate, and weren’t guaranteed to produce enough food in the coming months) and had made it impossible to bring tractors on the muddy fields to transplant crops (again, adding uncertainty to the land’s ability to produce even after the rains were hopefully going to let the fields dry out enough).  So many farms were experiencing similar struggles that it immediately brought to mind the community role in Community Supported Agriculture.  Nick and I reminded each other, that CSA is about sharing the risk when situations like this, which are beyond anyone’s control and happen despite careful planning, result in drastic loss.

Jolene was amazing with communication through all of the farm’s tribulations.  That really helped us keep up a positive relationship through the time period we weren’t receiving shares.  We felt that they were including us in the farm, which was, after all, why we wanted to join a CSA.  So the “S” in CSA didn’t just come from us to the farm; it came from the farm back to us as they wanted to tell us what was happening.  We felt supported by their understanding that we weren’t receiving what we and they had hoped for.

I sympathized with their frustrations and loss and hoped that spending a day on the farm, putting in some sweat equity, would reinforce that they had our support through thick and thin.  For me, being a locavore means that I will weather the storm alongside the farmers and delight in delayed gratification.

high tunnel cukes

Cucumbers protected by much of the troublesome weather inside a high tunnel structure at Morse Family Farm.

I headed out to the farm for a day of work in August.  Jolene and I spent the morning weeding the onion plot and chatting about brewing beer, our families, and how we both came to love farming.  Jolene grew up in Alaska where her dad was an organic farmer, supplying to local restaurants.  She met her partner Joe while they were both working (and training to be farmers) at Fellenz Family Farm, an organic CSA and pick-your-own farm in the area.  There is nothing that makes me swoon more than farmers who fall in love on a farm.  It’s easy to see how such passionate people bond when you see how much of themselves they put into their work.   The day I worked at the farm, their five kids were milling about the farm, totally embodying the farm-family lifestyle.  After a family lunch, we got to work reconstructing a high tunnel that was destroyed last winter (see photo below).  I went home covered in dirt and sweat and in an exhausted heap.  I felt proud that my body was up for the challenge.  I was grateful for the opportunity to see the farm, get my hands dirty, and for time spent getting to know the people who devotedly grow my food.

MFF apple orchard

The apple orchards on the farm.

Besides their wonderful family and dedication to producing quality food in the best way, I also respect Morse Family Farm’s dedication to natural resource conservation, low-impact materials use and whole-farm sustainability.  A lot of the implements and infrastructure (the non-plant elements of the land and farm) are repurposed, reused, or “hacked” to fit the needs of the farm.  A really cool thing I learned is that they have set up rain barrels underground, which are fed by farm drain tiles.  Normally, farm drain tiles are used to keep water from drowning the fields, though unfortunately this year’s rains were too much for even that normally functional system of crop protection.  Instead of the rainwater draining into a stream, the barrels collect the excess rainwater, which is then pumped into the farm’s irrigation system.

farm drain tile undrained and drained

To me, Morse Family Farm exemplifies principles of our Farmer’s Pledge program, from serving the health of the land and people to using ethical business practices.  To see three generations working together on the farm reminds me that I’m in it for the long haul.  I’m weathering the storm with them through this season because I know there will be bounty of food and community in the future.  The hope that I have now, as part of my farm’s and CSA’s community, is so much stronger than the excitement I had about receiving good food.  Now it’s about the people behind the food–I know they’re responsible farmers and real people I’ll know and engage in CSA with for years.

MFF family

Joe (dad, farmer, beekeeper), Jacob (son, farm worker), Jolene (mom, farmer), and Gary (grandpa, farmer, business partner, tool and equipment hacking specialist)

Reach Out: Your #Locavore Friends are Waiting!

8 Sep

As we begin week 2 of the Locavore challenge, we’re thinking of the ways that food brings us together.  Most shared meals have this effect, but consider how eating locally offers the chance to make friendships, build new bonds, and keep your community and environment a place to live well.  Perhaps you don’t count farmers as regular dinner guests (but invite them, they may really appreciate someone cooking for them after a day of harvesting winter squash), but going out to a farmers market, buying their food, then treating it with interest and eating it with appreciation all go into building community with local food.  Imagine if nobody did that–what would happen to the farmer, the farmland, and your surroundings?  Now, imagine a brighter future.  What would happen if everyone who went to the farmers market convinced ONE friend, co-worker, or acquaintance to meet them at the farmers market.  How many more farmers would be supported?  How much more food would be available?  How much stronger would the local economy be?  (If you’re interested in some studies on the impact of small local farms, including how they tend to purchase more of their inputs from local sources, check out studies from the Dyson School of Agriculture Economics and Marketing at Cornell and the Michigan State University Center for Regional Food Systems).

local-ingredient cornbread (made with honey and butter, not sugar and oil) and garden-to-table vegetable soup

local-ingredient cornbread (made with honey and butter, not sugar and oil) and garden-to-table vegetable soup

So, what happened in week one?  We saw a big uptick in blog visitors, some action on Facebook and Twitter.  One Twitter user, Amy Reinink, tweeted us photos her yogurt-in-progress.

She even strained it to make it Greek-style and posted about the challenge on her blog!  Way to go, Amy!

Our summer intern Maddy (you’ll read a post from her in a few weeks) has been working to engage community and bringing them to action through Think Local Geneseo.  Here some reasons those people gave why they’re taking the Locavore Challenge:

“I care about local farmers and their families”

“It tastes better”

“Factory farming is wasteful”

“I trust local produce”

“It makes sense”

See all the great reasons on their Facebook photo album.

Many locavores spent a few days last week sharing in traditional foods and activities of Rosh Hashanah.  They were brought into community through shared symbols, faith and for those who saw the connection, through local food-sharing.  It was indeed possible to have a very sweet Locavore Rosh Hashanah, with local apples and honey representing the sweetness anticipated for the new year.  We loved reading blogger Leah’s latest post at Noshing Confessions.  What inspiration, as usual, on good food and making the most of the seasonal bounty in the context of age-old traditions.

Some of us have families that give us instant community, and we can share the locavore challenge with them.  Sarah Raymond, Membership and Development Coordinator, is going through her first Locavore Challenge with NOFA-NY.  Here’s how her first week went:

“This September, as part of my Locavore Challenge, I plan to bring more dialogue into and emphasis on our food activities as a family.  As the month rolls on, I will help my kids keep their own Locavore journals, full of drawings, photographs, recipes we used together, stickers, stories, and most likely, a few smudged food marks. I think it can turn out to be a nice little family tradition every September. We began this week by going to our local farmer’s market. The kids picked out some peaches and blueberries to savor and share while exploring the market. Sure enough, not long after the first few bites, a group of kids had congregated together, each investigating and sharing each other’s food, with their parent’s approval of course. That’s one of the great things about food, it brings people together. For my kids, I want them to know that sharing healthy food is a way to show others their love and respect for them. In toddler terms, we like to give people healthy foods to eat because we care about them and want them be healthy so they can have fun.”

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Others among staff were impressed that a few words spoken to some fairly new friends (“I’m eating local foods as much as possible this month”) had a noticeable impact on those friends’ food-buying habits.  At a recent Labor Day dinner, the hosts were very excited to tell Rachel, Beginning Farmer Coordinator, that the tomatoes were from HER farmer (one she’d pointed out to them upon a chance encounter at the Brighton Farmer’s Market).  Everyone at the party agreed they were some of the meatiest, most delicious tomatoes they’d ever tasted.  True, when someone hears you’re trying to eat mostly local foods this month, you may have to convince them why you think it’s important (it may not be an instant sell).  But if you talk about the challenge in the right way, you can indeed effect change.   More on that later this week! Wednesday’s worksheet will help you come up with a Locavore Sales Pitch, so start thinking about why you are taking the challenge so you can tell others about it.

Let’s end this rumination turning the locavore challenge into a community-builer with some kitchen ideas that take a spin on one of our classic locavore activities.  That activity, appropriate to Grandparent’s Day (today), is to interview a relative about a food tradition.  That’s always a fun one, as some of our past blog posts show.  Decades ago, locavore eating was the only eating, and our grandparents (or great-great-grandparents) might not think of this challenge as anything but normal.  That’s where traditional foods and regional cuisine comes from–what used to be the best things to eat in that place and time.  If you’re low on inspiration from traditions, culture or passed-down recipes, try to make some new ones to repeat.  First think, “What are my local foods?  What’s available (farm-fresh) to cook with today?”  Work backwards to find a recipe that uses that food.  We have plenty of ideas collected on Pinterest.

One more crazy idea (and if you e-mail us a picture, we might just post it here next week) to share with friends and family.  Pick one ingredient.  A fruit or vegetable will be easiest.  Obtain a lot of it (perhaps in various varieties, from different farmers).  Then make a feast out of it.  Don’t just cook one dish with it.  See how many different ways you can play with that one ingredient.  Chances are that next year, whomever you invited to your Broccoli Brunch, your Carrot Circus, your Pepper Potluck Party, your Eggplant Eating Extravaganza, your Tomato Tournament or your Zucchini Zone will want to join in the fun again!  Voila! A Locavore tradition!  Try a variety of dishes, some cold, some hot, some raw, some not, to marvel over that one ingredient’s flavor and texture in all its forms.

lots of kinds of zucchini to test out!

Zucchini "Carpaccio"

raw zucchini salad (Martha Stewart)

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grilled zucchini and tomato salad (the kitchn)

zucchini ricotta galette (smitten kitchen)

zucchini ricotta galette (smitten kitchen)

ugly and therefore tasty zucchini chips

zucchini parmesan chips (smitten kitchen)

Pickle Recipe

quick zucchini pickle on toast with cheese (101 cookbooks)

zucchini ice cream (flavor of italy)

Buying Clubs: The New Old Way to Shop Local

6 Sep

Miriam Goldberg writes in today to explain how the company she co-founded, Wholeshare (also a sponsor of the Locavore Challenge), helps consumers through the shift to organic and local food buying.  Even more, she explains a little about her story and why she is committed to the work of Wholeshare.  Read to the end for an exciting discount that Wholeshare is offering to you this month, which also helps raise funds for NOFA-NY!  We’re fortunate to have this company in our locavore community.

When I first joined a buying club in Providence, Rhode Island, I was new to the concept of group shopping. I’d belonged to CSA‘s in the past and was sold on eating locally and sustainably. But after a few seasons of buying just my fresh produce straight from farmers, I was intrigued by the full-pantry option presented by the buying club. The club was a tight-knit community that shared my values of eating real food at affordable prices.

In Brisben, the Path of Life groups prepares for their Wholeshare pick-up.

In Brisben, the Path of Life groups prepares for their Wholeshare pick-up.

Weekly grocery pick-ups through the buying club were bustling and social, where members caught up on the week’s news and shared kitchen tips. And as I watched my refrigerator fill with fresh local produce and cabinets overflow with bulk grains, beans, and granola, I knew I was making a good choice for my diet as well as my wallet. I couldn’t believe I had shopped alone at the grocery store for so long!

Organic, locally-sourced, and affordable produce in the middle of Brooklyn - yes, please!

Organic, locally-sourced, and affordable produce in the middle of Brooklyn – yes, please!

Soon, though, I realized that I was lucky to have access to a buying club. There are buying clubs in every state, but not nearly enough of them. I wanted to find a way to facilitate the creation of supportive, healthy communities like what I’d found in Providence. So my co-founders and I decided to launch Wholeshare. Through Wholeshare’s online interface, communities can easily purchase local food together at lower prices. As the company grows, we’re lucky enough to connect hundreds of eaters with their local farmers and producers.

When we were looking for a place to launch Wholeshare, New York was an obvious answer. New York is one of the most productive agricultural states in the country. Its $4.5 billion farm economy produces hundreds of delicious foods, from wine to kale to beef. And New Yorkers love good food. Here’s just a few numbers to demonstrate the state’s big appetite (numbers are from Wholeshare):

• 1,000: the number of certified organic farms in New York State
• 23%: amount of New York State that is farmland
• 370: number of organic dairies in New York State
• $2.3 billion: amount of money generated by New York’s milk industry, the state’s largest agricultural commodity
• 521: the number of farmers markets in New York State as of August 2012.

As we learned from these impressive stats and from the success Wholeshare has seen, food is important to New Yorkers. And so is eating local – for instance, the number of farmer’s markets in 2012 represents a 121% increase from 2000. At Wholeshare, we know that New Yorkers want to eat food that was grown nearby and sustainably. So we partner with dozens of New York State producers to provide a wide catalogue of healthy, organic foods. Check out the map below to see just a handful of the farms and processors that provide us with Certified Organic and Farmer’s Pledge products through Wholeshare!


Wholeshare makes it easy to buy food with your community from local sources. We believe in reducing the distance between you and your farmer, and in lowering the economic and geographic barriers to great-tasting, sustainable, healthy food. Each group on Wholeshare shops together to get the best prices and selection. So if you’re hosting a Locavore Challenge Dinner, try buying your ingredients on Wholeshare! Once you start a group, it’s easy to place your first order just in time for the local food celebration. Plus, you can invite your dinner guests to join your Wholeshare group. This will help get the word out about your dinner and forge bonds that will last long after dessert is finished.

Of course, one of the main goals of the Locavore Challenge Dinner is to raise funds for NOFA-NY. We can help you with that, too. When you start a group on Wholeshare, we’ll donate 5% of your first order to NOFA-NY on behalf of your Locavore Challenge Dinner.

To learn more about Wholeshare and sign up, visit http://www.wholeshare.com/start/nofa.

Regional, Local and Traditional

22 Sep

Rachel here!  Recently we sent our loyal Locavore Challenge registrants (still time–click here to say, “I’m a Locavore, too!”) a tip of the day that encouraged them to interview friends and family about their food traditions.  While I didn’t do that on the particular day, and I’m late in writing this essay (which is what it’s turned into), I DO think traditional food is so interesting. I’ve written about my grandfather’s insistence on simple but classic food.  He was the one that once, in the manner that a drug pusher might, opened up the fridge and pulled out a mysterious jar of dark goo.  He said it was the darkest maple syrup, the really good stuff.  We kept Aunt Jemima on the table for my grandmother, but some of us dared to spoon (no, SCOOP) some dark, probably-meant-as-cooking-grade syrup onto our own pancakes.  He knew real food.  My dear mother (who reads these posts faithfully, and thinks I write them all–mom, hi, this one IS me) fed her two young athletic vegetarian children lots of pasta with sauce and alternated it with chips and cheese and rice and beans and veggies piled in the middle.  We had to try everything we were given, and I don’t remember refusing veggies except for salad.  Obviously that changed.  I somehow became addicted to veggies and to cooking elaborate food and she patiently (maybe eventually gratefully) stepped aside to let me run the kitchen–messes and delayed dinner times included.  The first week of September I was able to cook many meals for her using Maine-grown produce while we were on vacation there.  We ate lots of corn (still in season up there) and cole slaw and seafood and pies and treats of all sorts.  Not all local ingredients, but strongly rooted in tradition.  Cole slaw, for instance.  It COULD have all been local, and probably started out as a regional food in the Northeast because cabbage is such a champion grower, eggs for mayonnaise could be easily found, and because it’s such a great flavor pair for fish.  I think that’s the point of this post as I set out to write it.

Regional Downeast Maine food–lobster, mussels, cole slaw, corn, cornbread, potato salad. All local-able and in this case, likely it was actually locally sourced down to the veggies.

When thinking about a food that’s tied to a place by people, local ingredients are an obvious choice–a lot to do with convenience, a lot to do with flavor, a lot to do with knowing the farmer, and a lot to do with nothing else being available at a good quality or price, until recent strange product-chain “developments” changed that.  The recipes remain, and it’s up to the cook or chef to find the ingredient–we, as locavores, can seek out the local foods that make those recipes what they used to be!  I remember some fancy NY Italian restaurant getting a lot of press for not importing Italian ingredients.  The chefs put it plainly that REAL Italian food uses mostly what’s local because it tastes the best.  Things like olive oil and particular spices and ingredients were still imported.

That’s why I (and so many of us) love traveling–the first thing I do, often before I even reach my destination, is look for a farm stand or market, regardless of country or county.  (New York, by the way, is a minefield.  My work trips usually end up with a backseat full of produce rolling around.  It’s not that different from my Rochester produce, but I love to find the early crops in the Hudson Valley or the late ones up north.)  To learn about other food traditions when I can’t travel, I spend a LOT of time reading cookbooks as if they were textbooks.  I’m not talking about the cookbooks that don’t seem to feel uncomfortable putting a mid-winter storage crop with a tender summer herb, page after page.  I’m talking about cookbooks that generally call out a country or region of the US, or region of the world, and then use that “regional” descriptor.  We’re in a great age when a lot of these reference materials (cookbooks, if you must) are available to us.  My public library is full of gems.  The best ones have long descriptions of the region’s climate, and recipes that make you nod your head thinking, oh I could get most of those ingredients at one time.  Many recipes seem stupid-simple, but they’re included because that’s the traditional way.  There are nuances in the techniques that tie that list of ingredients to that tradition.  A basket of green peppers, tomatoes, onions and carrots means something to different cooks in different cultures.   A hard thing for me, personally, is to stick to recipes that seem to simple.  To actually measure things.  I know the traditional cooks don’t do that, but clearly someone studied what a grandma or grandpa did and tried to record it for all time, and for a reason…so I try to follow a recipe closely when I’m world-eating.

I happened to be working my way through a Turkish regional cookbook recently.  Turkey must be amping its tourism efforts lately as everyone but me seems to be going there.  When I go, I’ll be ready to find all those interesting ingredients and foods I’ve read about.  Reading this book, I kept nodding my head to the ingredient lists and simple recipes.  Everything seemed to fit with seasons in New York (except lentils, which need a long dry summer that NY just doesn’t guarantee).  I wondered, is Turkey like New York, growing-conditions wise?  I am a plant scientist, after all.  So then I looked up this map of world climates:

Seems like if you eliminate the fact that New York is a “snow” region, we aren’t too far different from the climate around the Black Sea.  While I love to learn about food traditions around the world and sometimes get lucky with a recipe that uses co-seasonal ingredients (I made that term up), I don’t anticipate such an exact match up.  I didn’t realize that this cuisine, regardless of region within the country, would be so vegetable-grain-legume heavy.  I could source and cook these recipes with the greatest of ease!  Turkey, where had you been all my life?  Right there, I suppose, changing your name from Constantinople to Istanbul…but still.  It was cool to find out that the Black Sea region is heavily cornmeal-focused, even down to their standard bread.  Now, as a Pennsylvania girl, I can get behind corn and cornmeal!  Great that we also have several organic NY grain corn (not sweet corn…which also is amazing) growers and millers.  I learned that many of the soups from that region, including those that use now-abundant chard and leafy greens, have this added step of toasting cornmeal in a dry skillet and adding the nutty thickener to the soup right at the end.  I tried this right away-definitely a new trick for my arsenal.  A cool thing about New York is that we have all four seasons.  In winter, we can learn about Russian food traditions and get into beet-y borschts.  In summer, we can use our plates to travel to South America and Asia, with a few spices thrown in, thanks to Marco Polo rules of Locavorism.

United Noshes is a great blog for this sort of experiment, as is Global Table Adventure.  These blogs are starting points and interesting, but I think cookbooks do more thorough work due to the nature of the medium.  Perennial Plate does some very honest and captivating work, and they toured through New York last year!

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