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A Month of Locavore-Positive Action!

1 Sep

Today is day one of this year’s NOFA-NY Locavore Challenge!  It seemed appropriate to write our first long read on the topic of the choice to have a whole (long) month, again, to focus on supporting local and organic farms through our food, activity, and advocacy choices.  We at NOFA-NY are not expecting that everyone comes to the Locavore idea from the same experience, or even with as much enthusiasm as we do.  On the other hand, we don’t use the word “challenge” to make you worried that each decision will be hard.  “Locavore Focus Month” or “Locavore Encouragement Month” just don’t have that same ring and excitement to them as “Locavore Challenge.”

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Really, “challenge” is a verb here.  We’re challenging you to meet September’s potential by seeing your decisions from a Locavore perspective.  You can choose your own adventure, which is made up of many moments and decisions.    How many of them can you make into Locavore-positive moments?  When you add up your Locavore-positive decisions at the end of the month, you may even realize that it would have seemed a monumental task to take on if you’d made a to-do list at the outset.  It’s good to have your own rules, guidelines, and a to-try list.  That’s definitely what this month is for… motivating yourself  to support local, organic and farmer’s-pledge farms, your local economy, and perhaps your health (assuming you don’t use the Locavore prerogative to subsist on local cheeses, ice cream and wine for all of September).

grain on sieveLet’s talk about the opportunities a month-long challenge presents in terms of the small decisions we each make regularly.  Eating breakfast (and yes you should, especially with so many local goodies for this mealtime), think about what goes into it.  Each component presents a decision.  What do you normally eat, and what could you trade up for a locally-produced food?  No, don’t over-think it.  But think about it a little bit.  You can put brown sugar (not local) or maple syrup (the local stuff) on your (maybe local) bowl of oats or cooked-grain cereal.  And while you’re considering breakfast cereals, have you ever tried cooked and cooled wheat berries as a healthy breakfast cereal? They’ll never get soggy like dry cereals, and you can keep plenty of cooked grain on hand for a fast morning breakfast.  Look for locally-grown wheat, spelt, rye grains (called berries) or Freekeh (which is a roasted green spelt grain with a nutty and smoky flavor–great for bacon lovers).  Your choice, but we recommend you try it as part of the challenge.  You could eat yogurt produced by a local food artisan or a farmer themselves, or you could eat local HOMEMADE yogurt, and you could add in ONLY locally-grown fruits, put some local honey on top, and chew it all slowly while thinking appreciative thoughts about the farmers who moved fencing every 12 hours to keep the cows on fresh grass, and then who milked the cows, kept the milk clean and sanitary through its journey from cow to yogurt making to market to your breakfast bowl (wait, is that breakfast bowl made by a local potter? Okay, just kidding).

Spotted at NOFA-NY HQ: wheat berries, homemade yogurt and local fruit for an on-the-go breakfast.

Spotted at NOFA-NY HQ: wheat berries, homemade yogurt and local fruit for an on-the-go breakfast.

What other decision points are there?  Too many to name!  You probably don’t eat in the house every day.  What food do you take with you to your sit-down job?  That’s a decision and you can challenge yourself to remember to pack a local-foods-focused meal each day.  Maybe your decision is to cook extra of that recipe that uses local chicken, and you bring that for part of your lunch one or two days.  Maybe that local organic chicken is a bit out of your price range for a double recipe, so you decide that those local organic potatoes and carrots, so flavorful at the end of September, would bulk up that dish and give you enough for leftovers.  And maybe your hand hovers around your go-to-makes-everything-taste-better bottled spice blend, and then you remember you impulse-bought a blend of dried herbs from that sweet hippie at the farmers market two weeks ago.  In September, go for the local decision.

Red Jacket Orchards in Geneva, NY

Red Jacket Orchards in Geneva, NY

You just packed a whole lot of Locavore-positive decisions into one meal, one moment, and you build some great habits.  You can do that, and you can do more!  You have a whole month!  What do you normally take with you when you’ve overslept and feel a time crunch getting where you need to go?  Make a local-positive choice in September.  Locally-grown apples (maybe you picked them yourself) are just as portable as a banana.  Bananas don’t grow in New York; apples definitely do.  Why only grab one apple from your stockpile?  Take several, and keep them at work, and then that one decision will have a multiplier effect.  No need to scrounge up a granola bar or a bag of chips when you have an apple at arm’s length!  You’ll slowly train yourself to take the small steps that allow you to make the good decisions, and it really starts with simply examining some of your actions and eating decisions.

Some of our decisions fall into that presence-of-mind category and aren’t entirely visible.  These are decisions that make the food you’re eating matter a bit more, as you actually pay attention to it.  What’s the point of a great locally-sourced meal that you kind of ignore while you watch TV?  You can decide to turn off the technology that generally accompanies your morning, just try it on Tuesdays to start (turn-off Tuesdays, as a way to remember), and focus in on how thankful you are for those who crouched over the melon vines, and then found the energy to keep each melon from bursting (they’re very fragile when they’re picked ripe) in the back of a truck on the way to your farmers market.  You can even let yourself feel a little smug for passing over that plastic clamshell package of nonlocal berries in favor of that melon, even though you really wanted to make the delicious-looking strawberry shortcake recipe trending on Pinterest (don’t those pinners know what’s in season?).

A lot else, besides eating, happens in any given month, of course!  It’s easy to get Locavore-foodie fatigue, or feel like all you’re talking about is food.  When that happens, maybe you shift focus to a Locavore experience, to researching ways you can conserve farmland in New York, or to calling up a friend you haven’t seen in a while to go apple picking (the movies and coffee dates are for non-September months; picking fruit or strolling a local-focused event are September outings).  You’ve decided to do something Locavore-positive with that time, so nice work!  Soon enough (maybe not that same day), you’ll be excited to tackle that recipe substitution project to convert Aunt Sally’s famous chicken pot pie recipe into a local-foods-heavy family favorite, because your earlier activities remind you how food choices are facilitated by ALL the ways you support local food and farming.  And that connection lets you appreciate that you (okay, begrudgingly, because you wanted to watch TV) spent a drizzly, humid morning with your kids, trying to keep their hands from sneaking those berries at the farm stand (scolding them but silently grateful they’re developing a taste for fruit and not artificial flavors) while you loaded up on sweet corn that you’d eventually teach your berry-stained-fingered kids to shuck in the front yard.  If you’re making Locavore-positive decisions, and creating experiences around them, you’re doing the Locavore Challenge!

YayForFarming_ErinBullock

Don’t forget to share with us–each Sunday we plan to highlight interesting comments, tweets, Facebook posts and photos from the previous week.  Yes, you also make decisions about what you share, and we challenge you to spread the Locavore love whenever you can!

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Teaching Friends and Family to Be Local (vs. feeding them for a day or a meal)

29 Aug

From Rachel:

As a constant locavore, the challenge is often in explaining my convictions and trying to bring loved ones over to this side of things.  Taste and economy usually win people over faster than my nagging could.  I imagine many people taking this challenge are less challenged by getting a high percentage of their food intake from within 250 miles of where they live, but more challenged by getting friends and family to join the movement.  They may ooh and aah when you bring that delicious roasted heirloom tomato, zucchini, eggplant, herb and black bean casserole to the group dinner, but then still wonder why you aren’t super-excited that they’re slicing up kiwi and washing grapes (and I don’t mean hardy kiwi and NY grapes) to go on the table next to your painstakingly-sourced and prepared dish.  I’m talking from my experiences last weekend, by the way.  Still, I learned in a teaching course to avoid scolding, nagging, telling people they’re wrong and you’re right, etc.  That won’t win anyone over (politicians might take note).  A better path is to highlight the good, and find the teaching moments.  So that’s how I ended up teaching a friend to make bread yesterday.  Though the ingredients weren’t 100% local (still finishing up some non-local flour), they easily could have been.  For the record, we used NY Sunflower oil, NY maple syrup, salt, yeast, Organic Valley Nonfat Dry Milk Powder, parts generic Organic All-Purpose flour, stone-ground Organic Whole Wheat flour, and Small World Bakery’s All-Purpose Whole Wheat flour.  So, minus the yeast and salt, the loaf could easily be made with all local flour.  Still, I am less concerned with going to the 100%-local sourced ingredients this month.  It’s all about sharing the joy of making things that celebrate the local foods, and discovering that our default practice can be making things by hand with our local ingredients, versus going to the store and relying on a corporation to source and create our foods in a giant factory.  I’m not knocking local bakeries by ANY means, I’m just saying that enjoying the preparation of foods that seem difficult to make, such as a loaf of bread, can be a serious gateway into pursuing other locavore/local-economy habits.

The friend I baked bread with is already a supporter of farmers through shopping at farmers markets, and definitely enjoys foods made with local ingredients.  Still, this was his first time kneading home-made bread dough, after I’d repeatedly told him how fun and easy making bread can be, and after sending numerous examples of simple recipes (why wouldn’t he just dive in and start baking?).  Believe me, I was relieved that this loaf turned out so beautifully (I have a legendary habit of over-ambitious baking experiments ending in tears and ingredients tossed into the woods).  You have to be confident, relaxed and breezy about preparing local foods with newbies, or they will likely remember how hard or intimidating it was!

For any newbies to the baking arena, I definitely recommend the King Arthur Flour recipes online (they publish a fabulous cookbook as well).  They’re well-tested, come with lots of tips, and you don’t have to use their branded ingredients for fantastic results.  If you own a digital ingredients scale, you’ll be happy to know they also offer most recipes with weight measurements.  The recipe we used is the 100% Whole Wheat Loaf (though we used a combo of flours to make up the whole amount).  You could easily skip the dry milk powder, or use local milk in place of water to get the nice bread-softening effect that milk gives.  These simple ingredients combined into a gorgeous, tall loaf that we were quite eager to rip into and spread with some of my jam made earlier this summer.  Yum!

The ripped crumb with beet juice from the knife we used is evidence we were too hasty in letting the bread cool down.

I encourage you to start off Locavore month by arming a friend with a technique-perhaps as simple as how to evenly chop veggies, or as complicated as canning some crazy multi-fruit-and-herb jelly.  Locavorism isn’t about isolation in your kitchen, hiding from well-meaning relatives or friends who notoriously feed you asparagus in November or only have bananas and citrus fruits in their northern-climate kitchens.  It’s about sharing the joy in the slow food and local ingredients, and through that joy and enthusiasm sustaining a regional food system of farmers, artisan food producers, small-scale processors and distributors, restaurants, and more.  Giving a friend a local-foods experience memory is much more valuable to their decision-making process than scolding or whining at them about their choices.  Next time my friend looks at supermarket bread, I imagine he’ll at least value the fact that he knows how simple and delicious homemade bread can be.  Maybe he’ll forgo the purchase and seek out some local flour instead, or maybe he’ll just nag me to show him again.

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