Monday, May 20, 2013

And a Little Guile shall Lead Them

I recently spent three hours at a large conference table listening to more than two dozen people speak up about their work supporting local food. It was mostly enthusiastic talk of research methods, strategy development and comprehensive plans--the stuff of self-satisfied policy wonks who don't have boots in the ground. And it was all talk about the supply side of local food: getting, sustaining and distributing more of it.

Since we all know how wonderbar supply side economics and its trickle down is, I finally spoke up to point out the elephant in the room: demand. As long as local people remained enthusiastic consumers of canned goods, fast food and the industrial lettuce of gigantic supermarkets, strategies and plans to increase the supply of local food were simply feel good food for NGO fans.

A few people nodded in agreement, a few said things had changed. I'm still trying to find which ones. Yes, more people frequent farmers' markets now and more of them look local, but no, most farmers haven't ever changed what they grow to sell: large white potatoes, pumpkins, carrots and thick skinned industrial tomatoes. California people can eat a lot of local food because California small farmers grow a lot of different foods.

The sparse new organic crowd is coming up with kale, French baby carrots, Tokyo turnips and braising greens--a euphemism for bitter, spicy weedy plants. There's even raw milk. But states like Maine which seem to have nothing else to do are busy both trying to ban raw milk and trying to keep local food out of its school cafeterias where locals might learn about the braising greens and heirloom tomatoes visitors and vacationers who went to school elsewhere rush to buy.

It seems the education about nutritious, non-toxic food and the value of having it close at hand has for the moment to fall to farmers. They need to bravely plant more of what people need to eat: less large white potatoes and, say, more burdock, more mustard and collard greens, more fava and other beans. Now that we know how poisonous garlic coming from China is, why not double the crop to exploit the news? And dandelion greens? Hello.

Growing the same things over and over only solidifies the dangerously unhealthy habit of eating the same things over and over, poisoning the body by the overload. Lack of change also stunts economies. I know a very successful cheesemaker whose output has been drastically stymied because she can't find people to raise goats and supply the milk to her. "They're afraid to do something new," she said, "and if I spend more time raising and milking goats, I won't have time to make cheese."

We are now all part of an international network of news, commodities, hopes and hard facts. It's been the onset of immigrants from seemingly exotic places with seemingly exotic tastes that's led a farmer here and there in white bread places to start producing goat meat. Meeting growing demand by growing a supply was a good financial decision. No reason we can't also produce and eat pea shoots like the Chinese, fava beans like the Italians, the original purple potatoes from Peru and those very healthy dandelion greens.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Treasures for the taking

Welcome May and all the farmers' markets now out of cold storage. They may seem to have slim pickings right now but what they have could be life saving. Given the nasty news that keeps leaking out of the industrial agricultural complex, (and you can find references throughout this blog), your local farmers' market is the only place you can trust right now for these edibles. Happily these treasures are available even this early in the season:
Maple Syrup
Lamb and Beef

You may also find the spring tonics your body needs after the long sluggish winter:
Dandelion greens
Fiddlehead ferns
Nettles (be careful and don't touch until you've subjected them to heat)
Pea shoots

If you can't figure out what to do with these, the easiest way to enjoy them is to steam them with fresh lemon and put them over small pasta with olive oil, salt and pepper.  If you want to add pieces of smoked salmon, why not?