I’ve never been one to do the tourist thing. As much as I love to travel, to get out, to meet new people, to try new foods; I much prefer to do all of the above as if I were a local. I find it even more difficult to swallow when the tourist thing surrounds an activity so warmly familiar it seems routine. My children on the other hand find joyous fun in even the simplest Saturday afternoon outings. It’s with that in mind that I found myself this past Saturday frequenting an overly-crowded and even more overly-priced — albeit local — orchard and cider mill. And yes, I did have fun.
“Oh, Mom! What are those?”
I love it when my children get excited about things that can be grown so when my five year-old’s eyes lit up and the chatter started last week as I pulled a packet of Luffa Gourd seeds from the envelope Seven Acre Woods had lovingly tucked them in I couldn’t resist engaging her. The conversation that resulted was even more pleasing than what had spurred it because if there’s anything I love seeing my children excited about more than things that grow it’s how (and where) those things are grown. And that’s exactly where her interest turned.
“Can I grow one of those in my garden? Oh and Mom, don’t let Dad use that loud thing on mine okay? I just want a shovel and a rake.”
‘That Loud Thing’ is the rototiller and while her current interest is a bit misplaced — the decibel level of the machinery used to till land on which food is grown is of little environmental and social concern, after all — her interest in the production of food at all is encouraging; and timely.
For some the Farmer’s Markets either never ceased or have already made their grand re-opening for the 2010 growing season and even for those in colder geographies the season of local production is just around the corner — or so I keep telling myself as I stare out the window at a barren white expanse.
As we step foot back in the Farmer’s Markets this year we may know, at least for the most part, where the goods we find there were grown but do we really know how? USDA organic certification can be costly and for some small producers and those that are trying to keep consumer costs at a bare minimum in order to make healthy, local fare available to all income levels, certification can be downright out of reach — but that doesn’t mean their goods aren’t grown organically. It just means they can’t bare a USDA seal.
Without getting to know your growers; without asking how their products are grown you’ll never know if the goods you choose each Saturday and Sunday morning are meaningfully produced in the manner most important to you. As you venture back out to shop your local farmer’s market this season remember, knowing how is just as important as knowing where.
I may be rebellious. I may despise conformity. But I am also, in some things, a creature of habit. During the holidays, for instance, I adore tradition. Until just last year I eschewed the idea of any deviation from what I considered a traditional holiday feast. Especially when the feast was to be had on Thanksgiving.
Turkey, mashed potatoes — in my defense I had deferred many years earlier to the advent of smashed potatoes as a time-saving substitute on this count — green beans, corn, biscuits, gravy, squash, cranberry relish, stuffing. It’s unclear whether or not (most likely not!) those who celebrated the real first Thanksgiving would have considered even a portion of my meal traditional, but my opinions have always stood nonetheless.
Here, last weekend marked the final Farmer’s Market of the year. While it’s a bittersweet passing of time for growers — the loss of convenient, weekly contact with customers is never a welcome thing, but the late fall and winter downtime that is a result of a lightened market schedule is imperative in the planning of the next year’s crop — it’s mostly just bitter for shoppers. Especially those new to eating local and those who are not accustomed to stocking up. Many will have few choices other than to turn back to their local chain supermarket to feed their families.
Last year in On Year-Round Appreciation, I briefly grazed the topic of keeping in touch with your local growers year round, and the advice there is still relevant and useful to this day, but if you’re committed to eating local even in the off-season you may need to dig deeper. The end of organized markets doesn’t necessarily mean the end of local food, but you may have to do a bit more homework to find it. And even if your local Farmer’s Markets are still open, doing your homework may yield you better sources of local food than you had before.
Most locales are still supporting some growth, though the variety will be less impressive than it has been. If your markets are still open be on the look out for those early spring vegetables that are making a comeback for a second season this year. Greens are huge — spinach, lettuce, kale, chard, collards — as are fast growing root crops. Think: radishes. Also keep your eyes peeled for long-season crops that are just now ripe, such as leeks, egg plant and winter squashes, as well as those crops that store well for winter like potatoes, onions and garlic. Those that store well can be stocked up on now, and eaten throughout the coming cold months. Just be sure to ask the grower to make sure the variety they’re selling is one that stores well; not all do.
While you’re out there also ask the vendors you frequent whether or not they’ll have limited crops available during the time when the market is no longer operational. You may be able to pick up local food on-farm all winter. If your market, like mine, has already closed for the winter search Local Harvest for growers near you and get on the phone to line up sources of your favorites for the whole winter season.
Of course the transition to the non-growing season also means a transition to those foods that have no season. Meats, soft dairy and hard cheeses can be produced and harvested year round and are excellent staples for hearty, warming winter meals. Canned products, if you didn’t can your own during the months of summer bounty, are also something you may want to be on the lookout for as December approaches. Think outside the box and even a simple jar of jam can go a long way. Raspberry, spread atop a pasture-raised pork loin is to die for.
However you choose to round out your winter pantry this November, happy local shopping!
In The Dairy State of Wisconsin legislators are being urged to allow the sale of “raw” (unpasteurized) milk to consumers and their decision is expected to set national precedence. The battle, ultimately, centers on public health. Proponents tout the health benefits of the product. Meanwhile the opposition fears the potential compromise of public health should the measure pass and outbreaks of milk-borne illness become more common. But beyond the politics and debate lies a bigger, more immediate question; how does one buy raw milk now?
The answer may be simpler than you think.
Decide What Kind of Milk You’d Like
While cow’s milk is traditional, the black and white spotted dairy producers of our childhood (and countless big dairy commercials) are not the only producers of delicious milk and milk products. Raw goat’s milk is just as good — and in the opinion of some, even better.
Locate a Supplier (or three)
Raw milk is available for purchase for human consumption in 28 of the United State’s 50 states. (It’s available in a handful more when intended for animal consumption.) Unfortunately, finding it — even within those states — can sometimes prove difficult. A great place to start the search however, is with The Campaign for Real Milk’s database dedicated to help consumers find raw milk in their area. And even if you’re not in a state where raw milk itself is available, dairy shares — where you purchase a share of a cow or goat and receive a portion of its milk in return for your investment — are.
Do Your Homework
Whether we like it or not modern, conventional farming calls for mass production to meet demand. Streamlining technologies and processes that make that production possible unfortunately also make it more and more possible every day for a cow (or goat) to be a number rather than an animal. All the while requiring the help of numerous farm hands who have little interest in the end product. Both of these make the potential for contamination of milk greater. Get to know the suppliers whose products are available in your area. Ask about their herd, their help and their processes. A familiarity with the animals, a close oversight of production by the owner and processes and materials that are easy to keep clean and sanitary (look for glass and stainless steel) all reduce the potential for milk-borne illness.
Do you drink Raw Milk? Where do you buy it?