As Local As It Gets

The recent focus on locally grown food is timely, exciting and necessary for making the way we get our food here in the US more sustainable. Thanks to the vocal and persistent support of writers like Michael Pollan and Barbara Kingsolver, and even the First Family, as well as many dedicated activists who have been trumpeting the cause for decades now,  it’s possible to get local produce not just at ye olde farm stand or a chi-chi overpriced market like Whole Foods, but even the Safeway in Enumclaw, Washington.

Both of the cooks grew up in or near farming communities cooking and eating locally (albeit on opposite coasts). I (ECW) used to raise organic vegetables in my back yard in Maine. I protected the roots from the heavy clay soil in a series of raised beds. While I was terrible at weeding and watering on a consistent basis, I appreciated the idea of being a steward of the land.  I read with relish the newsletter of the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA) my mom would bring me. That organization is now a leader in the organic and locavore movement, and I attended their annual Common Ground Fair,  which offers a panoply of local products from pumpkins to wool each fall. Growing up in this environment I wondered why I didn’t have any friends my age, but I didn’t wonder about local food.  Organic and local food was normal. It wasn’t for rich folk. It wasn’t gourmet. It was just good food. Have you ever met a snobby Maine farmer or lobster fisherman? I didn’t think so.

Harvesting asparagus just in time for dinner

My parents have since moved further into the country and my mother still maintains a large vegetable garden. There is nothing better than of running out to the garden in the moment before dinner to cut asparagus to steam (planted there 40 years ago by the cattle farmer who used to live there), pull lettuce and carrots for the salad, or pluck basil for pesto. The connection and freshness are palpable and unmatched.

SMH grew up in the Yakima valley in Washington State, which is, for those of you don’t know, is on the dry side of the Cascades. Formerly known as the “fruit bowl of the nation” (before it became the “Palm Springs of Washington,” umm… what?), the valley features acres and acres of fruit orchards, wineries and farms. Not all of these are organic, obviously, but Yakima has also recently gotten hip to the locavore movement and downtown features a sprawling farmers market with all kinds of delicacies.

Peppers at the Yakima Farmers Market

On a recent trip out to the west coast we couldn’t wait to sample some of the local farms’ bounty. SMH did extensive research and found a Yakima Valley produce map. We consulted it, did a few more google searches, and found Bella Terra Gardens, a U-Pick, We pick, organic farm stand where we got to pull our own fennel out of the ground. It felt like heaven gazing on the chickens with Mt. Adams in the background, knowing we were bring home if not the bacon, at least the heirloom tomatoes.

Farm fresh fennel at Bella Terra Gardens

So if we love the rural idyll so much, why do we live in Brooklyn? I’m sure any of you who grew up in small towns can answer that question. However, thanks to the popularity of the locavore movement it is increasingly easy to get local produce in New York City. Here’s a few (well documented) options:

Community Support Agriculture (CSA): You pay a share at the beginning of the season to help the farmer financing that year’s crop and receive a box of fresh produce throughout the growing season. Just Food can help you find a CSA in NYC.

Park Slope Food Co-Op: The legendary, the loved, the hated Co-Op! They label all their produce organic or non and where it comes from, making it easy to pick out local produce. You have to be a member to shop there, which means committing to a 2 hour 45 minute work-shift every 4 weeks (ECW has been doing it for years, it’s a commitment, it’s not for everyone, but it’s not that hard). Other Co-Ops, such as the Flatbush Food Co-Op, the 4th Street Food Co-Op in Manhattan, and the East New York Food Co-Op are not only places to find local produce when possible, but also community resources.

Greenmarkets: Are popping up everywhere. No excuses! Get thee to a farmers market and meet the people who grow your food! Maybe they are a little pricier than your local C-Town, but you are often talking to the person who is doing the growing and your money goes directly to them. Besides, it’s cheaper than Whole Foods.

Urban Organics: They will deliver organic food to you. Not all local (try a CSA instead!), but a good service for the busy among you.

For those yearning to visit the farms, Long Island and Upstate NY are close and accessible by public transportation. So you don’t need to go to Yakima, Washington or Maine to pick your own.

And that’s not even mentioning NYC’s many community gardens, Red Hook’s Added Value and so much more… if you know of more ways for people to access local food at fair prices in NYC, please be sure to let us know. But for now, I can think of no excuses not to eat locally!

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About 2cooksinthekitchen

Two cooks, one from Bushwick and a passionate meat-eater, one from Sunset Park and a former vegan, and both NYC transplants, set out to share original recipes that can be made dairy free and vegan deserts; showcase culinary resources in the outer boroughs (and sometimes Manhattan) where one can find unique, specific and fairly priced ingredients; and participate wholeheartedly in the many cultures of cooking and eating that make up New York City.
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