I have bad news….Julia Child and I are NOT soul mates. It all began with my introduction to Mastering the Art of French Cooking last summer, this cook book changed the way I thought about cooking. I loved the way she talked about food (and to it), the way she took time to experiment and create, the way she blissfully made her way around the kitchen the same way I do when I am not under time constraints or limitations. Her joy in the kitchen was contagious and I spent hours in the kitchen last summer, preparing her recipes to a “t.”
Then, last week, I read a biography about Julia Child in which I realized that her and I don’t share the same desire for fresh, local, organic ingredients…not a little…not at all. She believed that cooking is more about what you do to the food than the ingredients itself. I have too much respect for her capabilities to say she is wrong, we just see it differently. All I can say is, if she can make great food out of crappy ingredients, than I can make unbelievably great food out of fresh, local, seasonal ingredients.
In an attempt to learn more about this venture, this week I began reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver, a story about a family who moves across the country, from the dry desert of Arizona to the lush hills of Southwestern Virginia to begin “a year of food life.” They decided their life in Arizona was leaving a very large carbon footprint, meaning there were very few local options when it came to food, and the distance food had to travel to get there was wasting a lot of energy and resources. Once in Virginia, they took the first year to prepare their land for gardens, get to know their local farmers, and fix up their old farmhouse and surrounding hills that would provide them with much of what they needed for the next year. They committed themselves to providing for their family with food that was local–food grown on their farm or on the surrounding farms. There were a few items that they had to get from a state or two away, like grains for bread and coffee for fuel, but beyond that, their grocery list consisted of local, seasonal food.
Seasonal food, what EXACTLY does that mean. Try to think of 10 fruits or vegetables and the months/seasons in which they are harvested. Do you know 10? Do you know what is in season right now? This is a harvest chart for Virginia, just do a quick Google search to find your local harvest calendar.
|April||Kale, Collards, Spinach, Carrots, Strawberries, Rhubarb, Peas, Beets, Broccoli, Cauliflower, Asparagus|
|May||Carrots, Green Beans, May Peas, Potatoes, Strawberries, Spinach, Greens|
|June||Beets, Blackberries, Carrots, Cucumbers, Eggplant, Green Beans, May Peas,Peaches, Peppers, Potatoes, Strawberries, Summer Squash, Zucchini, Tomatoes.|
|July||Beets, Blackberries, Blueberries, Butter Beans, Cucumbers, Eggplant, GreenBeans, Okra, Peaches, Peppers, Potatoes, Raspberries, Summer Squash, Zucchini, Sweet Corn,Tomatoes, Watermelons, Canteloupe, Cabbage|
|August||Beets, Blackberries, Blueberries, Butter Beans, Eggplant, Grapes, Okra,Peaches, Peppers, Potatoes, Raspberries, Summer Squash, Zucchini, Sweet Corn, Watermelon,Canteloupe.|
|September||Black-eyed Peas, Blueberries, Broccoli, Kale, Cabbage, Collards, Spinach,Butter Beans, Eggplant, Grapes, Green Beans, Okra, Peaches, Peppers, Potatoes, Pumpkins,Raspberries, Summer Squash, Zucchini, Sweet Potatoes, Sweet Corn, Tomatoes, Watermelon,Canteloupe.|
|October||Broccoli, Kale, Cabbage, Collards, Spinach, Green Beans, Peaches, Peppers,Potatoes, Pumpkins, Raspberries, Sweet Potatoes, Turnips, Winter Squash.|
|November||Broccoli, Kale, Cabbage, Collards, Spinach, Pumpkins, Sweet Potatoes,Turnips, Winter Squash.|
I admit, I had cantaloupe for breakfast and I’m fairly sure it came from Florida, oops. But I also made sure I filled my fridge this week with LOTS of local, fresh, seasonal veggies and one beautiful little fruit– strawberries. It may seem like deprivation to purposefully deprive yourself of the wide produce selection in the grocery store, but after your first bite of freshly picked asparagus or strawberries, you will see this way of shopping as a reward. It is not always terribly convenient to get local produce– all winter long I just went to the grocery store, too, but this year I am determined to plan ahead and do it differently. The produce you get at the farmer’s market or straight from the garden isn’t even comparable to the flavorless, unripened produce at the store. EVERY SINGLE strawberry has been sweet and juicy, completely red, without a trace of white. I didn’t even have to cut the end off of the asparagus because it was soft and sweet from top to bottom. Don’t even get me started on how happy I was to eat spinach and collards from my own garden, cut only minutes before dinner…blissful.
I love knowing where my food comes from, I love talking to the farmer and getting to ask questions and see the garden or farm from which my food came. A lot of people are totally freaked out by this, so they continue to buy food from the grocery where they get faceless, nameless, tasteless cuts of meat and produce. The truth is, if they KNEW where that food was coming from, they would probably wish they hadn’t, so I guess ignorance is bliss. If the only knew what they were missing…
What They Are Missing
- Nutrients– The produce that is brought to your grocery store from places like Chile, Mexico, Peru, etc, is genetically modified or grown so that it can make the trip, not to make your meal more nutrient dense. In 2001, The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine completed a study that measured some of the most largely found nutrients in vegetables. The study’s results showed that 4 of the 12 nutrients measured were significantly higher in the organic vegetables, as well as significantly less of 1 toxic substance. Organic produce had 27% more Vitamin C, 21.1% more Iron, 29.3% more Magnesium, 13.6% more Phosphorus and 15.1% LESS Nitrates. Nitrates are a toxic substance that oxidize the iron atoms in blood, making it incapable of carrying oxygen, this process can lead to a lack of oxygen in organ tissues (Wikipedia). And yes, Nitrates are found in non-organic produce.
- Flavor- if you were blindfolded and given a sample of Roma tomatoes and beef steak tomatoes from a grocery store, would you know the difference? If it weren’t for the different textures, I probably couldn’t tell the difference, as they would both be pretty bland. Again, they were grown for the trip, not for the nutrients, or the taste. A fresh tomato, on the other hand, is an entirely different story. There are hundreds of different varieties of heirloom tomatoes, meaning the seeds have been passed down from generation to generation because the flavor was SO GOOD it was worth saving. Since we can’t have a taste test right now, I want you to taste the following tomatoes with your eyes, which one would you rather sink your teeth into?
Bred to be identical and travel-friendly, these tomatoes aren’t even comparable to their heirloom counterpart. But if you’ like to try one, you’ll have to wait until this summer when they come in season. Good things come to those who wait.
But don’t wait to start buying local, seasonable food. The farmer’s markets are open now, waiting for you. The food is too tastey and nutrient dense to turn down. To find local food sources near you visit www.eatwild.com or www.localharvest.org
If you’re interested in where we get our food, I have culminated a list of the various farms in our area that I have used in the past or currently use.
Farm:Babes in the Woods
Farmers:William and Kimberly Jones
327 Rodeo Lane
Dillwyn VA 23936
About: These pigs are “forest fed,” meaning they forage in the woods for their food. Bill takes hogs to the butcher every 2 weeks, so the availability is pretty good. E-mail him and he will e-mail you back an order form, if you’re confused by the stuff on it you can call the butcher and they will walk you through the form. When we ordered our last pig it was about $730 for the entire hog, but this varies because every hog doesn’t weigh the same! This was the best sausage and pork chops we have ever had, well worth it.
Beef/Vegetable Share/Egg Share:
Farm: San Ysidro Farm
Farmers: Michael Green and Cailtyn Mayhew
55 Paul Hill Road
Fredericksburg VA, 22405
About: Michael and Caitlyn just started their vegetable garden last year, they offer a full vegetable share for $600 (4 months of 1 grocery bag full of veggies per week, feeds 5-6 people), or a half-share for $300 (4 months for 1/2 grocery bag full of veggies per week, feeds 2-3 people). You also have the option of working off 1/2 of the cost of the share by spending 4-6 hours on the farm each week that the share is available.
San Ysidro also has a few cows that they grass feed and raise right there on the farm that you can buy a share of. They also have egg shares, $40 for 10 dozen grass-fed, pastured eggs–they’re delicious.
Farm: Walnut Hill Farms
Farmers: Jeff and Ginny Adams
449 Kellog Mill Road
Fredericksburg VA 22406
About: Jeff and Ginny have a little bit of everything. You can go right to their farm store and do all of your shopping for meat on Saturdays from 10 am-5pm and Sundays from noon-4 pm. Before you invest in a share of beef, Jeff wants his customers to first try some of his individually packed meat to be sure you like the taste. Walnut Creek also offers eggs, chicken, lamb, duck, and pork, all of which can be bought on the spot, frozen in regular packages just like the grocery store. Expect to pay more for grass-fed meat, but rightfully so, as it is much higher in Omega-3’s and doesn’t contain steroids, antibiotics or any of the other downfalls of conventionally raised meat.
Vegetable Stand/ Produce Shares
Farm: C&T Produce
Farmers: Tracey and Craig
Downtown Fredericksburg Farmer’s Market
Monday – Saturday 7am-2pm
About: If you’re not up for a full vegetable share, but would still like locally grown produce, C&T offers a full selection at the farmer’s market 6 days of the week. They also offer a 24 week vegetable share for $600 dollars, in addition to your share you get 10% off regular purchases of their produce. Although C&T is not organic, they use minimal pesticides and are able to offer a wider range of produce throughout the year because of this. Visit their site for a list of where their farm stands are located.