Saturday, June 4, 2011

Local Food: Know your farmer, know your food

As I started to write about the Local Food Movement, I was struck by the fact that eating local food should not be a movement, but rather just be the way everyone eats. Food is grown here and eaten here — what could be simpler? It was certainly the way our grandparents and their parents ate. When and why did it become easier to have our foods shipped from hundreds — if not thousands — of miles away? However, this is where we are. Getting foods which are grown and delivered locally, while easier than in recent years, is still harder than getting foods grown from the other side of the country.

Eating local has many more benefits than eating foods produced and shipped from other parts of the country.

• Eating local keeps more money in the local economy. You are giving your money to a local farmer, who, in turn, will spend his or her money locally.
• Locally grown produce is fresher. Food sold to large supermarkets has been picked, stored, shipped and stored again for days, if not weeks. Local food purchased at a farmers market or small independent grocer has often been picked within 24 hours of your purchase.
• The freshness also increases the flavor and the health benefits of the produce. Once picked, the flavor and nutritional value start to decline. A perfect example is the tomato. Eat a local tomato picked and sold within 24 hours and compare that to a tomato purchased at a large supermarket. That tomato was probably picked green and left to “ripen” inside a cardboard box for several days while being shipped across the country. After eating a locally grown tomato you will have a hard time eating a regular supermarket tomato again.
• Eating local food also leads to more variety. A small farmer can grow small crops that would probably never sell in large supermarkets. Larger farms do not have that opportunity as they have demands for large volumes of produce which makes variety more difficult. Local farmers plant what's delicious, healthful and in local demand.
• Eating local also cuts down on pollution and leads to better air quality. Less driving to ship the product and generally less harsh farming practices make local farming greener than large-scale farms. The average supermarket potato travels over 1,000 miles from farm to market. That requires many gallons of fuel and produces many pounds of pollution. Local food reduces or eliminates the costs, both monetary and planetary, of transportation, processing, packaging, and advertising.

While one downside of eating local can be the perceived higher cost of locally grown food, that really is not the case. While the dollar price paid may generally be higher, because the food is fresher it will last longer, giving you more time to eat it instead of throwing it away. Also, because it tastes better, you will be more apt to want to eat it, instead of looking at it and not be excited about eating it. Isn’t an apple you picked yourself more enticing than one taken out of a plastic bag? Another cost saving of eating local is the health benefit. If the food you eat is healthier, you will be healthier, spending less on medicines and prescriptions. Think of it as an extra health insurance policy.

Local food combines production, processing, distribution and consumption on a small scale, which helps to sustain local economies and a strong connection between farm and table. While local may be your neighbor or a farm within day’s drive, buying local ensures that you will often be buying the food from the person who grew it.

Some ways to eat locally include:
— shop weekly at your local farmers market or farm stand
— join a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) and get weekly deliveries of the season's harvest
— buy from local grocers and co-ops committed to stocking local food
— support restaurants and food vendors that buy locally produced food
— visit local farmers and "u-picks"
— ask your grocer or favorite restaurant what local foods they carry

Native Tomato and Local Goat Cheese Salad

1 Large farm-ripened tomato
2-3 Tablespoons of your favorite local goat cheese
Garden fresh herbs
Balsamic vinegar
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Slice tomato into thick rounds, layer on plate.
Crumble goat cheese onto slices.
Drizzle with vinegar and oil.
Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Enjoy the fresh flavors of summer with farm fresh foods.

— Orlo Coots is Head Chef at Adair Country Inn & Restaurant. Enjoy his cooking featuring local produce, cheeses and meats Thursdays through Mondays by making a reservation at 603-444-2600. Orlo can be reached at for questions about this recipe or any other food-related questions. Remember — whether cooking for one or for a crowd, make every bite count.

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