The "Buy Local" movement applies to more than vegetables and food products; it will improve our economy and keep small businesses in business thereby keeping a wide diversity of opportunities available.
Odd thing happened last week; I took Peg out for lunch at a local, not overly well known diner and got real carrots for a veggie; not canned or frozen, but fresh and peeled by hand and, yes, this is going somewhere.
I quote a friend awhile back whom said: "If you're going to talk the talk then walk the walk." He was talking about Johnny's quarterly staff meetings which typically include lunch for the staff. We should buy locally prepared food with an emphasis on organics since that's what we do here. I agree. We shouldn't be buying food from huge chains that import their food from hundreds or thousands of miles away, prepared by people simply "doing their job" and sending our hard earned money to some corporate office halfway around the world. We should, and do, buy locally prepared foods, prepared by actual people we may know, that care about what they're doing, with ingredients grown locally and organically if possible.
So, as I walk down through he aisles at the local grocery store, I look for organics, sustainable and local foods. Always some organics but not much for local foods; I'll visit the farmers markets and have my own garden for local foods. At a farmers' market you can talk to the grower and find out all about the wares that he is selling; at a supermarket you've got to be informed at what different labels mean: is Wild Harvest actually harvested in the wild? Do some research before you assume the meanings of words on food packaging.
Another quote I like is "Vote with your food dollar". As I ponder the selection of yogurt in the grocery store, should I buy the organic even though it's twice the price of conventional? I know both organic and conventional dairy farmers - there are good farmers on both sides of the fence. It's times like these when I ponder the question of: Does my dollar really count, in the global way of thinking, in the food supply? Probably not, but it's a drop in the bucket. I can send a small, read very small, message to the organic growers that I support them. I know firsthand what it takes to produce a crop organically and know their dedication to producing it. I am also sending a message - again, read very small - to industrialized agriculture saying what I do and what I do not want from them.
It's hard to turn down some things from industrial agriculture. Take pork for example; It's inexpensive, uniform in appearance and taste, and widely available. Most people like pork. I've raised pigs in the past and have never been totally satisfied with what I came back from the butchers' with: too little bacon, sometimes salty hams and way too much salt pork. At the market I can get exactly what I want and it will be uniformly good. I've had homegrown pork that was delicious and I've had it so tough I couldn't chew it. But supermarket pork is always the same. I'm not defending factory farming at all but it will take some definite change for both the farmer and the consumer to reverse the trend with industrial agriculture as it applies to pork.
On the other hand we can use some things from industrial agriculture and grow them more to our liking. Here's where the modern broiler comes in. I grow our own broilers every year for the freezer. Yes, I buy chickens that were bred specifically for fast growth and are short lived by nature. I can grow a decent sized chicken in 6-8 weeks and have it in the freezer before the fourth of July. I could buy chickens that take 12-20 weeks to mature but I don't. We find the flavor, texture and certainly their growing conditions to be far better than those crammed into semi-lit henhouses by the thousands that is typical of industrial ag. So we use broiler chicks from industrial agriculture, but raise them to our standards and with a degree of caring not found in the factory farming of today. I'd be interested in anyone reading this to whether you use broilers, old fashioned heavy breeds or another breed like Freedom Rangers and why.
My original intent with this weeks column was to talk about local foods. To start where I left off would be with taking Peg out to lunch. Instead of going to one of the local chain restaurants we decided to visit this small, diner type restaurant where it's homey and comfortable. It's off the beaten path; on a side street in Waterville. Perhaps on a busy day it would hold thirty people. During the week it's mostly the same, local crowd that comes in. The staff and cooks are friendly and helpful, the food is wicked good and it's just a nice place to have a good meal. We got fresh carrots - yes, I am impressed. The whole meal, tip included was twenty four dollars, for two of us. We had enough leftovers for two additional meals too.
I'll remember this restaurant in the future when someone wants to go out for lunch. I will not patronize the place I had frozen seafood, slow service and limp French fries. But, yes, I will remember this place, if only for the ambience. The friendly people cooking on grills just outside the kitchen door, the 88 year old woman rolling grape leaves at a table - for that evenings' dinners and for just being there, for being friendly and cheerful and caring people.
There's a shortage of good places to eat out. This is from someone whom eats out maybe twice a month in the winter and much less in the summer. Many of the diners where you could get two biscuits and a bowl of chowder are gone. In my younger (and single) days I knew of several spots to get lunch for 3 bucks, tip included. I know now of only three diners in a twenty mile radius. I don't want to sit in front of a TV blaring out sports scores, nor do I want to drink beer at lunch, nor do I want to spend two hours and fifty bucks on lunch; I'm looking for a good meal at a reasonable price, served by caring people in a homey atmosphere and in a timeframe that allows me to go there on my lunch hour.
There's some good local places around; you've just got to look for them.
Until next week, Brian