September is here, and now is the time when children go back to school, the leaves begin to change and farm stands selling a colorful selection of fruits and vegetables dot the roads of Upstate New York.
Fresh vegetables are always a treat. Who can resist taking home a half dozen ears of super sweet corn for a mere couple of bucks, or a bag of red-ripe tomatoes?
But indulging in these seasonal treats isnt just delicious; its also great for the local economy and even the health of our planet.
Barbara Kingsolver, author of The Poisonwood Bible, has recently published a book entitled Animal, Vegetable, Miracle that tells the story of the authors family living for one full year by eating only food that is locally produced or from their own garden. The book documents the joy and frustration of cutting out all exotic foods and dining in tune with the seasons.
Kingsolver feels that the benefits of eating this way can far outweigh the hardships if we can only adjust our way of thinking.
If many of us would view this style of eating as deprivation, thats only because weve grown accustomed to the botanically outrageous condition of having everything, always. She writes.
Aside from the benefits of eating fresh, unprocessed food and stimulating the economy where you live, eating locally can also help reduce fossil fuel consumption. Kingsolvers husband, Steven L. Hopp, who contributed to the book along with their 19 year old daughter Camille Kingsolver, writes an excerpt entitled Oily Food.
If every U.S citizen ate just one meal a week composed of locally and organically raised meats and produce, we would reduce our countrys oil consumption by over 1.1 million barrels of oil every week. Thats not gallons, but barrels., he writes. Small changes in buying habits can make a big difference.
According to Hopp, the average meal in the U.S has traveled about 1,500 miles to get to us. Not only does transporting the food require fuel, but production and processing use an astonishing amount too.
Although it may be difficult, if not impossible, for North Country citizens to eat a meal a week from local sources all year round, mostly due to a short growing season, we can supplement our diets with locally produced food for at least part of the year. Planting our own gardens can certainly help, and knowing where to find local food producers might steer us towards accenting our plates with a little local flavor more often. Here are a few places, from smaller, seasonal operations to those that are larger and open year round that can help you to eat local!
Whitefields Farms in Athol is a quaint, family run operation tucked away in the rolling hills of Mountain Road. Don and Michelle Whitefield, who have owned and operated the farm for ten years and have been actively selling for about six, sell a variety of products, from fresh brown eggs, cage-free, all natural chicken and self-raised pigs for roasting and various pork products, to vegetables grown without chemicals, pesticides or fertilizers, Thanksgiving turkeys and even maple syrup.
The Whitefields started off farming and gardening just for the family, and eventually found themselves with a surplus of eggs. They put out a sign for fresh eggs and soon were selling everything their little farm had to offer. Running Whitefields Farms is a labor of love for Michelle, who is also a full time nurse, but it comes with its challenges.
Its a learning curve, admitted Michelle, Every year we say, that didnt work, so we try something different. We also have problems with wildlife coming after the animals.
The rewards, however, greatly overshadow the downfalls.
I love producing stuff. To be able to do this is just awesome, and we get to meet a lot of really interesting customers. said Michelle.
And she knows that farm-fresh means good food.
You actually get a better product, you get a nicer quality. You can come to the farm and actually see where the food is coming from.
Maintaining the farm is hard work, but it takes mostly man-power and very little non-renewable energy.
Small operations like us, we produce all this food and we use a minimal amount of energy to do it. You get a good outcome for your labor. said Michelle.
Although the Whitefields dont advertise, demand is constantly growing. This season you can find their products at farmers markets in Hadley and Warrensburg.
Nettle Meadow Goat Farm in Thurman, operated and owned by Lorraine Lambaise and Sheila Flanagan, can be summed up in its slogan: Happy goats-Great Cheese! Founded in 1990 by Laurie Goodhart and Raynault Herbert, the farm was bought by Lambaise and Flanagan in July 2005, who continued the business of caring for the farm and producing a variety of delightful goat cheeses following organic principals. The two women got their start making goat cheese in California, and saw a great opportunity in coming to Nettle Meadow.
It was a good fit for us to be able to continue what they started, said Flanagan, We wanted to get out of the office life and spend more time working with animals.
The farm isnt just about cheese, though. Many animals call Nettle Meadow home, from a few aging donkeys to cats, dogs and even peacocks. Sanctuary is provided for all, and retired goats can happily live out their golden age here. Aside from the joys of working with animals, giving the younger generation a taste of farm life is one of the greatest rewards of the job, according to Flanagan.
We love doing farm tours. There are so many kids these days who have lost touch with where their food comes from. Its a great educational opportunity for kids in the area. Unfortunately, there are so few working farms in the area where there used to be so many.
Flanagan and Lambaise experience some of the same difficulties that other farm owners do, including the Whitefields.
The coyotes and wolves, what do we do about that? queried Flanagan. We seem to be having a surge in coyote and wolf population. And we are going through a lot of growth. Growth takes money and more product.
Flanagan and Lambaise also hope to aid in the spread of food-awareness. They are part of a NY chapter of Slow Foods International, the organization that gave Kingsolver some of the ideas for eating locally. Slow Foods was basically created as a rebellion against the fast-food lifestyle that is so popular today.
Without people regaining an understanding of smaller, sustainable local agriculture, the way our complex economy is moving, places like this are going to be stamped out. There will be no value to stuff like this. lamented Flanagan. Unfortunately, its a matter of economics. Its a lot easier to feed a family on McDonalds than locally grown products. But eating locally can be a smart choice for families.
One benefit is that you can actually go see where the food you are eating is coming from, and also there is the whole positive environmental impact of eating local foods. said Flanagan.
You can buy goat cheese from Nettle Meadow right from the farm porch, or find it at local stores and restaurants such as Oscars, the Hadley and Warrensburg farmers markets, Friends Lake Inn, Sapienzas, Top of the World and Christies on the Lake.
Theres nothing quite like a good old farm stand peddling veggies straight from someones own backyard. On Route 8 in Johnsburg, Daniel Myler sells all the bounty of his garden, from crinkly heads of Savoy cabbage to fresh-cut flowers and fresh eggs. Myler has lived in the area with his family for three years, and began operating his veggie stand on a large scale just this summer.
I come from farm country in eastern Long Island and there were always vegetable stands there, said Myler. We knew we could save some money by living off the land. We would end up having so much left over from our own garden, and people would come to me and say why dont you open your own farm stand?
Its not always easy gardening in the Adirondacks; Myler had to pull a tarp over his massive garden three times this spring to protect against frost, which he likened to trying to cover the Yankee stadium.
Its a lot of hard work; you have to go through everything to make sure its good quality, but its a family effort. It really pulls the family together. said Myler All your hard work is really rewarding, though, because the people who buy from you really appreciate the fresh vegetables. They compliment you and return again and again.
Myler, who has worked in the fuel and heating industry, knows how important supporting local agriculture is to the environment. It just takes a little dedication. It would be nice to see everyone have a garden.
If you are in your local library or bookstore this fall, be sure to check out Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. And if you are up to the challenge, try visiting your local food producers whenever you can for a healthier you and a healthier planet.