June 28, 2007

Eat local

Last week, I wrote about how our food supplies don't necessarily connect to our neighborhoods. I also wrote a bit earlier on the possibilities we'd open by looking locally, and I'd like to push further that direction.

Tomatoes on their way.
Tomatoes on their way.

Angelika and I have decided that effective August 1st, we're going to eat local foods. For the first year, we'll define 'local' as New York and Pennsylvania, since it's not too hard to find food which is labeled by state. (Vermont is practically a brand unto itself, and would in some ways be easier, but it's a lot further away.)

If that works out, we'll strive to make 'local' more local, figuring out where we can get foods from more immediately around here. There's no reason why everything we eat couldn't come from Dryden - except that the world isn't organized that way any longer. New York State still has tremendous agriculture, though, and we hope it's organized enough for us to find our way.

The one major exception in the experiment - the 'Marco Polo rule' - will be for spices, which are low-weight goods that have traveled for centuries. We're not granting such exceptions for chocolate, bananas, or oranges, however, unless people give them to us. (Angelika's parents send wonderful Christmas and Easter chocolates, for example.) Similarly, we'll eat out at restaurants and other people's houses if other people invite us, and we're not going to carry a suitcase of local produce when we travel.

Herbs coming up.
Herbs coming up.

This is going to mean departing from most processed food, because the processors don't tend to say where their ingredients came from. For some lightly processed food, I'll need to figure out where those ingredients come from. New Hope Mills is just up Route 38, but is the grain for the flour from New York? The midwest? Champlain Valley does both, though I don't know what ends up where. I'll find out, and let people know when I find local options.

Seasonality is going to be a big problem, so I expect we'll learn about freezing and canning, especially of fruit. That fits well with Angelika's plans for her orchard, but it's a lot to figure out. Storing root vegetables is going to be another learning process. Our cooking is going to have to change a lot, and we'll be doing a lot of the processing we used to let companies do for us. Our garden will also be contributing more and more, but we're not nearly crazy enough to depend on it now.

Some things should be easy - dairy, eggs, meat, u-pick fruit, and vegetables in season. New York grows lots of onions, too.

A few of the items I'm hoping to keep in our diet but need to find suppliers for, include:

  • Cooking oil - New York grower and processor?

  • Sweeteners - New York produces 34% of America's beets, but how many are sugar beets? And is there a processor here? Honey and maple syrup are much easier.

  • Cereal - I can make granola out of grains and fruits grown in New York, but I have a lot of looking to do to find them. Or maybe someone else is...

  • Yeast - Maybe I can do sourdough, but I'll confess to a fondness for spoonfuls of yeast. Where does that stuff come from?

  • Vinegar - I guess we can make it ourselves, but it seems like there must be some small local place doing it.

Some things I know I can get at Ludgate Farms or Greenstar in Ithaca, as well as the farmstands in Dryden and the farmer's market in Ithaca. Back to Basics sometimes carries very local food from the surrounding farms. We'll also be looking at Community Supported Agriculture around here. I have a lot of research to do.

Carrots getting started.
Carrots getting started.

Angelika also wants us to bicycle to B&B Farms and Ludgate Farms, which will add some extra work to this but have lots of other benefits, especially when the weather is nice. (I don't think we'll do that in winter.)

For now, and perhaps for a long time, we're going to leave the dogs and cats out of this experiment, except when they get leftovers.

I'll post updates - and recipes - here regularly. I also hope to find out more about what this costs, and ways to lower the cost. It doesn't seem like local food should be more expensive, at least in New York State, so long as you're willing to accept seasonality. I suspect it'll cost more at least at first, though, as 'local food' is just getting started. I'll report on the costs - both time and money - along the way.

(To some extent, this is inspired by a chapter in Bill McKibben's Deep Economy, in which he tries a year of local eating in Vermont. I'll be writing more about that book along the way too.)

Posted by simon at June 28, 2007 7:33 AM in
Note on photos


JimW said:

Wow! That sounds like a pretty ambitious undertaking.

I hope it works well. I wouldn't mind trying it, but I don't have the patience for all that non-processed food... ;-)

Does chocolate from Pennsylvania count as local? I can think of one company in PA that produces a lot...

Good luck! Oh, and belated congrats on the wedding!

Phil D. said:

Hi Simon,

I grew up in upstate NY (Deansboro) and we always had a garden that produced lots of veggies for a family of 5. We also raised chickens for eggs and for the supper table when their time came. Rabbits that managed to defeat my dad's fence system and get to the lettuce had to be careful--or they'd wind up in the stew pot as well!

Just some thoughts:

I've heard you can make sunflower oil, but I'd imagine you'd need to grow A LOT of sunflowers and it's probably time-consuming.

Sweeteners are tough. I would let yourself get away with something like sugar in the raw or another organic--mainly because you're going to want to do some pickling. Pickles are a real life-saver in the winter. Man, do I love them.

Same thing for the yeast; just stick with organics--this really could fall under your spice rule, no?

Vinegar: make friends with your local cider mill for apple cider vinegar.

General sweets: for me, nothing beats maple sugar candy. A little expensive, but available year-round, all natural, and oh-so-tasty.

Good luck with your experiment! Your blog is always a pleasure to read.

KAZ said:

Don't miss Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Mineral, about her family's one-year experiment with local eating.

Andrew said:

I don't think I have an url and what use do I have for html tags?
My comment is that in my experience local produce is always always more expensive than produce from eleswhere, even in season. Your project is laudable, but my opinion is that people who get on the buy-local bandwagon are mostly a class of people who regard cost as irrelevant and unimportant. The cost difference is huge. One local peach at the farm market in my neighborhood in New York is a delicacy costing more than $1.00. This makes me mad, because I like the concept as much as anyone else, but I wish people would wake up and face reality and stop joyfully paying so much just to support an ideal. It goes against the whole concept of "market". Pardon my rant.