Cherry tomatoes, public television, and a guy named John–that’s where this experiment started for me.
Growing up in the south shore of Massachusetts I remember visiting the local produce stand with my mother–a weekly ritual, fraught with the pleasantness of routine and expectation. In the summer, I hoped that we would take the lovely red tomatoes home and immediately make tomato and cheese sandwiches. In the fall, I longed for gallons and gallons of fresh pressed apple cider.
I’ve always loved food. I would watch hours of The French Chef with Julia Child, Yan Can Cook, and The Frugal Gourmet on Boston public television. As a seven year old, it made sense to me that the food one shops for should be the best one can afford (thanks for that insight, Frugal Gourmet), prepared with proper-even-if-it’s-not-perfect technique (excellent advice, Julia), all accomplished with finesse and a spirit of fun (have you ever seen Yan cook?) . Now, these sensibilities were buried deep inside of me; they were not fixed in my tiny child conscience to be made known to my friends and family, especially when Burger King was an option. But I always did wonder why we still ate the mealy, pinkish tomatoes from the grocery store in the winter when the produce stand was closed.
As an adult, my desire to buy local and eat local evolved from another produce stand, this one down the road from my house in Delaware, where I currently live. I visited John’s produce stand one day after work, hoping to pick up some cucumbers for a salad and not wanting to go out of my way to visit the grocery store. I discovered much more than cucumbers, specifically an abundance of zucchini, summer squash, and tomatoes. Oh, the tomatoes! Beefsteak, grape, and cherry! The cherry tomatoes were like candy and eaten before I drove the mile home. It was like a revelation, being brought back to childhood and endless summers with one burst of a ripe cherry tomato.
I visited John again and again that summer and into fall. I bought corn and pumpkins and potatoes, even mums. As I visited, I realized that I was forming a relationship with John. He asked me how my mother was, said he met my brother, told me about his church, and even gifted me with seed pods so I could grow on my own. I looked forward to my visits and was more than happy to give John my hard earned cash for his hard earned fruits and vegetables.
When winter came, I began to seriously consider starting my own garden, missing those cherry tomatoes and again, not willing to settle for the salmon colored ones at the grocery store. I started reading books on gardening and local eating, one of which is called Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver (which I will discuss at length in a future post, I’m sure). And that was it. I went local.
Rather, I’m trying to go local; I’m an experimental locavore figuring it out as I go. And for good reason: First, it all comes down to taste. Local, in-season produce just tastes better. A tomato fresh off the vine of a neighboring garden or farm is tastier and healthier than one that has been sitting in the back of a truck for a couple weeks, traveling to my state from California or Florida. Eating locally also reduces my carbon footprint on the world. Less energy, fuel and industrialization in general goes into buying from a produce stand down the street or a farm in my county. It makes sense.
Next, buying local strengthens my local economy. Since 1935, America has lost 4.7 million farms and agriculture is increasingly…corporate. Corporate farming seems like an oxymoron to me. I don’t want to eat a chemically-ripened, corporate tomato. But there is hope! Even the tiny state of Delaware still has over 51,000 acres of farmland. Buying from these local farms can strengthen communities by putting money back in the land, so to speak, and by actually creating community. John, my produce stand friend, and I have a community of sorts. He knows me and I know him. He lets me try the best peaches before I buy them and encourages me to take more potatoes because “they’re just that good.”
My bottom line is that I want to get back to basics—the basics of cooking and eating the freshest and best foods I can get my hands on with those I love most. I’m going to try to do that by buying locally. For me, local means the state of Delaware first, but I also have resources in other states like Pennsylvania and New Jersey. I’m on a mission to discover the best produce, meats, cheeses, and wine I can in my state and the surrounding states, while also learning more about the benefits of local eating. I’m hoping that by posting resources here all in one place you will find it that much easier to buy and eat more local food items. I even plan to try my hand at the most hyperlocal a person can get—my own and very first vegetable garden. A new adventure and a true experiment. More to come.