by Maria Reidelbach
It is the 45th annual Earth Day! Since I began working as a local food activist a decade ago, my eco-awareness has expanded dramatically, and I have been often dismayed, but sometimes delighted. To celebrate Earth Day Yardavore style, I’d like to share with you a manifesto—call it a munchifesto, or maybe a manifeasto—about all the amazing environmental and health benefits of eating more local food.
|Vintage German postcard courtesy of Ken “PixPop” Brown.|
This is a time of such promise—humanity is making great and astonishing progress in so many ways: material technology, medicine, agriculture, transportation, communication. We understand more about the brain and consciousness than ever before. Despite all of this success, the world seems to be falling apart. We’ve got a grip on nature, but human nature trips us up. So many of our friends, neighbors and family struggling to live a healthy, happy life because lax regulations have caused terrific income inequality; shortsightedness and greed about the limitations and pollution of fossil fuels is causing disruption; there are endless arms races and war. And, of course, our governmental and corporate leaders have so far failed deal with climate change, the biggest challenge of all.
These problems seem huge and overwhelming, but I have discovered a way I can live a better life, and contribute to a better world—it’s a sweet spot, for sure. Eating more locally grown food is healthier and more delicious, creates local prosperity, reduces my carbon footprint, and—it’s way more fun!
Everywhere we turn, we are dazzled by advertisements telling us that we can be happy and healthy by consuming highly processed food, nutrients and medicine, from McDonalds to Coke, Wonder Bread to Dr. Oz, and this is the food that most of us eat, every day. The growing epidemic of lifestyle-based illnesses like diabetes, allergies, obesity and heart disease, however, evidences the lie to their claim of making wholesome food.
Processed food is damaging in even more ways. The supermarket industry has conglomerated into just a few huge corporations, giving them the leverage to pay lower prices to farmers, who pay lower wages to farm workers. Squeezed farmers are dependent on government subsidies for growing just corn and soybeans, which are used to make high fructose corn syrup and hydrogenated oil, both high-calorie, low nutrition foods. Corn and soybeans are so cheap that they are major ingredients in most processed food, and they also require large amounts of petroleum-based pesticides and fertilizer, gobbling a precious resource and polluting. We are dependent on food grown on huge farms, far, far away and we are reduced to eating very few varieties of fruits and vegetables, bred for travel and shelf life, not nutrition or even flavor.
Although we’re used to shopping at supermarkets, there are so many ways to eat more locally grown food. It’s a real adventure to discover new flavors, new sources, and to learn more about how plants, animals and fungus grow. Here is a menu of options and their virtues.
A garden connects us to the earth and the seasons, and provides us with the freshest food we will ever eat—truly the rarest of gourmet treats and the peak of nutrition. It’s entertaining to see things grow—a regular reality show, including the drama of life-threatening events like a visit from a groundhog. Kids eat more vegetables if they have helped to grow them. Working the earth with all its friendly bacteria strengthens our immune systems too. It’s easy to start with perennial herbs, which are handy to have nearby and also happen to be super-nutritious.
The Wild Side
There is a stunning amount of great food growing wild in the Mid-Hudson Valley. It’s surprisingly easy to learn the basics and safely forage dozens of species. And I’m not talking weeds—these are delicious, nutritious fruits and nuts, vegetables, herbs, mushrooms, and animals. Foraging food for dinner gives us a great excuse to leave parts of the yard wild, it gets us outdoors, and awakens instinctive drives of gathering and hunting—so exciting! Foraging wild food is incredibly empowering and allows you to experience nature at her most abundant. And wild food often has many times the nutrients of cultivated varieties.
Down on the Farm
We are lucky to have a wide variety of great local farms. You can visit a U-Pick farm where the farmer does the hard work and you just waltz in and harvest. It’s beautiful out in the fields, you can slow down and smell the earth, hear the birds call, feel the sweet breeze, swap tips with other pickers and chat with the farmer. All this, plus a discounted price in return for your help.
For a bounty of local food, join a CSA farm (Community Supported Agriculture). You pay in advance, when a farm’s expenses are highest, for a share of the season’s crops and each week get a basket of super-fresh produce; plus you often extras like recipes or events on the farm. A CSA membership is a great deal for the money, and you are directly strengthening the farm’s resources.
Shop at farm stands and farmers markets for wide selection and convenience. Compared to a supermarket, the hours and days are limited, but a trip to a farmers market combines the chore of shopping with a lovely walk outdoors, often with live music, delicious tastings, old and new friends, and farmers. All of this is so good for your soul!
Ask for and choose locally-grown food at supermarkets and restaurants—the system makes it difficult for these businesses to incorporate locally grown food, but if there is a demand, they will work it out. Look for items from the brand Hudson Valley Harvest, which aggregates and distributes food grown in our region.
Even if you’ve never cooked, or have lost the habit, home cooking is a skill worth cultivating. If you start with fresh produce, it can be really simple to make extraordinary home-cooked meals. Because it’s made from scratch (now called “whole foods”), home cooking has more flavor and nutrition without preservatives, chemicals, synthetic nutrients, and the huge amounts of salt and fat that processed and restaurant food often has.
Putting Food By
Preserving seasonal food is much easier than you’d think. Lots of fresh food can be dried or frozen by following simple guidelines. The simple method (just salt!) used to make traditional kosher dills, kimchi, sauerkraut and other kinds of pickled vegetables transforms them, generating prebiotics, probiotics, and additional nutrients. For enthusiasts, there’s even canning.
I began writing The Yardavore to share my love of local food, both cultivated and wild. It blows me away that I can dine on delicious and healthy food while I support local farming, food security, beautiful landscapes, keep more money in the community, increase prosperity for all, and do my part to help fight climate change. Plus it’s fun there’s still so much more to discover! I love sharing this adventure with you, and I can’t wait to see what’s around the next bend. Happy Earth Day!
Maria Reidelbach is an author and maker who lives, works and eats in Accord, NY. Questions, feedback, and news sign-up: firstname.lastname@example.org.