Sourcing your fruits, veggies and even meat is important!
By Harry Matthews
What we eat and where it comes from seems to be growing in importance to those of us making our homes in the Hudson Valley. The fact that I can go into my local supermarket in mid-winter and get a perfectly ripe-looking tomato strikes me as odd. How a beautiful avocado can be had for a dollar I find even stranger.
I just finished prepping my vegetable garden for the season as I finished this column, and what a joy it was, is, and will continue to be for the next five to six months. Starting in a few weeks I will be eating from my garden on a daily basis, as well as canning, pickling, and freezing extra things for later. Whatever I don’t grow myself I can either get from a local farm stand or farmers market, or better yet trade with other growers at one of the local “food swap” days groups of gardeners have started initiating around the area.
Our options are seemingly boundless, but let’s look at them in a bit more depth.
Farmers Markets: The number and quality of these seem to just keep getting better every year, most now resplendent with a wide array of not only fruits and vegetables, but also home-brewed craft beer, local wines, cheeses, breads, meats, smoked fish, and condiments ranging from tongue-numbing hot sauces to richly spiced Indian chutneys and pickles. And many of our farmers are becoming more experimental with what they grow, from many types of heirloom tomatoes, to fiddleheads and mushrooms, and old and rare varieties of apples, pears, and peaches. On top of this there are often prepared foods and live music to boot.
CSAs: Community Supported Agriculture is like a farm club you join by paying for a share of the harvest up front and then getting allotments of the harvested produce throughout the summer. This can be perfect for those who either don’t have time or the space to garden themselves. Every CSA is slightly different, with some offering a set box of fruit and veg that can be picked up weekly, some that might include meats or dairy at an extra cost; some even allow one to individually choose items depending on preference and taste. While most seem to range in price from $300 for a half share (2 adults) to as much as $700 for a full share, some can be had for substantially less. One helpful aspect of a CSA is that it lets the farmer know how much to grow, as well as improve their cash flow by getting paid up front.
Farm stands: Where once farm stands were humble roadside operations, lately some appear to grown into mini Whole Foods, selling all kinds of produce, meats, pies, jams, maple products, and even housewares and clothing. I feel very lucky to live just down the road from a wonderful farm stand that’s been a regional staple for decades now. As I write this (Mother’s Day weekend) they are opening for the season, a day that many of us look forward to all winter long. Like most farm stands, they don’t grow everything they sell but everything is sourced locally, so they can always tell you where their produce comes from. What they do grow is consistently amazing, from the first strawberries of the season to some of the best corn to be had anywhere, and I don’t say this lightly. It’s also a great place to run into friends and neighbors, have a nice chat with the always-friendly farmers themselves, and find out what other people are growing.
Supermarkets: Grocery stores have come a long way from even ten years ago. From gluten-free options to a wide variety of organic produce, free range chickens and eggs, and hormone-free and grass-fed beef, they seem to be catering to a changing diet. Sadly, though, it’s still hard to find anything local at many of the larger chains; instead, there are apples from Argentina, blueberries from Peru, avocados from Mexico, and the rest grown in California greenhouses. The smaller grocers do a better job of sourcing local products, but in the summer and fall I tend to do most all of my produce shopping at the farm stands and markets.
In the end, it all comes down to preference, taste, and convenience. If you want a better-tasting vegetable, a more humanely-raised piece of meat, and the means to keep our farmers employed, take that extra time to explore the bounty that is all around us this time of year. Keep your money local!