After attending the last Chefs Collaborative Summit in Boston, “Sustainability” was the discussion; present were chefs, farmers, ranchers and fishers. That word has been getting a lot of attention in the press and safe to say, it is here to stay. It is not a trend. Thank God!
When I started “The Open Kitchen” in 96′, sustainability in food was not a political issue yet. I started my food business out of a soulless seven years as a recruiter/headhunter. It was my dream to have a business that was close to the earth, family-central. I worked hard to contact and use local farmers for produce and cheeses. It was hard then, and it’s still hard now to receive deliveries of locally grown produce. There are some pricey middlemen that will charge an arm and a leg for items like arugula and that just isn’t right. That is why I attended this summit. To see what’s being done about the supply chain. What I found out is that it’s still a need that’s not being served. Yes, there’s Steve Verrill in Concord and Siena Farms in Sudbury, but I met a chef at the conference from Chapel Hill, North Carolina, Andrea Reusing of Lantern Restaurant who has easy access(aka delivered) to produce, poultry and cheeses from 250 farmers within 50 miles of her restaurant. A tiny part of me wants to go buy an old van and start delivering produce from local farmers myself.
I think it’s only a matter of time before this problem is solved because “everyone” is talking about local and sustainable food. Diners are requesting it at restaurants; the Food Nutrition Bill passed in July promises to make our kids lunches more nutritious and locally sourced; and people in general just get that if we don’t gain back control of our food system, we are going to be in big trouble. Who hasn’t watched “Food, Inc.”? Terrifying, right? If you haven’t seen it yet, you might want to know where that Sam’s Club burger comes from.
On the way home from the Summit, I thought about what I could do to help my clients navigate this still complicated way of eating. Will it be hard for people to go to Farmers Markets all the time? Will we all make time to cook and eat around a table with our family? Given that a bag of groceries from Whole Foods can cost as much as $50, who really cares about being sustainable?
I think we can begin by taking baby steps. Small vegetable gardens in the back yard; occasional purchases of local, farm-raised meats and weekly visits to your local farmers market. I subscribe to EdibleManhatten and it’s interesting how many NYC restaurants have taken abandoned lots or building rooftops to start their own gardens, often employing full-time farmers to manage them. This is the future as we attempt to rein in the power of the large food conglomerates. I am excited by it and have already taken steps to work with only those vendors who can supply me with local and sustainable produce and meats.
Being awfully compulsive, on the way home from that weekend long conference, I stopped at my local hardware store and bought a canner and all the other necessary gear for canning and then made another stop to purchase 12 lbs. of local apples. My first canning experience. Youtube has many videos on how to do it, but at the conference I bought a terrific book called, “Put ‘Em Up” by Sherri Brooks Vinton. I made over 30 jars of apple butter. I actually combined recipes, using the method from the book, but the recipe from my sister-in-law, aka “organic fruit farmer’s wife.” She makes an award winning apple butter which sells like hotcakes at the Madison, WI farmers market every Saturday. Famous chefs from Chicago, like Bruce Sherman of North Pond and Rick Bayless of Frontera swear by my brother’s organic apples, pears and plums; and that darn apple butter. It’s addictive! My own didn’t come close to hers in intense flavor, so I know she is holding back on a few key ingredients. I will have to charm her on my next visit out to Madison, WI!
Here are two interesting links to the Mass. Farmers Markets and a good resource for seeing what fish are currently sustainable (no blue-fin tuna!- ugh!!)
And check out this Concord based company for wonderful pasture-raised chickens, pig, sheep and even rabbit- http://peteandjensbackyardbirds.com/