Even though there seems to have been some spring summer confusion this glorious, often steamy May, what either season seems to agree upon is this: local food has arrived. Amidst the floral explosion this spring brought, the early green vegetables unearthed themselves (well, people unearthed them), you know the fiddleheads and the ramps and the Hadley grass (known by folks in other places as asparagus). As I said, confusion also reigns and just a couple of days ago I saw (and admit, at six dollars and ninety-nine cents, did not buy) local organic strawberries. It’s a tad bit soon for those, but hey, part of the local food movement is about embracing what is. And what it is around here this month is hot, at least more so and more often than usual.
Credit so much of our Valley’s collective rise in consciousness about local foods to CISA (that’s Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture to you). An organization that supports and promotes local agriculture, including with its wonderful printed guide just out (find it in the local papers this week or at area stores such as River Valley Market, Atkins Market and many others or online), and its buy local campaign (Local Heroes) and its less visible support to local growers regarding a range of issues, especially technical and business ones, CISA deserves our collective thanks (and our individual support; you can join in and become a CISA member). Here are a few impressive numbers: farm and restaurant involvement in the Local Hero program increased this year by 6% and 15% respectively. The number of Community Supported Agriculture farms (CSA) in operation climbed from last year’s 27 to 33. CISA Director, Phil Korman is quoted: “This is in line with the trend over the last five years, where the number of farms selling directly to the public is up, and direct sales doubled to $9 million in Franklin, Hampden and Hampshire counties.”
For me, personally, the local food movement—in conjunction with other important consciousness raising and connect-the-dots efforts, including Al Gore’s having taken up residence on my shoulder (the right one, the left one was already taken)—is a critical component in my “getting” it about local food and making shifts in the family’s behavior to become part of the movement. By part of, I mean a supporter, in spirit and some action. And mainly, our involvement has to do with where we put our food dollars. Increasingly, we put them to work buying locally grown food.
I certainly have moved far in my thinking from my early Hampshire College days when I knew gardens-are-good and Atkins-grows-apples. My kids, fiddlehead lovers early on, herb and tomato harvesters and fruit picking fans, farmers’ market and farm share crazed young chefs, they will have a passion for and belief in local food from forever (kind of like the way they’ll always know recycling and walking to school and that pressing buttons and tapping keys do things). With the baby-now-toddler our tepid efforts toward any vegetable gardening failed (not to mention that our big reach was tomato plants and there was a tomato blight last summer) and I am not sure we’re going to try any harder this year (my outdoor goal this year: keep toddler from running into the street). But this is one summer and more will follow.
The thing is, wherever you live—even an apartment in a major urban center—the local food movement and access to information about growing your own something is spreading. I think wherever you look you can find a promising project, an exciting organization, and a fellow fan of tasty local green stuff. I take heart for example in having just learned about an organization in down the road in Springfield called Gardening the Community. I can’t wait for my next visit to Philadelphia (my hometown) where Weavers Way Co-op just opened a big new store (the original store is the most jam-packed food store you will ever see in all your life) in Chestnut Hill, where an independent grocer closed its doors after decades in business. I am also really excited to learn something about making jam this summer and that’s timely because some of our favorite jam in all the world came here via dear San Francisco friends, Blue Chair preserves and soon there will be a cookbook (if we were in San Fran, we’d go take a class; if you are in San Fran or heading there, go ahead, fulfill a little dream of mine and learn from the masters).
Having July in May certainly means that all those summery feelings are stirred early. You know what I mean, the longer days, the buggy evenings, the slowed-down-enough-to-just-hang-out (and even meet new folks) feeling. We got to experience that on Friday evening, heading (although I have been told that with four children you do not have to bring food to potlucks we did thanks in large part to dear husband, who threw together a little steamed green bean and Hadley grass tossed with vinaigrette) to a potluck at Town Farm. The event was hosted by Grow Food Northampton. There was also a film screening, the documentary, “A Farm for the Future.” We brought three of our four kids to the potluck. We partook in food and chat and a good deal of racing around and some vigorous batting at mosquito action (and missed the film in favor of bedtime for the toddler). Given how completely depressed I am about the BP oil spill disaster (this Michael Klare quote in the Nation describes the magnitude perfectly: It is as if an underwater neutron bomb has struck the Gulf of Mexico), I really needed the lift of local food, local friends, and the fact that local hope is happening—and not just here.