In 2012, the Girl Scouts turn 100, and they’re working to stay more relevant than ever, with new merit badges for website design, financial literacy, entertainment technology (whatever that is) and, my unequivocal favorite, locavorism.

How do Girl Scouts earn the locavore badge? It takes five steps: 1. Explore the benefits and challenges of going local 2. Find your local food sources 3. Cook a simple dish showcasing local ingredients 4. Make a recipe with local ingredients 5. Try a local cooking challenge.

Keep reading …

Wine Miles: Is Terroir at War Against Sustainability?

       We’ve all heard about the locavorism movement. The further food has to travel to reach your home, the less sustainable it is in the grand scheme of things. It takes fossil fuels to move commodities from point A to point B, and the further point A is from point B, the less sustainable that supply system becomes. In the past couple years especially, Americans have become somewhat aware of the overall impact of contemporary food supply and have begun to purchase more and more ingredients from local producers. Restaurateurs have followed a similar approach, beginning to incorporate local ingredients into their menu in order to boost their eco-friendly appeal and attract sustainably conscious consumers. The drive for locally supplied produce has become a necessity (or a significant interest at least)—and this trend just stellar. I couldn’t be more happy that locavorism has developed traction in a world of rampant fuel consumption.   But seriously, why hasn’t the just-as-consumer-conscious wine industry been able to jump on the bandwagon?

        In some sense, drinking locally should have come far before eating locally. When you think about it, importing wine from France is just about as practical as importing drinking water from Fiji. Fact is, 750 milliliters of wine weighs 1.65 pounds, and when you factor in the weight of glass, foil, and packaging, we’re really looking at a solid four pounds a bottle. That’s almost 50 pounds a case, and at about 60 million cases being imported into the United States annually—that’s a lot of weight and a lot of wine miles. Which means a lot of fossil fuels.

        But before we dissect the idiosyncrasies of wine transport and consumption, first, I think it is important to stipulate that the needs and desires of restaurant buyers, and consumers purchasing wine at retail, are in fact quite different. In the restaurant business, the individual delegated to purchase wine (whether that’s the sommelier, wine director, general manager, ect.), has several responsibilities to the restaurant and its patrons that do not fall on a consumer walking into a wine shop.

        First off, wine purchased for a particular venue must be, at least in some respect, compatible with that venue’s food selection. Even if the wine is spectacular, if it does not marry with the food, the wine list is more of a burden than a utility. Second, the product must over-deliver at its price point. This is simple enough. Ideally, a ten-dollar bottle of wine must drink like a twenty-dollar bottle of wine, and a fifty-dollar bottle like a hundred-dollar bottle. And finally (and it’s this prerequisite that often consumes wine and beverage directors), the wine list as a whole must share at least some commonality in regards to the point of origin of the food preparation and overall orientation of the venue. Basically, an Italian restaurant is going to serve mostly Italian wines, as is a Spanish tapas restaurant, mostly Spanish wines. And this makes perfect sense. I like Chianti with my pasta–but unfortunately it is this standard that drives wine import.

        As far as the average consumer purchasing wine at retail—well that’s a horse of a different color. We’re Americans damn it. We have the luxury of taking a glass of wine and drinking it on its own, for what it is, and nothing more. In Europe, food and wine are pretty much synonymous, attached at the hip, PB and J–and in our country, well, that’s not necessarily the case. This lends incredible flexibility to the range of wine accessible to the American consumer. We’re willing to drink anything form Australian Shiraz, to German Riesling, and White Burgundy. But that being said, domestic wine outsells imported wine 4 to 1 in the U.S, and 90% of domestic production occurs in a single state. California. This might sound like good news, sustainably speaking. We’re making our own wine and drinking our own wine—a good system. Think again. America is a vast expanse. New York City is roughly 2500 miles from Napa Valley (that’s almost three quarters the distance of Paris) and that means one thing: wine miles. And lots of them.

         Now that we’ve problematized two very different creatures, so comes the question, but how to cure them? And the answer to this question is complex and probably way over my head, but I do know that the root of the solution lies in local wine production. And the drive for local production can come in only one way, as with most commercial interests, and that’s from the consumer. In the wine shop this treatment is easily applied. Instead of California Chardonnay, buy Connecticut Chardonnay. Instead of German Riesling, buy Finger Lakes Riesling.

        But what about terroir? You ask. Isn’t Terroir the epitome of fine wine production?

        To hell with terroir. At this rate of climate change, there will be no fine wine production. Let me vent.

        Any Chablis producer will tell you that Viticulture Climate Zone 1 is different than it was 30 years ago. Harvest dates are becoming earlier, grapes riper, and alcohol levels higher. And just up the road in Champagne, climate change couldn’t be more full force. Why do you reckon there have been so many good Champagne vintages lately? Do you know what constitutes a good Champagne vintage? An exceptionally warm growing season. Maybe that explains why the 1990s were able to produce 7 vintages of Dom Perignon. That’s more vintages of Dom Perignon than any decade ever. And the 2000-decade is on track to rack up just as many, if not more. Maybe this sounds like good news, and it is, but only for Champagne and all of the vineyard land northward—and trust me, there aren’t many vineyards north of Champagne. Although, at this rate, that might be changing (and I’ll be the one writing about the nuance of Greenland terroir).

        I guess what I’m getting at is that sometimes people forget that terroir is something that exists everywhere. Even the least hallowed vineyard plot in the-middle-of-nowhere Kentucky has terroir. And part of what Locavorism needs to be is to embrace local terroir. And to embrace with very little regard as to what is good land or what is bad land, but what is local land.

        But even more than that we need to let go of the idea that great wine only comes from select landholdings in Europe and California. In the past decade its never been more apparent that good site selection, stylistic winemaking, and above all else, quality-minded vineyard management are what make great wine—and any region with these basic ingredients can make a damn good potion. So if our region, the tri-state area, wants to make great wine, well we have the resources to do that. So California, you drink your shit, and we’ll drink our shit.

        To address restaurant consumption is of course much more difficult. A brilliant sommelier once shed light on this issue with a simple piece of advice on food pairing—“If it grows together, it goes together”. And I feel like this is one of those notions that is constantly being honored but often goes unsaid. Sublime pairings (and great ones too) occur when cuisine from a particular region is joined with wine produced by that very place. Some wine geeks have tried to explain this biologically but personally, I think that’s bullshit. More likely, I suspect–I’m sure in fact, that local producers have learned to adapt their winemaking to produce wines that pair especially well with the food they put on the table every night. This is just part of the reason Old World wines have such a reputation of being so food friendly. Unfortunately, this means that “What grows together, goes together” isn’t really that pertinent after all. Preparation is what matters most—and that applies to both food and wine.

        So here’s the brutal paradox: we’re sourcing ingredients locally and preparing them internationally, so ultimately we end up pairing local produce with international wines. And I’d like to suggest that perhaps the resolution to this predicament lies with the wine producers. Instead of producing wines the American way, just for drinking, we need produce at least some wines specifically targeting our favorite international cuisines. Lets make rustic reds to drink with our eggplant parm. Lets make razor sharp, low alcohol whites (with some good residual, maybe) to cut through our spicy Bratwurst. Lets start making wine for food again.

        Now, will the Connecticut Highlands ever be able to produce a spittin’ image of Traditional Rioja? Hell naw. But almost any AVA could viably produce a red wine with an affinity for Spanish cuisine. That’s what I’m talking about. And who’s to say that every once and a while you can’t have a Barolo with your Prosciutto di Parma? That’s fine. Champagne on New Years: that’s fine too. But what’s important is that wines like Connecticut Chardonnay becomes a staple rather than California Chardonnay, and Long Island Merlot takes the roll of right bank Bordeaux in the venue of everyday eating and drinking. Let’s keep terroir in perspective. That’s going to cut back on a lot of wine miles and save the Earth. And saving the earth is trendy. Ya dig?

Eugene has an online, nonprofit farmers’ market. With an app! For a few cents’ premium, one can buy anything you’d find at a market without having to deal with like, masses of people. Then the pickup spot is the Ninkasi tasting room every Tuesday. (There are others around town but it doesn’t get more convenient than 3 blocks away/ my dude’s workplace.) Our CSA starts next week and our own garden is blowing up, so this will probably be our last order for a while, but I am just so stoked on the idea.

The place of food: mapping out the ‘local’ in local food systems

‘Local food systems’ movements, practices, and writings pose increasingly visible structures of resistance and counter-pressure to conventional globalizing food systems. The place of food seems to be the quiet centre of the discourses emerging with these movements. The purpose of this paper is to identify issues of ‘place’, which are variously described as the ‘local’and ‘community’ in the local food systems literature, and to do so in conjunction with the geographic discussion focused on questions and meanings around these spatial concepts. I see raising the profile of questions, complexity and potential of these concepts as an important role and challenge for the scholar-advocate in the realm of local food systems, and for geographers sorting through them. Both literatures benefit from such a foray. The paper concludes, following a ‘cautiously normative’ tone, that there is strong argument for emplacing our food systems, while simultaneously calling for careful circumspection and greater clarity regarding how we delineate and understand the ‘local’. Being conscious of the constructed nature of the ‘local’, ‘community’ and ‘place’ means seeing the importance of local social, cultural and ecological particularity in our everyday worlds, while also recognizing that we are reflexively and dialectially tied to many and diverse locals around the world.

Feagan, Robert. “The Place of Food: Mapping Out the ‘local’ in Local Food Systems.” Progress in Human Geography 31, no. 1 (February 1, 2007): 23–42.

The Non-Controversy Surrounding Local Food

A recent glut of books, studies and news articles aim to perpetuate the argument that local food is actually less environmentally friendly than its industrially raised counterpart. Claims range from “factory farms are better for the environment because they are more centralized” to “local farmers are not sophisticated enough to provide adequate food safety precautions.”

The contentions that local food’s opponents are putting forth are actually founded largely on credible data, and this is in part why the “controversy” surrounding local food persists. However, examining why locavorism does or does not make sense in 21st Century America via only one or two specific data points is leading people to the wrong conclusions.

Shimer College internships: KC Stresak draws connections between math and urban farming

This week at Growing Power has been a crazy one, but as I was forewarned, every week is crazy on the farm. A hectic schedule can be stressful, but it doesn’t have to be. Whenever I start to feel the pressure, I always remind myself of middle school math. As I first learned a new formula, I always struggled through the exercises. I didn’t think I would ever understand the process. But as one day folded into another, another formula was presented and to my ever-renewing surprise, I understood the past day’s work as it built upon the present. The same can be said for most every new task I learn as Growing Power.

If I’m starting to sound less reverent and increasingly presumptuous when it comes to this simple, local food thing, what can I say; I came of age during the rise of The Food Network. I’m another earnest member of Generation Y trying to be slow and local, but really, I want to have my cake and eat it too, and I don’t necessarily want to grow my cake in my backyard. Plus, I don’t have a yard. I have a very persistent, slightly manic squirrel running along the rail of my balcony.

Forget Golf Courses: Subdivisions Draw Residents With Farms

“en you picture a housing development in the suburbs, you might imagine golf courses, swimming pools, rows of identical houses.

But now, there’s a new model springing up across the country that taps into the local food movement: Farms — complete with livestock, vegetables and fruit trees — are serving as the latest suburban amenity.

It’s called development-supported agriculture, a more intimate version of community-supported agriculture — a farm-share program commonly known as CSA. In planning a new neighborhood, a developer includes some form of food production — a farm, community garden, orchard, livestock operation, edible park — that is meant to draw in new buyers, increase values and stitch neighbors together.”


On Organic/Local Food and the "Good Food Is Life" spirit

I was brought up in a family that, although we were often hard-up financially, tried our best to buy organic and local food. Some of my earliest memories are of running around the Santa Fe farmer’s market, eating honey sticks and staring at ristras. I think it’s a big part of the philosophy both my parents, but especially my dad, embrace: eating is one of the most important things we do, and we should respect that. As our family friends’ deli/cafe in Friday Harbor puts it, “Good Food Is Life.”

So yes: if good food is life, if putting love into the process of cooking makes us happier people, if knowing where and how our ingredients are produced empowers us, how do we stay true to this spirit with not much to spend? I don’t have a short or easy answer for this question, except the old “Do what you can, and make compromises if you must.”

I shop at Trader Joe’s for non-produce, because they’re cheap and fairly good quality. I have a lot of qualms about their ethics, but there are worse places, and for now it’s what I can afford. I shop at a local natural foods store for my veggies: they’re a small chain with a commitment to organic food. If I can, I go to a farmers’ market. I hope that once I’m a real adult with a home, I’ll be able to grow a lot of my own food and join a CSA and depend as little as possible on the agro-industrial complex. But the fact is, this system is difficult to escape. So, again, do what you can. And remember: good food is life, so be joyful about it.

P.S. If you want to do some reading on this general subject, I highly recommend Wendell Berry’s essays. I can recommend a bunch of other books, essays, and articles, too, if you’re interested–just let me know.

(Photo credit: The Market Chef. I think that’s our family friend Tim!)

“In my opinion, sustainability starts with basing one’s diet on those foods that are grown in the region where one lives. Here in North America, roughly 59% of the fruits, nuts and vegetables in the produce section of grocery stores are grown in the arid and semi-arid regionas of California, Mexico and Arizona. This is not sustainable. I agree that CAFOs aren’t sustainable, but the same is true of most fruits, nuts and vegetables. For example, 90% of the winter lettuce in North America is grown in Arizona. Or how about almonds? Did you know that 80% of the global almond crop is grown in three or four California counties? Bees are flown in from as far away as Australia to pollinate all those trees. How is that sustainable? And don’t even get me started on bananas.

Anyway, I think it’s wonderful that more people are interested in sustainable agriculture. Unfortunately, most people focus on CAFOs and feed lots while ignoring the fact that where and how most crops are produced is unsustainable.”