Do It Your Way

The recent record-breaking cold temperatures in Florida are now sending shock waves across the US – in the form of higher produce prices, and with shortages of vegetables like tomatoes, peppers, strawberries and other crops. I was reminded of this watching HLN this morning while on the dreadmill at the gym. It’s on the news everywhere.

I feel for the growers, whose livelihood is threatened by crop damage and losses. Rising prices won’t help if you have no crop to sell. I also feel for restaurant owners, who are scrambling to find alternate sources and absorbing higher costs while trying to not raise prices and drive away customers in an already fragile economy.

But how did our food system ever get in this shape, where a hiccup in Florida (or California) is felt by folks hundreds or thousands of miles away? How did we come to expect a slice of tomato on our Burger Doodle sandwich, even though it’s the middle of winter, and the tomato is going to be bland and tasteless anyway? And don’t get me going on the food poisoning scares of recent years involving spinach, tomatoes, peppers and other foods. Food safety is a whole other issue, for another day perhaps.

Am I the only one that sees the irony in all this?

After all, I don’t think it’s normal for a person like me, living in the Midwest, to expect fresh warm-season vegetables all year round. A trip to the grocery will quickly reveal how far some of the produce there has traveled, and how it isn’t really fresh – at least not by my definition.

For example, on a recent trip to Sam’s Club to buy some staples, I noticed that the “fresh” asparagus came from Mexico and the pea pods and green beans came from Guatemala. I passed on them.

But back to tomatoes. Given that it’s March, and I haven’t had a fresh tomato since maybe last November, I’m as anxious as the next person for a ripe, juicy slice of tomato. I just don’t expect to find one at the supermarket in winter!  I sowed some early tomato seeds last week on March 1st, and with any luck we will get our first taste of fresh tomato by late June. Until then, we’ll make do by enjoying our dried tomatoes, and our frozen sauces, purees and other tomato products we put up last year.

early tomato seedlings

I know our answer doesn’t work for everyone, but it works for us: we grow our own food, as much as we can. We enjoy what we can when it’s in season, and preserve as much as we can for the rest of the year. We try our best to buy local, though it’s not possible for all things. And it won’t be long, maybe a few weeks or so, and we’ll be enjoying fresh homegrown asparagus. I mean, really fresh asparagus, grown in our own backyard.  Total transportation distance: maybe 100 feet. Time from harvest to table: minutes.

As the author of Ecclesiastes wrote, “to every thing there is a season”. Who am I to argue with that?

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9 Responses to Do It Your Way

  1. Liza says:

    Kudos to you for growing your own food. Hey, you are a winner in last week’s plant puzzler. Congrats – oh the glory!

  2. I couldn’t agree more. We had a similar conversation with friends at dinner a few weeks ago, about getting back to food basics. I love to cook, I love to shop. However, a couple of years ago when gas prices first went really crazy, and food prices skyrocketed, I found myself getting angry while grocery shopping. That was weird. I was busy like everyone else, and living in California most produce is available year round, be it from Mexico, Chile or Guatamala…if I wanted a $4 red pepper in January, I could have one. That was nuts. How big a carbon foot-print does one bell pepper need anyway? My grocery bill also was a bit ridiculous.

    I didn’t grow up that way though. I grew up going to the local Green Grocer, saw what was in season, and we planned weekly meals based on local, seasonal, availability. I’d done it before, why not now? I’d fallen into the west coast trap of planning weekly meals, then finding the food, not paying attention to price or flavor, to fit the recipe…because it’s jetted in from all over the world all year long.

    In the past I used to complain that organic seasonal produce was over-priced, it was ‘trendy’, and I could never find what I ‘needed’, so I didn’t buy it often. However, the increased costs of transporting foods, at least here, seems have leveled the field. I can now buy organic locally grown produce often for less than market bought produce, support my local farms, and eat flavorful seasonal food. Not the watery tasteless orbs in the grocery store. Basically we’ve come back to common sense. It’s actually exciting looking at the kale or the squash on the market stall and devising a meal based on what’s in front of me. Eventually as we get the gardens going, we hope to grow most of our own. I rarely go to the grocery store any more. I now devise meals around what’s available in season. I’ve branched out a lot with my cooking, the food looks better, tastes better, we’re eating better, and until we can harvest from our own garden, we have a fun Saturday morning farmer’s market field trip every week. Now I figure if we’re not going to eat fresh food…we might as well be eating kibble.

    • Villager says:

      The ecological impact of importing fresh food is yet another side to this issue. Not that we never buy food that comes from distant places. I do have a weakness for bananas, chocolate and coffee – none of which grows in our neck of the woods. I just hope I can offset as much as I can by growing our own or buying local when possible.

  3. Well stated. I also think that you enjoy seasonal produce even more when you don’t eat it year-round. It is just more special that way.

  4. Meredith says:

    Villager, we’re getting there. F. and I joined a CSA with meat, eggs and produce last summer, and even sourced our dairy nearby. We’d made a goal to try the 100-mile diet (except for coffee and chocolate and whole wheat and rice) for six months. Well, we did pretty well — until winter hit and we realized we had no plan for the off season. Oops!

    I hear this happens to lots of first-time locavores. The growing season goes pretty well, and then you hit a wall. I’m getting more and more pissed off every time I visit a grocery store this winter. The prices are outrageous — and I feel sorry for the people I see paying $3 or more (!) for a bunch of horrid, cardboard-tasting “tomatoes” in line ahead of me.

    So now we’re trying to learn about preservation. My generation pretty much didn’t get *any* instruction in the basics: canning, pickling, freezing, so it’s like starting from scratch. But still, it’s good for our characters and bodies and budgets, good for our real economy, good for the earth, good for future generations, so we figure we’re up to the challenge!

    • Villager says:

      Sounds like you’re doing pretty well being locavores! The CSA’s are such a good idea. A local one here is so popular it usually has a waiting list for people to join.

      I wish we could find a local source for dairy. We are going to look into one that sells “cow shares” and supplies fresh raw milk. That would be good for our cheese and yogurt making if nothing else. We have local sources for eggs, beef and poultry.

      We concentrate mostly on freezing and drying food, though we are going to try some “small batch” canning this year. I’ve done a lot of canning in the past, but sort of got into freezing instead. My wife is the chief dehydrator, and we use that method a lot for tomatoes, peppers and apples.

      We’re still learning as we go!

  5. Meredith says:

    p.s. Great post! We need to be having these conversations often. 🙂

  6. Cheryl says:

    Agree, 100%, great post! It seems the public is slowly catching on to this issue, and the pendulum begins to swing back. I also wonder if the pendulum will swing back in the education of growing and preserving homegrown food. I was fortunate to attend high school in the good old days, when there were numerous home economics classes offered – we actually learned to make jam, bread, and pie crust; I doubt if any high schools curriculum’s would offer that today.

  7. Great post. I couldn’t agree more. Eat locally grown food as much as possible, and if it comes from your own yard, all the better. I’m so committed to this that I’m even growing potatoes in my driveway this year.

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