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09.06.10

Are You a Locavore?

Summer is a-comin’ in, and all men’s hearts turn to – tomatoes!  And cucumbers! And corn, and beans, and squash! And blueberries!  Strawberries, blackberries, raspberries!

Gardening (along with birdwatching and genealogy) is among the top three hobbies in the United States.  All three activities can be pursued close to home, which is a boon in the current economy.  In fact, we read numerous reports that more people are growing at least some of their vegetables and fruits in order to reduce their grocery bills.

The health value of growing your own pesticide- and contaminant-free food is not insignificant, either, considering the lettuce-tomato-spinach scares of recent summers.

The benefits of growing and producing food are so great that Barbara Kingsolver and her family decided to try to provide for themselves everything they ate for an entire year, or procure from local sources what they couldn’t produce.  This experiment in local food resulted in “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life”, written by Kingsolver, her husband Steven Hopp and daughter Camille Kingsolver.

Kingsolver, acclaimed novelist and essayist, grew up in rural Kentucky, lived in Tucson for some years, then met her second husband, an environmentalist and ornithologist, when she was invited to speak at Emory & Henry, and eventually settled on his farm at Meadowview.  Daughter Camille is studying nutrition at Duke University.  Hopp contributes sidebars on food policy, and Camille offers the perspective of a thoughtful younger generation on homegrown and home prepared food, including recipes.  We have tried several—all are quite good. The pizza is delicious and only takes two hours, start to finish (less if family help out).

Each chapter is an essay on the season of growing, harvesting, preserving, and waiting, and describes their personal experiences, often hilarious, and ruminations on farming, national food policy, and the satisfactions of rural living.

A delightful chapter is given to youngest daughter Lily, who, at the age of eight, is a serious entrepreneur, planning, selecting, ordering, receiving, and managing a flock of chickens and selling their eggs.  We predict she will write her own book before long.

The family times a vacation in early June, after planting and before the big harvest begins, to visit friends and family engaged in farming through New England, eastern Canada, and the Midwest, and we learn about various approaches to food production.  Barbara learns how to make cheese from an expert in Massachusetts and describes the process so well that we feel capable of making it, too.  And inspired to try, even if only once.

August is all about the tomatoes.  Roasted, frozen, dried, canned, the kitchen is obliterated by hundreds of tomatoes.  When Lily was too young to help, she sat at the kitchen table and wrote and illustrated a small book “Mama the Tomato Queen”, which “fully exhausted the red spectrum of her Crayola box”.  (We know she will write a book about the chickens.)

It is interesting to learn about human biology. Did you know that the human body is not meant to consume milk beyond the age of 4, although certain branches of the family of man (northern Europeans) have adapted to it from many centuries of association with domesticated animals?

And it is interesting to contemplate the assertion that “cooking is good citizenship”.  Getting locally raised food into your diet keeps farmlands healthy and dollars in the local economy, teaches children civility and practical skills, and builds family.  Kingsolver writes about the challenges of making time for family when legitimate competing interests crowd in.  Her sit-up-and-take-notice conclusion : “But if grabbing fast food is the only way to get the kids to their healthy fresh-air soccer practice on time, that’s an interesting call.  Arterial-plaque specials that save minutes now can cost years, later on.”

“Animal, Vegetable, Miracle” includes a list of resources for locating more information about local food, including how to find it in your neighborhood, and makes the point that asking for it, repeatedly, is one way to get it eventually.  This is a worthwhile read for anyone who cares about health, the economy, or where food comes from.

If you cannot raise your own food, there are more and more resources in our area to explore.

The Tazewell Farmers’ Market operates each Saturday through October, 8 am to noon, at the Farm Bureau parking lot at Four Way.  Each year, the number of vendors increases, and the offerings are varied and excellent.  The Bluefield market is open 9-1 on Fridays through October in the gravel lot across from New Graham Pharmacy, and the Richlands market is open Monday through Saturday from daylight to dark on Allegheny Street beside the police department.  For other farmers’ markets, visit the Virginia Department of Agriculture at www.virginiagrown.com.  At these markets, you can find good food, support local growers, and make connections with them, learning in the process how their food is raised and how to prepare it.

Grocery chains are beginning to offer local products.  Among them is Food City, which carries local foods under the label “Appalachian Harvest”.

Look for local businesses that offer local products.  Hopp and Kingsolver demonstrate the appeal of local food at Meadowview Farmers’ Guild and Harvest Table Restaurant, where they serve a seasonal menu of local meats, produce, hand made cheese, sodas, wines and beers from the region.  Our Tazewell book discussion group enjoyed a recent Saturday excursion to Meadowview and had a delicious lunch.

Appalachian Sustainable Development publishes a Local Food Directory for Southwest Virginia and Northeast Tennessee listing farmers’ markets, local farms selling to the consumer, growers’ organizations, restaurants and stores carrying local food.  Copies are available at the Library and online at www.asdevelop.org. 

Fascination with slow food (as opposed to fast food) is growing nationwide.  So much is being written about it that the New Oxford American Dictionary’s Word of the Year in 2007 was “locavore”.  A locavore is a person who eats only food grown or produced within a 100-mile radius of home.  The shorter the journey from farm to table, the better for your health and the environment.  Explore local foods, read “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle” and other books on the subject available at the Library, and experience the pleasures to be found in food from home.  See you at the market!

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