Plow to plate, farm to table, field to fork. The push to consume local food and educate consumers about the benefits of
buying and eating locally is a movement with a multitude of monikers and mothers, so to speak. Some give maternal credit to food pioneer Alice Waters. Her restaurant Chez Panisse in Berkeley, Calif., began in the 1970s with this radical notion: The shorter the distance between the earth and the plate, the more flavorful the food. That culinary revolution dovetailed nicely with worries about pesticides, questions about grapes that arrive locally in blustery February from Chile, and alarm that prepackaged kids' food contains more chemicals than the periodic table. People began to calculate food miles, the distance food travels from its source to where it's consumed, and noted the drain that journey put on local economies. Organics boomed (exhibit A: Whole Foods, the organics darling superstore, recorded $4.7 billion in sales last year).
The latest incarnation of that philosophy resides in Portland, Ore., where a group of young gastronomes decided to create an "eat local" challenge. Interested residents committed to three things: spending 10 percent of their grocery budget on food grown within a 100-mile radius of where they lived, trying one new fruit or vegetable each day, and preserving food to enjoy later in the year.
We'll skip the calculator and the canning commitment. We simply invite you to reconnect with the origins of what you eat and explore the bounty of our region. We hope those adventures inspire you to remember not all tomatoes lack color and taste, and the best produce is surrounded by dirt (not plastic and paperboard). We're lucky: Eat-local opportunities abound in this area. Family farms remain a vital component of the region's identity. Farmers' markets and roadside stands dot the countryside. And a host of chefs and self-proclaimed foodies support the "eat local" philosophy and devote their culinary efforts to showcasing the best of this region's produce and food products. In the following pages, we chronicle the region's superlative eating experiences: a garden with community roots, a hike and some berries, the best loaf and its saucy partner, a Middle Eastern sweet, an award-winning organic wine, a fresh-produce "subscription," and a meal fit for a foodie. Dig in.
Old Path Farm in Sauquoit has no website and does not advertise. Like many Community Supported Agriculture programs, Old Path relies on word of mouth to attract its satisfied customers. Owners Nancy Grove and Abby Youngblood, who live in a solar-powered trailer on the property, accepted 60 members to their season this year. About 100 remain on the wait-list.
Think of CSA memberships as a fresh produce "subscription," where members retrieve fresh food directly from the farm. The customer pays a share up front to the farmers, and the farmers package a certain combination of fresh vegetables and fruits based on seasonal availability, says Greg Swartz, interim executive director of the New York chapter of the Northeastern Organic Farmers Association. Customers then pick up their weekly batch of produce. CSA annual memberships range in price from $300 to $1,000, depending on a farm's output (some offer meat and dairy in their batches) and length of season (half year or full year). As more and more people seek out quality fruits and vegetables, CSAs are growing in popularity, Swartz says. New York State currently boasts more than 100 CSAs.
Grove credits Old Path's success to its location. Their CSA subscribers pick up their shares at one of three convenient locations — a health food store in Clinton, at Grove's family bakery in Utica, or at her parents' house in Sauquoit. Having her family involved adds to the experience for her and her customers. "We're both so happy. We love our life," Grove says.
Grove and Youngblood put together "palatable mixes" of produce that varies weekly but could include cabbage, tomatoes, summer squash, basil, onions, kale, and potatoes. Each batch from Old Path — which could be made up of any combination of 100 varieties — includes a newsletter with recipes and food-preservation tips. "I think that's convenient for people in this busy world," Grove says.
While CSA programs make supporting local farmers easier, shareholders in some CSAs must maintain a commitment to the farm, agreeing to work a few hours every month. At Old Path, subscribers are not required to work. Because consumers pay some of the farmer's costs up front, the farmer is less vulnerable fiscally. Consumers also share "the risk of farming. In a bad year, maybe you'll get a little less, but likewise, in a bountiful year, you get more," Swartz explains.