As some of you know, for my thesis project I'm designing a restaurant centered around the principles of sustainable agriculture. That is to say, food that is organically and sustainably raised and produced, and local to extend 150 miles from Richmond. Some might say that organic and sustainable are the same, but after reading Michael Pollan's book, The Omnivore's Dilemma, he makes a very valid point that there is a significant difference in not just scale, but also footprint, of how the food is raised. If it's true that on average our food travels about 1,300 miles from farm (or factory) to our plate, that distance comes with considerable unseen "costs" that in days of increasinglyt scarce oil, may become unbearable in years to come.
Much of my research started with looking at the slow food movement, and chefs who work to promote "slow" foods and production in their restaurants. Chief among these chefs here in the US is Alice Waters. She has founded a non-profit organization that is looking to promote more healthy eating in public schools in a novel way: by teaching children to grow the food and prepare it, you instill in them an appreciation for their work, and a greater appreciation of the value of digging in the dirt. Several schools in the Berkeley area have implemented this type of program, with the food grown on former playgrounds being incorporated into daily menus.
Other reading on the topic of eating seasonally and locally included Barbara Kingsolver's book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and Plenty: One Man, One Woman, and a Raucous Year of Eating Locally by Alisa Smith and J.B. Mackinnon. Those two books prompted me to question the quality of the food I was finding in my local Ukrops, Fresh Market, and Kroger supermarkets. Asparagus, blueberries, and grapes available throughout the year, but at what cost? Is it cheaper to buy those grapes knowing they may have been grown with DDT, when you factor in the possible health issues of consuming those pesticides? What about how much it cost to get them here, and what the farm worker was paid to harvest them? These are hard questions, and while my bleeding liberal heart told me to abandon all trips Ukrops, the realistic side of me knew that I couldn't at this point commit myself to eating that way immediately. So I've done the next best thing. I've bought a share of a CSA.
CSA's are wonderful things: you purchase at the beginning of the season a share of a farmer's produce, and I had the option--which I took--of including free-range eggs, chicken, flowers, and goat cheese. (In my book it's worth it for the goat cheese alone!) I found a cooperative of about 3 farms from two neighboring counties, and one outside Charlottesville that delivers on a weekly basis to a local market here in town. While it seemed steep to write a check out in advance for all that food, I know it will be worth it in the long run. I may have to come up with creative ways to get my kids to eat things like beets, but my daughter's budding interest in the culinary arts should give us some good times in the kitchen and improve my nutrition during peak training months. To find a CSA near you, check out LocalHarvest. Bon Appetit.