By Rebecca Reid Gazette Contributing Writer
A couple of years ago, my husband and I decided to see if we could get all of our food from local sources. We had a head start: a big garden, a root cellar, chickens, a local farm—Mapleline Dairy in Hadley—that delivers milk and my experience as a “homesteader” in the 1970s. We are also mostly retired, and so have the luxury of time. After much experimentation and searching, we’ve found we can supply about 90 percent of our needs locally.
There are many reasons for being a “locavore,” of course, and many ways to go about it. The over-arching reason is energy- related: lowering one’s ecological footprint by not supporting factory farms and long-distance trucking and reducing our collective dependency on petroleum. But there are plenty of other reasons that are just as important.
We now raise a lot more of our own food, and we’re much more selective about what we buy. We grow large amounts of cabbage, tomatoes, broccoli and greens in our garden, as well as carrots, potatoes and squash for the root cellar. (Yum—roasted roots!) Because we use a lot of dried beans as a protein source, I’ve experimented with growing mung beans for sprouting and black beans and peas for soups, with some success. Other vegetables that we can’t grow we buy in bulk from local farms.
Wheat (and therefore bread) isn’t a problem—Upinngil farm in Gill grows it. Local fruit—no sweat: peaches, berries, pears, grapes and apples are all available and plentiful locally, and can be canned, dried and frozen. Meat—also no problem; there are local farms that produce free-range beef, pork, lamb and turkey, some of it organic. We’ve also joined the new grain and bean co-op through Wheatberry Bakery in Amherst that will augment our other sources. And what about the sweet tooth? Local Shelburne honey and local maple syrup fill the bill.
I’ve learned to make cheese—feta, cheddar, ricotta, mozzarella—from Ricki Carroll in Ashfield. Sometimes they come out right, sometimes not, but they’re always good. I’ve also learned to make vinegar from cider, and I make my own yogurt and butter from Mapleline’s milk and cream.
Food that’s not produced locally and we decided not to live without are olive oil, rice, oats and spices. We also buy walnuts and the occasional wild-caught salmon for their special nutritional value. Luxuries that my husband has yet to forgo are wine and coffee; we stick to domestic wines and we buy coffee from local roasters who sell only organic, fair-trade coffees.
Obviously, not everyone can put the time and effort into it that we do. Luckily, it’s not necessary. You can do a lot of good with a lot less effort. You can support local farms by buying only produce grown in the region. (Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture, or CISA, has a Web site full of information, including what farms grow what, and which ones are closest to you.) You can patronize any of the numerous farmers markets in the area, including a growing number that take place in winter. You can acquire the habit of looking at labels and choosing the brand that came the shortest distance. You can also ask your supermarket to stock more local foods, and make suggestions. The more you do the better, but anything you do is worth doing.
It can also be fun and satisfying. The fun for me has been the challenge of changing my habits, finding substitutes for things I thought I needed, learning new skills and ferreting out sources of local food. My husband and I have had fascinating conversations with local farmers and food producers, seen countryside we would never have seen (Wheel-View Farm in Shelburne—which has great grass-fed beef and lamb— has a magnificent view), met cows we never would have met, and ended up with more nutritious, better- tasting food.
Sources mentioned in this article:
Some other favorites of the author:
These are just a few of the places we’ve come to appreciate in this adventure. We encourage readers to use the CISA website to find food sources close to their homes or work.—RR
Rebecca Reid is the Hitchcock Center’s photographer, an active gardener, and a long-time student of sustainability.
Earth Matters, written by staff and associates of the Hitchcock Center for the Environment at 845 West Street, Amherst, appears every other week. For more information, call 413-256-6006, or write to us.Click here to return to full list of Earth Matters articles.