Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Nitty Gritty Dirt Farm

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For several years now Kelly and I have been making some rather unusual New Year’s resolutions. Instead of joining the gym, vowing to lose 10 pounds, get in shape (round is a shape, isn’t it?), we have decided each year to focus on one area of our life where we can reduce our environmental impact, in big and small ways.

kid goats Last year we switched out all of the light bulbs in our rental unit and the duplex we own, for CFL’s. We also traded in our 2005 Hyundai Tucson SUV for a 2005 Honda Civic Hybrid, trading in 21mpg for 45mpg. We bring our own bags for shopping, bring our own “to-go” containers to restaurants, our own water and coffee mugs on the road, and recycle everything we possibly can. So this year, when we looked at our lifestyle and once more said, “What can we do?” we decided to focus on food. chickens We have long been patrons of whole foods grocery stores, seeking them out wherever we have lived. We try as much as possible to secure organic options, not just in produce but also our grains, pasta, sauces, spices, snacks, etc. But we felt we could go even further, when we found out that those luscious organic tomatoes have probably traveled 1500 miles or more to reach the grocery store shelves. So, we decided to educate ourselves on where our food comes from. baby bunny Even more disturbing than the distance most foods travel to reach our stores, and our plates, was learning that, according to this information from Sustainable Table, every week 330 family farmers are being forced out of business and leave their land. “The dramatic expansion of industrial agriculture (or factory farming) has made it increasingly difficult for small family farmers in the US to stay in business. Instead, the food industry has become dominated by a handful of giant corporations which benefit from government policies that favor large-scale production.” hog heaven So, we started checking the addresses on packaged foods before we put them into our grocery cart. And labels on the produce shelves. I was saddened to see onions from Peru (yes, as in South America!) on the shelves of a local grocery store last summer when I knew there were fresh, locally grown onions down the street at the local farmers’ market. frisky steers We moved to this area too late last summer to join a CSA, or community sponsored agriculture program, where you purchase shares up front from a local farmer in return for fresh produce all summer long, but we vowed to select one for 2009. A local alpaca breeder, Peggy from Sunrise River Alpacas tipped us off to a local CSA called Nitty Gritty Dirt Farm. We visited their blog and decided they would be a great local option for us. We are close enough to run over and pick up the food order each week, attend their festivals and workshops, even volunteer on the farm. And, they have a fun farm name. lambs Last weekend, we attended their annual spring festival and blessing of the fields. We enjoyed meeting Gigi and Robin, who own and run the farm, who are both delightfully engaging, along with many of their summer interns and many other share members. We wandered the grounds and saw a wide variety of livestock – bunnies, chickens, turkeys, goats & kids, sheep & lambs, two steer, some young pigs, and about a dozen ducks. We feasted on brick oven pizzas, created by Dustin, intern and chef extraordinaire. brick oven pizza - yum! During a short ceremony, we blessed the fields (whose names span the alphabet from A-I, starting with Abundance and ending with Integrity), the bees who will work tirelessly this year to pollinate the crops, and all of the animals. We also prayed for more rain. The fields are so dry that the top layers of newly planted fields are literally blowing away. After all of the wandering around, chatting, eating and meeting people and animals, the afternoon was gone and it was time to head back home again. I am very glad we visited. I have found a great peace in knowing exactly who is growing the food I will soon be eating, and exactly where it is coming from and how it is being grown. I look forward to learning how to use what is in the box each week in creative ways, whether long-time favorites or new and unfamiliar varieties, building our meals around them. I also look forward to learning how to can and dehydrate some of it, to enjoy throughout the fall and long MN winter ahead. seedlings getting ready for the fields If this all sounds too intimidating, don’t fret – it’s easy to get started eating locally. Use your fingers to find local, sustainable foods. Here are some sites to get you going: Resident of MN? Check out the MN Grown directory, maintained by the MN Dept. of Agriculture. Using this directory we located fresh locally made gourmet cheeses and buffalo meat at Eichten’s Hidden Acres, locally grown and bottled, award-winning wines at Winehaven Winery and Vineyard, grass fed beef and pork raised with no chemicals or antibiotics from Hidden Stream Farm (they ship our bacon directly to us), and even our popcorn is now MN grown, from Clem’s Homegrown Popcorn (also mailed to us). The Eat Well Guide is a free online directory of thousands of family farms, restaurants, and other outlets for fresh, locally grown food. Its listings include farmers’ markets, CSA programs, and even vegetarian eateries. If finding healthy grass-fed meats, dairy and other edibles is on your agenda, check out Eat Wild, whose site also includes information on the benefits of raising animals on pasture (for example, did you know that grass-fed meats are lower in fat and calories than grain-fed, and can actually lower your LDL cholesterol levels?). Don't feel like you have to make radical changes to make an impact. Start small. Visit your local farmers' market. Try one meal made from local ingredients and taste the freshness difference. Before you know it, you'll be hooked like we are. Who grew your food? Eat locally grown food, support global sustainability, enjoy your food, and smile.

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