By Steve Peters
I took a trip home to Connecticut last weekend to have Easter dinner with family. Before leaving, I stocked up on some root vegetables – celeriac, turnips, rutabaga and parsnips – at the farmers market and co-op, to bring with me and make a side dish for the dinner. I envisioned mashing them into a sweet puree or roasting until crisp – typical foods I’ve spent the past few months enjoying. I was eager to share these delicious gems with some of my family who didn’t often eat such foods or even know anything about them.
As it turns out, I never remembered to actually bring the vegetables with me. But, not a problem, I thought. I’d just see what I could get grown locally around my parents.
In Rutland, locating local food is fairly easy for me, even in spring. I had no idea, though, where to begin in central Connecticut. There are definitely some farms, and a summer farmers market started up in my hometown the year after I moved away, yet there is no winter market or a co-op. Not even a grocery store that takes the time to highlight a few local items.
In the end, I had to settle on some grocery store carrots. I didn’t bother looking to see where they originated, knowing that it was probably some great distance. Maybe if I pursued my quest a little further and called some farms in the area, I could have done better. But, I was limited on time, with several friends and family to visit. So, the best I could do was to glaze the carrots with Vermont maple syrup.
The difference in local food access, in two locations less than 200 miles away from one another, surprises me. Part of that surprise is that the more southern of the two states, with a naturally longer growing season, is less efficient in making its food easily accessible. Granted, the land is more developed and commercialized in Connecticut compared to the amount of working landscape we have here in Vermont. And because of this, food production is a larger part of VT’s economy.
My point isn’t to highlight Connecticut’s shortcomings in local food, or say how great Vermont is (you already know these things), but rather, to remind folks to appreciate what we have. We are ahead of the game in producing local food and are only continuing to excel. Sometimes we forget these things, myself included, when I complain about something like the poor quality of apples in the spring. When, of course, they aren’t going to be as awesome as they were in the fall.
We can’t forget that not everyone lives in a state that cares so strongly about high quality, locally produced food. The transparency in a more localized food system allows us to understand the way in which our food is produced and processed to a far greater degree than otherwise. It also allows us to make an investment in the quality of our state each time we are able to purchase locally grown food. Part of our work at RAFFL is to continue helping people in our region better understand and appreciate this advantage.
Over the next six months at RAFFL, I’m excited to be working on a series of farm tours and culinary workshops we’ve titled Real Farms, Real Food, Real Rutland. Funded by the USDA and the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets, it’s a great way to get to know and appreciate our county’s farms and food a little better. Check out how foods are grown and raised then learn how to cook with them. Each month we’ll tour a different farm and learn how to cook another seasonal food. We hope you’ll join us.
This month, on the 14th, we’ll tour Tangled Roots Farm in Shrewsbury and discover how woodland mushrooms are grown. Then, on the 19th, at PEG-TV’s kitchen studio in Rutland, you’re invited to be part of a live studio audience while students from Green Mountain College teach you how to cook with beans, greens and grains.
For more information, or to register visit http://www.rutlandfarmandfood.org/realrutland or call 417-1528.
Steve Peters runs RAFFL’s Everyday Chef program and manages the communications and marketing. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Originally published in the Rutland Herald.