In case you don’t know it, August is Eat Local Month, and the boomiest of boom times to enjoy the bounty of our local farms.
Why—you may ask yourself—should I bother eating locally raised food, when the corner Stop and Shop is open 24/7, and offers cheap, plum-sized strawberries all year round? Because locally raised food tastes better, is better for you, and – because local food requires less transportation—uses less fossil fuel and creates less pollution. Plus, nobility aside, as Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma and this very effective NY Times article points out, eating local has a selfish benefit, and one that boosts our fragile property values. Supporting local farms preserves the geographic character of our communities. Nowhere is this more poignant than in Westchester, where, within our own memory, several picturesque local farms have fallen to ticky-tacky housing developments. To echo the popular European bumper sticker, eating locally—especially in Westchester—is to “Eat Your View.”
So, does Eat Local Month mean dropping into Wholefoods and loading up on the organic, dirt-free and attractively arranged produce there? No folks, it does not. While Wholefoods has dutifully responded to Pollan’s well-aimed accusations of ‘greenwashing’, the few local products at Wholefoods scream of tokenism. Our last visit found a cellophane and Styrofoam pack containing two ears of much advertised locally-raised Long Island corn, pre-shucked and sold with a Solo cup of chipotle butter. Gosh, that’s a lot of packaging for a couple of ears of corn. When we inquired about the corn’s origins (we didn’t buy it), the earnest Wholefoods worker thanked me for eating local. If I remember correctly, there was also some Coffee Labs coffee, some Anna Shea chocolates, and a few other local items. Taken together, all the “Wholefoods Supports Local” signage probably outweighed the local products themselves.
No, for the real deal, you must drop in at your local Farmers’ Market. Check here at the NY State agmarket site for the day/time/location near you, and remember that the Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture http://www.stonebarnscenter.org/ runs a stellar farmers’ market three days a week (Wednesday, Friday and Sunday—check site for time), featuring Westchester-raised chickens, juicy Berkshire pork, house-made sausages, freshly laid eggs, lots of produce and a changing roster of interesting guest vendors. At all of our local farmer’s markets, you’ll be getting the freshest, most wholesome food that your money can buy, and you can feel smug in the knowledge that your helping to preserve our region’s landscape.
So, let’s say you’re planning a few meals, and you want to know what’s available at the market. Lately, we’ve been charmed by an e-gizmo on the Epicurious.com website—it’s a peak-season map of the US. Scroll over NY State to find out what’s in season right now, or, click on the tabs above the map to see what’s in season during other months. The feature identifies seasonal fruits and veggies and offers great recipes for your farmers’ market haul. Faced with a saucer-eyed husband and a TV tuned to endless games of Olympic badminton (my, those ladies are fierce!), we admit that we’ve been playing with this thing for hours. And guess what? In February, the vast plain of Wyoming yields walnuts and mushrooms. In January, Iowans can scarf down bumper crops of kohlrabi. Currently, Arizona is enjoying white tamale corn. And so on.
After playing with the interactive map for awhile, we decided that, instead of a dull old what’s-at-your farmers’-market post, we’d play a little game. We’d go on a locavorian treasure hunt, trying to source all the foods listed on the Epicurious site at our own local farmers’ market, the tiny (by Westchester standards) Larchmont market located in the upper Metro-North parking lot off Myrtle Avenue.
According to Epicurious, the following items are in season in August in New York: beets, blueberries, cauliflower, corn, eggplant, melon, peaches, peppers, summer squash and tomatoes. Armed with my Epicurious list, I hit my little market, fully expecting a couple of no-shows.
We were wrong, folks—so wrong. We found every single item on the list at three vendors, in fact, the products were offered at the first three stalls that I visited. Newgate Farms had the beets, blueberries, corn, cauliflower, eggplant and melon. Conklin Orchards had the peaches—as well as four types of plums—and Yuno’s had the peppers (including several chilis), eight types of summer squash, five types of eggplant and many, many varieties of heirloom tomatoes. Actually, it only took seven minutes to park, find all the Epicurious items, and pay–which was a marvel of shopping efficiency. Just try getting in and out of Stop and Shop in seven minutes.
Over and above the Epicurious list, my little market yielded herbs—and they were cheap! Instead of Stop and Shop’s expensive (and tiny) plastic boxes of mint and basil, Yuno’s sells huge handfulls of fragrant herbs. Beyond the basic staples, we found (and bought) gourmet items like gooseberries, currants and zucchini flowers. Lest you think that the yield ends at fruit and veg, my tiny Larchmont market also offers poultry and other meats, yogurt, fresh day-boat fish from Pura-Vida Fisheries, two bread vendors and freshly baked pies. We even found Guyank hot pepper sauce and Guyanese dried yellow pea fritters. Instead of a somewhat specialized market run, my tiny train station parking lot yields one-stop shopping.