All The Farm That Is Fit To Print

Monday, April 30, 2012

Michigan Farm to School

"Farm to school" applies to a variety of initiatives in Michigan, including efforts to offer local foods in school cafeterias, school garden programs, fundraisers that take advantage of local products, farmer visits to school classrooms and cafeterias, and field trips to nearby farms. Michigan Farm to School is a portal for information and a venue for sharing ideas, tools, and resources to support these and other efforts to link schools with local agriculture in Michigan.

Michigan Farm to School is coordinated by Colleen Matts, Farm to Institution Specialist, and Jekeia Murphy, Academic Specialist, with the C.S. Mott Group for Sustainable Food Systems at Michigan State University.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Families, Farming and Fighting Poverty


Recently I told you about The Michigan Land Use Institute’s work on helping low-income families get into farming, and how MLUI is encouraging aspiring farmers to enroll in Agricultural Individual Development Accounts, or IDAs. These bank savings accounts allow for future farmers to save money for land, equipment or other costs and receive a two to one match of federal and private dollars.

So, for example, if you are below a certain income level, and if you enroll in the program and save up to $1,000 of your own money, it is matched at a 2:1 ratio with federal funds and private funds from Cherry Republic. That means a farmer who saves $1,000 will end up with a savings account of $3,000 to put toward starting a farm or making upgrades to an existing agri-business.
Yes we know, it’s a cool idea.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Rediscovering Up North Traditional Foods

By Paula McIntyre, co-founder of Up North Foodies

When Gary Nabhan visited northern Michigan earlier this month to lead a group of locals in identifying traditional foods at risk, I was stumped. The cherries and whitefish that first come to mind when thinking of our typical Up North menus are still prevalent. And the foods I remember from childhood are more of the Midwestern casserole variety; not a specific potato, or chicken or mushroom.

Stores and restaurants usually don’t list the varieties of their foods, with apples being a notable exception. And the generic term “heirloom” is the only hint a label might provide that a particular item isn’t your standard fare. I’m not conditioned to think of specific varieties.

So I wasn’t sure how much I could contribute to the conversation, and as it turns out, several other participants shared that same initial reaction. Perhaps the sheer size of Michigan’s list of potential at-risk foods intimidated us. Fifty wild foods and more than 300 historically cultivated foods were included, ranging from Frost Grape, Oswego Tea, and Aunt Mary’s corn, to the Shiawassee Beauty apple, the Beltsville White Turkey and Ayers Butternut.

As Eric Patterson, chef and co-owner of The Cooks’ House restaurant in Traverse City, writes in his blog about attending the workshop, “I thought to myself, ‘Just keep quiet and they may think I belong here.’” Yet in spite of our individual doubts, we came to realize how clearly the collective wisdom of the group shone through.

“I was struck first by the vastness of experience of those who were there,” Eric writes. “I recognized many of the faces and knew many of them by name, but did not really know how knowledgeable they were in such things.”

Yes, Eric kept quiet for much of the workshop. But he shared his restaurant’s goal to identify what makes up the Great Lakes Cuisine. And while he already features a lot of local foods on his menu, and will soon open a market selling local foods, he writes, “I feel even more urgency in using local foods than before. Somehow the other restaurants in the area need to be convinced that they also need to buy more locally.”
Local chefs will play an important role in getting these traditional foods into the northern market, just as supportive chefs in Seattle helped bring the Makah Ozette potato back to the table there. And growers will need to step up to create a dependable supply to restaurants and markets so that the rest of us will want these foods and know they’ll be available.

To paraphrase author and attendee Stephanie Mills, “I’m interested in democratizing the movement to get these heritage and local foods to the people who shop at Meijer.”

This collaborative process is how foods will be saved, one species at a time, notes participant Charlie Wunsch, publisher of Edible Grande Traverse, and member of a long-time farming family on the Old Mission Peninsula.
“More than anything,” he says, “I realize that in the end, our process will be informed by older people of all our region’s cultures, simply because of their memories and abilities to recount what was.”

What will be our equivalent of Seattle’s Makah Ozette Potato? Has anyone tasted a Shiawassee Beauty apple or a Paul Rose melon, first grown in Benzie County? Is anyone growing them now? Does their taste make these varieties worth rediscovering, or did they fall by the wayside for good reason?
In an essay about the Shiawassee Beauty, Gary writes that in the late 1800s, the variety was promoted as being among the most desirable to grow in the region. Noted for its “surpassing beauty, delicate texture and exquisite flavor,” this variety seems worth the hunt.

And, in fact, it turns out we don’t have to look very far. At an heirloom fruit tree workshop the previous day, we learned that the Shiawassee Beauty grows within the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.
We spent the afternoon touring several orchards at the park’s Port Oneida Rural Historic District, led by park historic architect Kimberly Mann. Representative of late 19th and early 20th century farms of the Midwest, Port Oneida is one of the country’s largest historic agricultural districts under public ownership.

Fifty-one varieties of apples grow in the park on the mainland. And even more enticing, hundreds of apple and pear trees planted in the late 1800s on North Manitou Island remain, and have not yet been inventoried. With the loss of more than 90 percent of apple varieties, those old orchards take on increasing significance. They might just contain some lost variety worthy of a comeback.

We have a 10- to 15-year window of opportunity to get propagation materials from old orchards, because many are dying out or being removed, according to Gary. And with the growing demand for local foods, combined with the rise of niche markets, heirloom varieties are getting a new lease on life.

Different varieties are suited for different products, from blended sauces and chutneys, to dried fruits and antioxidants. And some apples make great hard cider; just don’t expect to be able to tell by biting into one. It’s only after the fermentation process that these apples show their cider-worthy flavors.
Nikki Rothwell, director of the Northwest Michigan Horticultural Research Station, provided an overview of the station’s research on cider apple varieties, and brought samples of both the apples and the cider to share.
She noted that the hard cider market has been referred to as a sleeping giant ready to awaken. She and her husband are tickling the giant’s toes, having just opened Tandem Ciders, the region’s first hard cider tasting room. Black Star Farms and Good Neighbor Organic also make a hard cider. In fact, Black Star just released a new apple cherry hard cider last week. Perhaps one day, people will tour the area not only for its cherry blossoms and wineries, but its cideries too.
For now, we’re left wondering what’s next. People are excited about the possibilities, and recognize this will be a long process. One next step is a Great Lakes regional workshop to be held this winter in Madison, Wisconsin. It will bring together a few people from locales throughout the region, including northern Michigan, to fine tune the list of at-risk foods. At that point, communities will begin planning recoveries, selecting perhaps a few varieties or species they would like to focus on. Eventually a book and strategy plan will be released, like those already published for other foodsheds.

In the meantime, we can all work together to begin the process. Become a food detective; explore partnerships; come up with creative projects for students; learn and share the stories of our northern Michigan varieties. When I think of how that group wisdom came through at the workshop, casting the net even wider to include everyone else in the community is even more promising. Let’s see what our collective effort will return to our plates!

Paula McIntyre is a co-founder of Up North Foodies, along with her sister Ann Drury. A Traverse City native and current Leelanau County resident, she owns a web design company, Loracs Creations Inc.. Paula is a CSA shareholder, Oryana member, owner of too many cookbooks and a journalist by training. This post originally appeared on Up North Foodies.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Civic Sausage: Watch the Farm Bill

April 25, 2012 by · 

U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow is leading efforts to craft a new farm bill, which could impact the future of local agriculture for years to come.

The old cliché about lawmaking is that it’s like making sausage – best not to watch. But sausage is a farm product, and the Farm Bill is worth watching if you care about investing in local food and farm jobs, the environment, family-scale agriculture, and healthy, local food for schools, kids, and families.

Today, Thursday, April 26, is the day you can see for yourself all the different interests and politics around the Farm Bill by watching, live on your computer, a much awaited Senate Agriculture Committee meeting. (Check here for the new schedule of this important meeting and to stream it live starting at 10:30 a.m.) What you’ll see: Senators, acting in response to a wide range of constituents and industry groups, putting forth amendments to the 900-page draft bill before it heads to the full Senate for a vote. The draft was released last week.

The Senate version of the Farm Bill is important for those of us who want to build local food economies and get healthy, fresh food to all while doing it. Sustainable agriculture, local food, and food equity organizations often credit Senator Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, who chairs the Senate Agriculture Committee, for her efforts; and they put little hope for better provisions from the House, which is talking deeper cuts.
Nonetheless, sausage is sausage, even if there are local ingredients mixed in.

Senator Stabenow worked to get a bipartisan bill to the floor, but there’s not nearly enough bipartisan support for local food and small farmers. The minority ranking member of the Ag Committee, Republican Senator Pat Roberts of Kansas, has been a noted critic of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food program, which promotes and groups together resources to build local farm and food economies.

Fully aware of the difficult politics involved, organizations across the country hunkered down over the weekend to review the 900-page draft bill so that they could offer up their own amendments to willing senators on the committee. The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, among a number of organizations that supported putting into the bill provisions of the Local Food, Farms, & Jobs Act, provides a breakdown on what it calls “the good,” “the half-baked” and “the ugly” in the bill.

You can sign up for their updates and action alerts about what promises to be a whirlwind process as the House creates its own bill, the two houses of Congress attempt to reconcile them, and a final bill makes its way to the President—perhaps in time to escape being buried in the election season.
Industrial-scale agriculture interests are involved in the process too.

 Tuesday’s late-night decision to delay Wednesday morning’s planned “mark-up” of the bill was apparently over a divide between large-scale commodity growers in the South versus the Midwest.
And if you need some after-dinner reading, the full 900 pages can be downloaded here.

Diane Conners is senior policy specialist for the Michigan Land Use Institute and directs MLUI’s Healthy Food for All program. Reach her at diane@mlui.org. Editor’s note: This blog was updated Thursday, April 26 to reflect the new hearing schedule.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

What Is Artisan Food, Anyway?

by UpNorthFoodies

Recently, the term "Artisan Food" has gained popularity among food marketers looking to differentiate their clients products. One only has to look toward fast food restaurants like Dominos Artisan Pizza line, Wendy's Artisan Egg Sandwich, and Panera Bread's claim of being "artisan fast food."

In my business, we profess to be "your online connection to Michigan artisan food." Seeing products that, in my opinion, clearly didn't fall into the category of artisan food caused to to ask the question, "What is artisan food, anyway?"

To get my answer, I went right to the source - the food artisans we represent on Traverse Gourmet. Here's what they had to say:

From Tim Kearney, Vice President at Naturally Nutty - "For us artisan food is about creativity, its about caring for the person who eats our food, and it's about the ingredients we use and the environments they come from."

From Christopher Sack, President/Co-Founder at Great Lakes Tea & Spice - "For us, artisan food is food thoughtfully prepared by smaller blenders/chefs in small, hand-blended/hand-prepared batches. That is who we choose to work with for the blending of our products. The McCormicks and Liptons of the world serve their purpose, but work in such large batches that freshness and ingredient quality are forgone in the interest of buying in volume. We choose not make that compromise."

From Drew Warner, Co-Founder at Just Good Chocolate - "Artisan food is unique; it's defined by the fact that nothing else on earth exists that is exactly the same. Artisan food is created with love, with attention to detail, not mass produced on factory lines with only quantity in mind rather than quality."

From Timothy Young, President/Chef at Food For Thought - "I consider it to mean food with soul...something created for reasons of beauty, health and creativity as opposed to something for performance, indulgence or mere profit."

As for myself, I believe food artisans are defined by their integrity. They care deeply about their customers and how their products effect the environment. They respect their ingredients and improve their processes over time.

It's also about taste. Food crafted in small batches with the up-most attention to detail in process and ingredients simply tastes better than it's industrialized counterpart.

 We'd love to hear what you think defines artisan food.

Happy eating!
Norm Plumstead, Founder of Traverse Gourmet

Monday, April 23, 2012

Michigan's New Pig Rule Threatens

by Paula MacIntre:

"The Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environment is enforcing a new policy that threatens the livelihoods of small farms raising heritage breeds of pigs that are popular with chefs and others buying in local food markets," states an article from the Michigan Land Use Institute. Read more here. Also check out Chef Eric Patterson's blog to find out what local chefs are doing to support the farmers. There's a fundraising dinner for farmer Mark Baker and his legal costs at 7 p.m. Monday, April 23, at The Blue Heron Restaurant in Cadillac. The cost is $75, not including tax and gratuity. Call The Blue Heron at 231-775-5461 to make reservation.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Living off local foods

Carina Hume - December 31st, 2007
Imagine living off of food grown only in Northern Michigan. In late summer, the abundance of Michigan produce and local 4-H Livestock sales would provide the major necessities. But in November? Options definitely become more limited. For 12 students in Kate Fairman’s Visionary Thinkers class through Grand Valley State University’s (GVSU’s) Liberal Studies program located in Traverse City, a week spent during November, living off of only Northern Michigan-based food products was an eye-opener.

After attending the Sixth Annual Great Lakes Bioneers Conference held at Northwestern Michigan College, Oct. 19-21, which focused on environmental and social issues, GVSU student Elizabeth Pine and her classmates planned an Eat Local 2007 service project, in which members ate things grown only in Northern Michigan (with a few minor exceptions) for one week.
“Rather than buying products that have been shipped halfway around the world, using unnecessary fuel and allowing for a disconnection from our goods,” explains Pine, “people should buy locally. In doing so, one is supporting one’s neighbor, protecting our non-renewable resources and forming a connection with the people and places where goods are produced.”
Leelanau County organic vegetable farmer, Marty Heller, the keynote speaker for the Bioneers Conference, spoke to the class and gave tips on the local eating scene.
“We had to go out and find local farmers,” says Pine. “We did research to find out which bread used which grain, which was most local.”

Community support was incredible, admits Pine, who reveals that Oryana Natural Foods Market, Folgarelli’s, Pleasanton Brick Oven Bakery and Higher Grounds Coffee (as coffee is not grown locally, a compromise was made to only buy fair trade yet locally roasted beans) gave the students great discounts. A butter-making party using Shelters Dairy, a visit to and some garlic jelly from Red Trillium Farm, and a trip to Black Star Farms where Pine was able to pick fresh spinach at the farmers market rounded out the Eat Local 2007 experience.
“We bought lamb and eggs,” says Pine. “We were able to meet the farmers and get recipes.”

Giving up Coke, Doritos, salt and peanut butter was the most difficult, but the agricultural diversity in Northern Michigan – including plenty of local beer and wine – was helpful.
“It was really interesting to see what was already going on in Northern Michigan to support the local economy,” says Pine, who noted how Black Star Farms buys local milk to make their handmade cheese and pays higher prices for local fruit to make brandy. “What was really rewarding was the connection we made – you could name the farmer and put a face to (the item we were eating).”
“We live in an amazingly diverse agricultural area that so many of us did not take advantage of until this project,” continues Pine. “What’s more, all of us have had fun, actually taking the time to cook – even making our own butter – trying and sharing new recipes, sitting down with friends and family and telling them exactly from who and where our food was grown. It made me realize that this little project and continuing to eat locally has a far-reaching impact beyond just my kitchen,” she says. “I feel a connection to my food and my community that brings consciousness and gratitude to our table. Believe it or not, that actually makes our meals taste better!”

Since fall of 2001, GVSU’s Liberal Studies bachelor’s degree program has been helping area students develop skills most relevant to life and their future professions, and service projects such as the Eat Local 2007 experience are a significant part of the process.
“Most of our classes employ active learning methods rather than depending on the traditional lecture/exam format,” says Gilda Povolo, distance coordinator for Traverse City’s Liberal Studies department. “We place a strong emphasis on learning through service to our communities.”
With many GVSU service learning projects from other classes also taking place this fall around Traverse City, here are some of the highlights:

Josh Havens, Barbara Burch, Kasey Klein and Elizabeth Pine worked with staff at Third Level Crisis Intervention Center on its new Transitional Living Program for their GVSU Management 345 service learning project. A grant written by Third Level Youth Services Manager Norvilla Bennett was the third of three federal grants responsible for keeping Third Level’s free youth programs running.
“That grant actually is a grant responsible in financing a 16-month program for ages 16-21 on transitional skills,” says Bennett. “We’re anticipating working with 50 youths in the first year.” The goal is to get youths at any stage stable emotionally, financially and eventually, independently.”
GVSU students generated a list of landlords willing to work with the crisis center to provide housing for at-risk young adults, and gathered furniture and other apartment comforts, including a bed. More stuff was donated than needed for one apartment, so the potential to help more than one person is there.
“We’re still donating stuff to the program,” says Havens. “They’ll have stuff ready to go.”
Although the students’ final goal of getting a young adult in a furnished apartment wasn’t completed on the short timeline the students had, the students were successful in many of their project’s goals.
“We wanted to create awareness about that program,” says Havens. “We were not able to get someone in, but we learned about working on a team, accomplishing goals and working with a non-profit. It’s cool to be part of that.”
Bennett anticipates one of six candidates in the running for the apartment will qualify within the next six to eight weeks and will benefit from all of the donations raised by the group.
“This group was successful beyond their wildest dreams,” says Bennett. “I am so pleased with the work that they’ve done.”

With two liberal studies and two education students making up this GVSU management class team, brainstorming led the group to combine both disciplines to help the school and the environment.
“Our project was the carpool competition,” explains GVSU student Candice Whiting, who teamed with Amber Lockhart, Kathy Meyers and Winter Kyvik.
“For the winner of the schools, our team fund-raised a cash prize of $500; that cash price is to be used for an environmentally friendly project in the school.”
The winning school was Traverse City Central High School with 683 carpoolers. Traverse City West High School had 415.
The excitement of the participating students was a major plus for the team, as some even decorated their cars for the competition. In addition to the main competition, the team also organized a school supply donation for an area elementary school, by making cold-calls for donations from anyone willing
to help.
“I learned so much about organization and improvising,” says Whiting, “and to be as flexible as possible when things fall through. We received a lot of support from the community.”

Needing increased membership, the Boys & Girls Club of Traverse City and new director Pat Lewellan welcomed the help of GVSU students Amy Round, Sam Park, Jackie Abeyta and Noah Creamer in setting up a table tennis tournament at the facility in the hopes of enticing new members.
“We wanted to help the organization get the biggest bang for the buck,” says Creamer, explaining how the club just got re-initiated in the area and needed lots of new recruits to meet goals of the national organization.
GVSU students collected prizes from area businesses willing to help sponsor the event and offered a grand prize of $100. With 35 players taking part in the competition, the top four competitors received prizes, but no child left the event without a gift.
Good sportsmanship was evident and the students were happy with the turnout. “The kids were absolutely great,” says Creamer, who plans to be a professor in the social sciences. “Polite, friendly and very motivated to win the cash prize.”

With small class sizes and the ability to design their own emphasis area, GVSU Liberal Studies students develop skills like creative and critical thinking and responsibility to their community. Most classes are taught by local instructors, supplemented by teachers from Allendale when needed. With classes ranging from “The Idea of Nature” to “Social Class Inequality” to “Leadership Dynamics,” the impact of a Liberal Studies education is far-reaching.
“Our students are working at educational institutions in student activities and support,” says Povolo. “(They) are social workers, probation officers, employment counselors, environmental activists, librarians, managers at wineries. Others use the degree as preparation for advanced degrees to become lawyers, educators, counselors, social workers, professors, and public policy.”
Pine, a true believer in liberal education whose main interest is Peace Studies, agrees: “People don’t get a job and stay in it and retire – most people stay six to eight years then switch. A degree like this leaves you open; it’s a much broader education. I’ve been enrolled in four different universities here, and in Germany and Switzerland, and [GVSU’s Liberal Studies Program] is just one of the best programs I’ve been involved in.”

Friday, April 20, 2012

Northern Michigan Chef Showdown Over Local Foods

Traverse City, MI--MyNorth.com, the online home of Traverse, Northern Michigan’s Magazine, challenged Northern Michigan chefs from Thompsonville, Traverse City and the Leelanau Peninsula to Petoskey and Walloon Lake to prepare a dish that is made with 95 percent Michigan products. We call it the Chef Showdown: Local Foods. And Northern Michigan’s chefs have responded with gusto.
The rules? Prepare a dish of your choice, savory or sweet, but 90 percent of the ingredients must be either raised, grown or foraged in Northern Michigan and an additional 5 percent must be raised, grown or foraged somewhere in Michigan. Additionally, the chefs agreed to provide our readers with their recipes and list of local ingredients—so the MyNorth audience could shop local and prepare the dishes themselves at home.
With so much goodness coming from so many restaurant kitchens we’re sending MyNorth Media videographer Kris Riley to capture the action in high-definition video. Immediately after they are produced, each Chef Showdown: Local Foods video will be posted on MyNorth.com—accompanied by press releases announcing their posting. (To find the videos on MyNorth.com simply type “Chef Showdown: Local Foods” into the search bar.) Once all the videos are live on the site, we’ll invite our online readers to vote on their favorite recipes and announce the popular vote.
Chef Eric Nittolo of The Boathouse Restaurant hosts the first episode of Chef Showdown: Local Foods with a sumptuous lamb recipe prepared in his kitchen on Old Mission Peninsula just north of Traverse City. Consumers can watch this first demonstration of cooking with Northern Michigan’s foods on Monday, May 3rd on MyNorth.com.
Here are the chefs competing in MyNorth.com Chef Showdown: Local Foods:
  • Eric Nittolo, The Boathouse Restaurant, Old Mission Peninsula
  • Darren Hawley, Crystal Mountain Resort, Thompsonville
  • Sam Hybels, Gusto Ristorante, Suttons Bay
  • Martha Ryan, Martha’s Leelanau Table, Suttons Bay
  • Randy Chamberlain, Blu, Glen Arbor
  • John Piombo, Executive Chef, The Homestead Resort , Glen Arbor
  • Gerald Gramzay, Corporate Chef, Stafford’s, Petoskey
  • Joseph M. George, Executive Chef, Grand Traverse Resort & Spa, Acme
  • Phil Murray, Phil’s on Front Street, Traverse City
  • David Beier, Walloon Lake Inn, Walloon Lake
  • Tom Sawyer, Riverside Inn, Leland
  • Eric Patterson, Cook’s House, Traverse City
  • Hannah Bistro, Traverse City
  • Myles Anton, Trattoria Stella, Traverse City
Now in its 30th year, Traverse, Northern Michigan’s Magazine has been a strong supporter of local foods since its beginnings and has a long history of covering what’s in season, what’s made in Michigan and local wines, spirits and beers. And MyNorth Media has published The Cottage Cookbook: Recipes for Summer Up North available in the store on MyNorth.com.http://www.mynorth.com/My-North/About-Us/Press/MyNorth-Northern-Michigan-Chef-Showdown-Over-Local-Foods/

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Northern Michigan's local-food movement needs infrastructure to turn an idea into an industry

By Howard Lovy

The local-food movement in northern Michigan no longer is simply a neat idea. It is fast becoming recognized as an economic necessity.
The problem is that the infrastructure needed to keep that food — and the dollars it generates — local has yet to catch up with the idea.

Part of the solution can be found in a nondescript building near the Traverse City airport. Inside, piles of boxes await distribution to stores by Cherry Capital Foods — boxes of Great Lakes Potato Chips, Northwoods Soda, Slabtown Coffee Caramel Corn, Food For Thought salsas and jams and Uncle Gene's Backwoods Pretzels. All made in the Traverse City area.
Five-year-old Cherry Capital Foods finds local markets for local goods to — in the words of Keith Creagh, director of the Michigan Department of Agriculture — "keep that dollar in the community, turn it over several times."

Grand Vision, a six-county public-private collaboration mapping out the future of northwest Michigan, has set a goal that 20 percent of food consumed locally comes from local sources. In addition, the Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce is asking the region's hospitality industry make a similar 20 percent-local commitment.

Add this to initiatives setting aside 10 cents per meal to put local fruits and vegetables on the lunch plates of local schoolkids, a farm-to-school food program and a general retraining of buyers — from individuals to institutions — of the need to shop locally, and what results is an economic solution that caught the attention of Gov. Rick Snyder, who praised the collaboration during an economic summit in early March.

Douglas Luciani, president and CEO of the Traverse City chamber, estimates that more than $1 billion is spent a year in the area on events ranging from weddings and family reunions to luncheons and fundraisers. If all event planners and venue owners agreed to buy 20 percent of their goods and services locally, that's $200 million that stays in the local economy.
Creagh said the Snyder administration is taking a close look at what the Traverse City area is doing in creating a local economy — with food and agriculture front and center — with an eye toward using it as a model for the rest of the state.

"The governor has said, 'Show me a program that brings real value to real people, and we'll invest in them.' And so when the economy starts to recover, we're going to be looking at programs that actually make a difference," Creagh said.

But many challenges remain to create a truly regional economy. Part of the problem is the short growing season. One answer, Creagh said, is more greenhouses. But the biggest challenge involves infrastructure — it's still not all there yet.

An anecdote that Creagh often uses involves the Detroit Public Schools' lunch program. Michigan farmers recently began providing asparagus for the schoolkids. Unfortunately, the vegetables are first detoured to Indiana, where they are washed and packaged before being sent back to Michigan.
"That's unacceptable," Creagh said. "We have great food processors here."
Local processing is tricky, said Evan Smith, senior operations manager at Cherry Capital Foods — a company that Traverse City area leaders have said has been crucial in creating local markets by bringing farmers and customers together.

Take strawberries, for example, Smith said. As a summer crop, local strawberries are rarely available for school lunches.

"Yet the schools are sitting here screaming, 'My goodness, we would love to have local strawberries here.' Well, they're not in school when the strawberries come out," Smith said. "So, there's an example of infrastructure that's missing, abandoned or needs to be repurposed."

The answer, he said, is more freezers so excess summer strawberries can stay in the region and show up as frozen strawberries or in smoothies. But that would take a purchase of more freezers or repurposing old ones and a financial incentive to justify turning them on.

Serving thousands of schoolchildren, plus a general preference among consumers and institutions to buy local, could be enough to attain the critical mass necessary, Smith said.

Cherry Capital Foods thinks of itself as a facilitator of regional collaboration. For example, Smith said, a tiny company in Traverse City sells Li'l Terror Hot Sauce. Owner Lori Fletcher was doing so well that she had outgrown her habanero pepper supplier. Cherry Capital Foods hooked her up with more local farmers.

Sweeter Song Farms in Cedar is starting to produce more than its customers can take. Cherry Capital helps the farm find new markets.
The early adopters of the local-food movement were restaurant chefs looking for a competitive, creative edge. Next came specialty markets like Oryana Natural Foods in Traverse City, whose customers are more in tune with the movement. Next come institutions and larger commercial buyers. The farther away decisions are made, the longer it takes to get on board.

But the change is happening now, with the hospitality industry getting involved. Previously, little thought was given to where food came from, said Luciani of the Traverse City chamber.

Allison Beers, owner of Events North, a Traverse City event planning business, said about 40 to 50 hospitality businesses have signed up for the 20 percent program, agreeing to use local food, wine, transportation, photographers, flowers and other goods and services.

Luciani said everybody involved, from farmers to consumers, is more aware of how food is central to a booming regional economy.
"People know what it means to keep a dollar in the economy; how it affects our schools, our roads, our infrastructure, job creation," he said.
Smith at Cherry Capital Foods has a more personal motive. "What motivated me more than anything on this is watching all the college graduates leave. I have a son in Seattle and I have one in Chicago. I'd love to see them back here."

Friday, April 13, 2012

Eating Better Than Organic

by John Cloud

Not long ago I had an apple problem. Wavering in the produce section of a Manhattan grocery store, I was unable to decide between an organic apple and a nonorganic apple (which was labeled conventional, since that sounds better than "sprayed with pesticides that might kill you"). It shouldn't have been a tough choice--who wants to eat pesticide residue?--but the organic apples had been grown in California. The conventional ones were from right here in New York State. I know I've been listening to too much npr because I started wondering: How much Middle Eastern oil did it take to get that California apple to me? Which farmer should I support--the one who rejected pesticides in California or the one who was, in some romantic sense, a neighbor? Most important, didn't the apple's taste suffer after the fruit was crated and refrigerated and jostled for thousands of miles?

In the end I bought both apples. (They were both good, although the California one had a mealy bit, possibly from its journey.) It's only recently that I had noticed more locally grown products in the supermarket, but when I got home I discovered that the organic-vs.-local debate has become one of the liveliest in the food world. Last year Wal-Mart began offering more organic products--those grown without pesticides, antibiotics, irradiation and so on--and the big company's expansion into a once alternative food culture has been a source of deep concern, and predictable backlash, among early organic adopters.

Nearly a quarter of American shoppers now buy organic products once a week, up from 17% in 2000. But for food purists, "local" is the new "organic," the new ideal that promises healthier bodies and a healthier planet. Many chefs, food writers and politically minded eaters are outraged that "Big Organic" firms now use the same industrial-size farming and long-distance-shipping methods as conventional agribusiness. "Should I assume that I have a God-given right to access the entire earth's bounty, however far away some of its produce is grown?" asks ethnobotanist Gary Paul Nabhan in his 2002 memoir, Coming Home to Eat: The Pleasures and Politics of Local Foods. Nabhan predicted my apple problem when he vacillated over some organic pumpkin canned hundreds of miles from his Arizona home. "If you send it halfway around the world before it is eaten," he mused, "an organic food still may be 'good' for the consumer, but is it 'good' for the food system?"

I had never really thought about how my food purchases might affect "the food system." Even now I don't share the pessimism and asceticism of the local-eating set. In her 2001 memoir, This Organic Life, Columbia University nutritionist Joan Dye Gussow writes that her commitment to eating locally "is probably driven by three things. The first is the taste of live food; the second is my relation to frugality; the third is my deep concern about the state of the planet." I don't have much relation to frugality, and, perhaps foolishly, I'm more optimistic than Gussow about our ability to develop alternative energy sources.

But I care deeply about how my food tastes, and it makes sense that a snow pea grown by a local farmer and never refrigerated will retain more of its delicate leguminous flavor than one shipped in a frigid plane from Guatemala. And I realized that if more consumers didn't become part of the local-food market, it could disappear and all our peas would be those tasteless little pods from far away.

Still, the fact that not all locally grown products are organic had me worried. Even if most Americans wanted to buy locally grown organics, they wouldn't be able to find many. In a few not-too-dry, not-too-wet, not-too-warm regions--central California is one--it is possible to find abundant organic produce grown locally. But if you live in a humid climate, say, the moisture that encourages bacteria and fungi means that growing without pesticides is much more risky, expensive and rare. Consequently, in the Hudson Valley of New York, near me, it's very difficult to find fruit that hasn't been sprayed with chemicals at least once. In other regions, like the upper Midwest, most big farms don't grow any vegetables for local markets, conventional or organic. Instead, they produce commodity crops like corn and soybeans for sale to food processors. At a large Hugo's grocery store in Jamestown, N.D., last summer, I noticed only one local product: flour, which is milled in-state from local wheat. But there were organic apples and oranges from out of state.

Farmers' markets often feature organic produce from nearby farms, but not everyone lives near a farmers' market--and most products at the markets aren't organic. "I've been to farmers' markets, and there's people hauling stuff from the truck that they got at a wholesaler," says Joseph Mendelson III, legal director of the Center for Food Safety, a liberal Washington group that supports strong organic standards. Mendelson prefers the "gold standard" of locally grown organics, but he is rather frightening on the subject of nonorganic food, whatever its origin. When I asked him whether I should favor local products, he replied, "I don't know what local means. Do they use local pesticides? Does that mean the food is better because they produce local cancers?"

All of which further tangles my original question: The organic apple or the conventionally grown local one?

It turns out to be a frustratingly layered choice, one that implicates many other questions: What's the most efficient way to grow food for all? Should farms be big or small, family- or corporate-run? How do your choices affect the planet? What tastes better? And then there's that little matter of cancer.
Let's get that one out of the way at the start. If scientists could conclusively prove that agricultural chemicals are harmful, we would all go organic. But it's not clear, for instance, that the low levels of pesticide typically found on conventional produce cause cancer. The risks of long-term exposure to those residues are still undetermined.

Even if conventional foods don't turn out to be as dangerous as organic advocates claim, several recent studies have suggested that organic foods contain higher levels of vitamins than their conventionally grown counterparts. In a paper published in October in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, a team from the University of California, Davis, demonstrates that organically grown tomatoes have significantly more vitamin C than conventional tomatoes. Even so, the same study shows no significant differences between conventional and organic bell peppers.
We're just beginning to understand these relationships," says U.C. Davis food chemist Alyson Mitchell, one of the paper's authors. "We understand, and have understood for a long time, that there is some relation between soil health and plant quality, but we still don't have a solid scientific database to link this to nutrition."

Organic adherents take it on faith that the way food is grown affects its nutritional quality. But advocates of local eating are now making another leap, saying what happens after harvest--how food is shipped and handled--is perhaps even more important than how it was grown. Locavores.com a site popular among local purists, asserts that "because locally grown produce is freshest, it is more nutritionally complete." But Mitchell says she knows of no studies that prove this.

In short, science can't tell you what to eat for dinner. Many of us end up relying on the government to keep food safe, or we just don't think about it. For those who do start to think--nervous new parents, say, or McDonald's burnouts--there are more alternative grocers than ever. There are online purveyors of gourmet health foods (pricey), the old food co-ops (too political for me), and of course those farmers' markets, which--in spite of basic limitations like not being open every day--have grown larger and more sophisticated. (According to Samuel Fromartz's valuable 2006 history Organic Inc.: Natural Foods and How They Grew, there were 3,706 U.S. farmers' markets in 2004, double the number there were a decade earlier.)

But for the past few years, the easiest answer for food-baffled Americans has been a single company: Whole Foods Market.

Whole Foods now has 190 locations from Tigard, Ore., to Notting Hill in London. In fiscal 2006 the chain's sales grew 19% (to $5.6 billion), a bit lower than 2005's 22% growth. Fretful about increasing competition from mainstream grocers who are offering more organic products, investors have punished Whole Foods in the past year; its stock price has fallen more than a third since February 2006.

Still, Whole Foods is expanding rapidly. It recently said it would acquire Wild Oats Markets Inc.; the merger would give Whole Foods an additional 112 locations in North America. Already, many Americans have come to see Whole Foods as the repository of both their dietary hopes and fears--the place we can buy not only organic arugula but a decadent chocolate bar too. I have shopped at Whole Foods off and on since 1990, when I had a summer job in Austin, Texas, where Whole Foods began in 1980. If I was going to decide whether to buy organic or buy local, I figured Whole Foods' ceo, John Mackey, could help me. After all, he is vegan, and his politics lean libertarian, so he thinks hard about different paths. And he has made a great fortune by joining two previously antagonistic alimentary impulses--health and excess.

When we spoke last fall, Mackey was at first diplomatic about the organic-local choice. He told me that when he can't get locally grown organics--and even he can't reliably get them--he decides on the basis of taste. "I would probably purchase a local nonorganic tomato before I would purchase an organic one that was shipped from California," he said. He called the two tomatoes "an environmental wash," since the California one had petroleum miles on it while the nonorganic one was grown with pesticides. "But the local tomato from outside Austin will be fresher, will just taste better," he said.

However, he also noted that products like hard squash that can last months in storage don't taste so different for being shipped. In that case, he said, "I might purchase the organic version from California." Mackey acknowledged that organic agriculture is "flawed"; he criticized organic-milk farms where cows are pumped with feed in factory settings just like conventional-milk cows. But he also bristled at criticism from local activists. He noted that just because a farm is near your home doesn't mean it practices sustainable farming. "There's an assumption that small is beautiful and big is industrial, and that's not necessarily the case," he said. Whole Foods could not keep growing without supplies from large international farms, which is one reason the organic-vs.-local debate is a delicate issue for Mackey.

At least at my Whole Foods--the one in Manhattan's Union Square, where I shop once or twice a month--most of the available produce comes from California or some other distant land, even during the local growing season. Like all other Whole Foods locations, the store began to push local products more aggressively last summer. A placard was posted above the escalator exhorting customers to BUY LOCAL, and all the cash registers were changed to show photos of area farmers.

These days, in the final weeks of winter, it would be unfair to ask Whole Foods to sell predominantly local produce at my store, because so little can be grown in the Northeast right now. But even during verdant summertime, the vast majority of products sold at my Whole Foods (fresh or otherwise) aren't from the Northeast. Actually, it would be more accurate to say that the packages in which most Whole Foods groceries are sold say nothing about the food's origin. For instance, in the freezer section you can find Whole Foods' Whole Kitchen brand Breaded Eggplant Slices with Italian Herbs. The box tells you a wealth of information about the eggplant slices--that they contain wheat, dextrose and annatto (a dye); that they can be fried, baked or microwaved; that they have no trans fat; that they are "flavorful" and "versatile." But you don't learn where the eggplant comes from.

A Whole Foods spokeswoman told me the eggplant was grown in Florida, which is too bad because eggplant grows easily in the Northeast. But in the company's defense, very few customers care whether their food is local. Most who do, shop at farmers' markets. Also, there's not even a standard definition of what local means. To Nabhan, who inspired many local activists with Coming Home to Eat, it means eating within a 250-mile radius of his Arizona home. Many who blog at a site called eatlocalchallenge.com aim for a stricter "100-mile diet."

My favorite definition of local comes from Columbia's Gussow, a reporter for Time in the 1950s who went on to become a local-eating pioneer. For 25 years, Gussow has lectured on the environmental (and culinary) disadvantages of relying on a global food supply. Her most oft-quoted statistic is that shipping a strawberry from California to New York requires 435 calories of fossil fuel but provides the eater with only 5 calories of nutrition. In her memoir, Gussow offers this rather poetic meaning of local: "Within a day's leisurely drive of our homes. [This] distance is entirely arbitrary. But then, so was the decision made by others long ago that we ought to have produce from all around the world."

On his blog, Whole Foods' Mackey has used a radius of 200 miles to mean local. Measuring from my home, that includes not only much of New York State, New Jersey and Connecticut but also parts of seven other Northeastern states. Such a large food shed produces a great variety of fruits and vegetables, and Whole Foods has said it wants to increase its percentage of local produce. (Of the roughly $1 billion in produce the company sold last year, 16.4% came from local sources, up from 14.9% in 2005.) Last year Mackey announced a $10 million loan program for local farmers.

But Mackey also knows that most Americans will never eat a purely local diet. "One of the challenges of being a retailer is you don't want to offend people," Mackey told me. "Some customers want to eat apples year-round, and they're willing to pay more for a New Zealand apple." Finally, he offered a defense of the global food economy: "When I was a little boy--I'm 53 years old--being able to get oranges from Florida or produce from another state was a very big deal because the local-produce availability where I lived in Houston wasn't great. People back then didn't have nearly as diverse a diet as we do now, and you might also point out their life spans weren't as long."

That made me wonder if purely local eating was even possible--or healthy. Could I get everything I needed from the Northeast? What would I have to give up? For gustatory reasons, I long ago stopped eating out of season--I have no interest in those hard Canadian tomatoes my Whole Foods was selling in February. But would I have to forgo coffee? What would replace my breakfast cereal? How much would all this cost? I wasn't sure. So like everyone else, I went to Google.

I mean, I literally went to Google, to the company's Mountain View, Calif., campus.

I had read that one of Google's new cafeterias, Café 150, served only food originating within a 150-mile radius of Mountain View. I knew this radius included a glorious fund of farms, ranches and fisheries, the Salinas Valley food shed that Steinbeck made famous in East of Eden. I also knew that as one of the most successful companies of the era, Google could afford not only to pursue such a whimsical culinary ideal as total locality but also to do so in the form of a fine-dining restaurant. (Café 150 is one of 11 employee eateries on the Google campus, all of which famously charge nothing.)

Still, I wanted to see how Café 150's founding chef, Nate Keller, managed to serve more than 400 purely local meals a day. Most chefs simply place orders with suppliers. Good cooks understand that quality and origin are related because of the toll extracted by transportation, but in the end, if Emeril Lagasse wants to serve wild salmon one night, he can just order it from Alaska. Keller, who recently became the chef at another Google restaurant, couldn't do that. Although just a freckly 30-year-old, he had to plan his menus the way preindustrial cooks did, according to whatever local vendors offered that day.

"These guys have to be so flexible with their menus, it's unreal," said Café 150's fishmonger, Tim Zamborelli of Today's Catch in San Jose, Calif. "We have to find out what's coming in on that particular day and let them know so they can change." Café 150, which opened a year ago, can serve no shrimp or scallops, since they can't be found in the area, and tuna was available only from August through October, when currents brought bluefins into the radius. The day I visited, Keller hadn't learned what vegetable he would be serving until the night before. (He got baby red chard.)

It's a radically new way of thinking about cooking because it's so very old. But I was surprised to learn that Café 150 was the brainchild not of some anticorporate artisan but of John Dickman, 51, Google's food-service manager. Dickman not only worked for 14 years at the food giant Marriott--he even trained flight attendants to cook plane food. I was curious how he had created such a radical restaurant.

Dickman says he was inspired by chef Ann Cooper, whose 2000 book, Bitter Harvest, is well described by its subtitle: A Chef's Perspective on the Hidden Dangers in the Foods We Eat and What You Can Do About It. Cooper, who now runs the acclaimed meal program of the Berkeley, Calif., public schools, writes passionately against industrialized farms that "inhabit a flattened landscape dotted not with trees, farmhouses [and] animals ... but with huge motorized vehicles." After meeting her, Dickman began to go to farmers' markets.

When Dickman arrived at Google in 2004, he says, "organic was the cool thing," and the company's chefs were buying organic whenever they could--even if that meant flying in Chilean nectarines. Dickman worked with the team to write new standards that place local before organic for all Google eateries. "You're using X amount of jet fuel to get it here, and that doesn't make sense," he says. "So forget the nectarines. Buy something local. Get some plums." Of course, this doesn't work in, say, Dublin, where Dickman also helped set up a Google café. ("Everything is flown in there," he said.) When I asked if he thought a restaurant as strictly local as Café 150 would be possible anywhere outside central California, he answered, glumly, "Probably not."

But others are trying. Restaurants from Cinque Terre in Portland, Maine, to Mozza in Los Angeles are run by cooks who strive always to find local products first. Some chefs are not only buying locally but actually growing the food. The two Blue Hill restaurants in New York--one in Manhattan and the other in Pocantico Hills--buy less than 20% of their ingredients from outside the New York region, according to chef Dan Barber. Much of both restaurants' food (including all the chicken and pork) is raised on about 20 acres next to the Pocantico Hills location. In the 31/2 years since the farm was launched, Barber has become one of the nation's most eloquent pro-local spokesmen, not least because he makes local eating profitable (and delicious--his restaurants win raves). But his commitment to locality means that Barber can't always serve beef, since the quality and availability of steers in the Northeast are uneven.

Café 150 has access to local beef from Bassian Farms in San Jose, Calif., but the restaurant can't obtain everything it needs from the valley. Take salt. "There are salt flats a quarter-mile that way," said Keller, pointing to the horizon, "but they're for industrial purposes." So he buys salt "off the truck," from a food-service deliverer.

Still, apart from such staples, Café 150 is living up to its name. It never serves tropical fruits, and it has planted lemon and lime trees just outside to ensure local citrus. The restaurant grows many of its own herbs and makes its own ketchup. And last fall Café 150 jarred tomatoes and fruit so that even though it's March, Googlers can get a taste of the local harvest every day. Imagine that: a company as ostentatiously hip as Google canning fruit in its kitchens.

Could I do this? Could I operate my own "kitchen 150"?

Following Café 150's lead, I decided to keep basic dry goods like coffee, chocolate and spices. But since I have no interest in gardening (and no yard, for that matter--I live in an apartment), I needed a source of produce. I find farmers' markets inconvenient, if only because you have to pay each farmer separately for items, which can mean a lot of waiting in the cold. Then I heard about the farm shares run by Community Supported Agriculture (csa) programs.

They sounded a little lefty to me at first, but it turns out csas are a wonderfully market-driven idea: you join with others in your community to invest in a local farm. At the beginning of the season, members pay the farmer a lump sum. Each week, or perhaps once a month in the winter, the farm delivers fresh vegetables (and, for more money, items like fruit, eggs and flowers) to a central location. Prices vary widely depending on where you live. The csa in the Mott Haven neighborhood of the Bronx costs just $220 for five months for those with a low income (food stamps accepted). The csa run by Angelic Organics in Caledonia, Ill., starts at $600 for 20 weeks of vegetables and goes north of $1,000 when you add fruit.

There are some lefty aspects: You don't choose what the farmer grows. He does. You might get lettuce one week and then--if, say, a hailstorm hits the lettuce patch--none for several weeks after. Also, you're locked into a fixed amount of food each week, so if you don't feel like cooking for a couple nights in a row, you feel guilty. A farmer sweated over these beautiful ears of corn, and I'm going to throw them out so I can pick up riblets at Applebee's?

The benefit is that the food is affordable--for $40 a month at my csa, I get (to take February as an example) four bunches of winter greens, a head of red cabbage, 5 lbs. of apples, and about 2 lbs. each of beets, onions, carrots, turnips and Yukon Gold potatoes. The stuff is phenomenally fresh. I once discovered a nine-day-old head of lettuce from my CSA farm at the back of the refrigerator. Because it had come to me just 24 hours after being picked, it was still crisp.

But how local was my CSA farm? And was it organic?

Windflower Farm is in Valley Falls, N.Y., 185 miles northeast of my apartment. Mapquest calls it a 3 1/2-hr. drive, but if you leave on a weekday at 5:30 p.m., as Windflower's Ted Blomgren and I did, it can take closer to five hours. That meets Gussow's definition of local--"within a day's leisurely drive"--although our drive through Manhattan wasn't leisurely.

Blomgren runs Windflower with his wife Jan. He is 46, and on the day we rode to the farm, he wore sandals and glasses. Ted, who has a degree from Cornell, is balding and studious, and might pass for a professor if he didn't have so much dirt under his toenails. Ted and Jan--who has lovely bright blue eyes perpetually fixed in a startled expression--have operated Windflower for eight years with their sons Nathaniel, 14, and Jacob, 11. On the day I visited last summer, I watched a barefoot Nathaniel walk to the henhouse to collect eggs in an old white bucket, as he did every day. I had been eating those eggs most days--that's how I had replaced cereal. Seeing Nate carry that bucket into the smelly humidity of the chicken coop, I realized I had never before felt so connected to my food. I had not only seen the chickens that produced my eggs but had also met the person who gathered them.

That's a core goal of CSAS--to remind you that your food originates in some place other than a grocery store. There are now some 1,200 csa farms in the U.S., according to the Robyn Van En Center at Wilson College in Pennsylvania. Van En helped start the first American csa at her Massachusetts farm in 1985 after hearing about the idea of farm shares from a Swiss friend. (You can find a csa near you at sites like localharvest.org.

So I was finally eating local, and it tasted great. Ted's yellow wax beans last year were so crisp and oniony sweet you could eat them directly from the field. During the winter months, Ted has delivered sturdy vegetables from his cold storage that look as good as anything at Whole Foods and seem to taste better, if only because they remind me of a warm day on the farm. And yet I do worry that the Blomgrens aren't certified by the Federal Government as organic growers. They say they don't use synthetic pesticides or fertilizers, and Ted's policy is that any csa member can come to his farm to check his growing practices. "I couldn't show up at my local Agway and buy a jug of herbicide without it getting told to everybody," he said. Like many small farmers I met, Ted felt that organic certification would be too costly and time consuming.

Having met Ted, Jan and their sons--and having spent the night in their barn--I trust they don't use chemicals. But the Blomgrens don't grow fruit for the CSA. They buy it from other local growers, and most of them use sprays because of the humidity. Ted's hens were free-range--they strutted around eating the grass behind his house. But pastured chickens still require some grain feed, and the grain Ted bought was mostly conventionally grown, industrially processed corn.

I was deflated to hear that I had ingested chemicals with my fruit and eggs. But at this point I threw up my hands. If I wanted total purity, the only option was to grow my own food. Forget it. Farming is dirt-under-the-toenails hard work, and the Blomgrens are by no means making a vast fortune.

But I had arrived at an answer to my question: I prefer local to organic, even with the concessions local farmers must make. I realize there's something romantic about the desire to know exactly where your food is from. Among true agrarians, that desire carries a reactionary strain, a suspicion of modernity. "Instead of relying on the accumulated wisdom of a cuisine, or even on the wisdom of our senses, we rely on expert opinion," journalist Michael Pollan wrote in last year's acclaimed book The Omnivore's Dilemma. "We place our faith in science to sort out what culture once did." But science should trump culture on matters of nutrition. The problem is that science offers no clear guidelines yet on how beneficial organic food is.

When asked years ago whether she preferred butter or margarine, Gussow famously remarked, "I trust cows more than chemists." For my part, I do not. I will still go to Whole Foods to buy the mass-produced Organic Food Bars I eat for breakfast when I don't have time for eggs. I am happy that food scientists are finding ways to produce everyday products like cereal with organic ingredients. (How about organic Froot Loops? I have a weakness for Froot Loops late at night.) But when it comes to my basic ingredients--literally, my "whole" foods rather than my convenience foods--I would still rather know the person who collects my eggs or grows my lettuce or picks my apples than buy 100% organic eggs or lettuce or apples from an anonymous megafarm at the supermarket. Choosing local when I can makes me feel more rooted, and (in part because of that feeling, no doubt) local food tastes better.

Eating locally also seems safer. Ted's neighbors and customers can see how he farms. That transparency doesn't exist with, say, spinach bagged by a distant agribusiness. I help keep Ted in business, and he helps keep me fed--and the elegance and sustainability of that exchange make more sense to me than gambling on faceless producers who stamp organic on a package thousands of miles from my home. I'm not a purist about these choices--I ate a Filet-O-Fish at McDonald's on the way to Ted's farm. But in general, I have decided that you are where you eat.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Spring Rites

I've been sleeping with the window open, hoping that the crisp breezes would be warm again soon. The fresh air reminds me that there's a whole beautiful world out there beyond my office, couch, and easy chair. Right outside my windows, small sparrows twitter and flirt on the budding branches.

I think about Easter parades, and Persephone's exit from the Underworld, and swimming in Grand Traverse Bay in May when I was 12 years old.

 Elliot said, "April is the cruellest month..." I have a tendency to think that February is crueller. The iron grey skies and frozen tundra make February endless, endless. April is just tricky. It can't commit to one thing or another.

Think, "Spring," Leelanau county.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Free range animals

Wouldn't you like to know that your chicken had a happy life before he ended up on your table? The proprietors of the Hubbell Farm take great care with the beef, pork, chickens, and turkeys they raise.  Each aspect of the care that these animals recieve leads to a happier animal. Ultimately, these happy animals make better, tastier, and healthier products for the dinner table.     

Spring 2012 is a good time to be thinking about ordering products from the Hubbell Farm. You can contact Dan at dan@hubbellfarm.com.
We are looking forward to having you as a part of the family.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Shires repair damaged coastal path in Cornwall

Shires repair damaged coastal path in Cornwall
Robert Eddy provided a pair of his Shires to help the National Trust replace a heavy granite clapper bridge on a section of the South West Coast Path at Zennor earlier this year. Using a timber arch and a sled, the Shires dragged the bridge’s three pillars down to the almost inaccessible River Cove, where the two large capstones were replaced with the help of farmer William Alford and his vintage Field Marshall tractor. They were taking part in a £200,000 repair job to the path after last year’s freak floods.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Farmer's Markets--COMING SOON!

The Leelanau Farmers Markets is a non-profit organization started up with the initiation of the Leelanau Agricultural Alliance & MSU Extension with the goal of improving the marketing of local farm products and preserving county farmland.

The Ag Alliance proposed the idea of starting up Farmer’s Markets in the area in 2000, and with the help of MSU Extension, developed a Board of Directors to oversee the planning and operation of the markets.

All products and produce sold at our markets are made or grown within 60 miles of the farmers market!! Buy Fresh, Buy Local!!

Our mission is:
"to provide locally produced farm and food products for the benefit of the Leelanau Community."

Suttons Bay Market
Saturdays, 9am - 1pm
May 12 - October 27
at North Partk, 601 Front Street
(intersection of M-204 & M-22, lake side)

Empire Market
Saturdays, 9am - 1pm
June 16 - September 15
Next door to the post office downtown

Lake Leelanau Market
Sundays, 9am - 1pm
June 17 - September 2
Parking lot across from NJ's Grocery downtown

Glen Arbor Market
Tuesdays, 9 am - 1pm
June 19 - September 11
Behind the Township Hall on Western Ave

Leland Market
Thursdays, 9am - Noon
June 21 - September 6
Parking lot across from The Bluebird Restaurant, downtown

Northport Market
Fridays, 9am - 1pm
June 8 - September 14
Next to The Depot by the marina downtown

This is a great opportunity for you to get local produce and meet the farmers who grow it! Know where your food comes from!

Leelanau Farmers Markets
c/o MSU Extension
8527 E Government Center Dr
Suite 107
Suttons Bay, MI 49682

Friday, April 6, 2012


While March 21 officially ushered in Spring here in Northern Michigan, it's April 6th and we are still pretty chilly. The sun outside looks like it should be warming the earth. However, it falls on chill and frosty fields.

Under the earth, I know that plants are stirring.


Monday, April 2, 2012

Biography records life of top Welsh Shire horse breeder

by Andrew Forgrave

ONE of the great Welsh breeders of Shire horses is profiled in a new biography.
“O’r Castell I’r Llys” tells the story of William Hugh Griffith, of Llys Farm, Brynrefail, who rose to become a top breeder, adjudicator and leading light of the British Shire Horse Society.

Better known as WH Griffith, he was born and brought up on Castell Farm in Pentir but moved to 36-acre Llys Farm in the 1950s, which he turned into a successful caravan site.

His Shires carried the Trem y Wyddfa prefix and in 1984 Jim’s Chance won the Horse of the Year Show, Wembley.
Five years later he was awarded the Sir Bryner Jones Memorial Prize at the 1989 Royal Welsh Show for his contribution to the development of the Shire horse. In the 1980s he was also NFU Mid Gwynedd county chairman.
The book traces his life at Castell and Llys farms, his time at the Madryn Agricultural College in Llyn, his memories of the Vaynol Estate – and his connection with Red Rum.

It was written by Canon Idris Thomas who recently retired after 36 years serving the parish of Llanaelhaearn. He has since moved to Llandinorwig.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Interview On The Majestic Wadworth Shire Horses

By: Nicole Salo

- There is something really beautiful and nostalgic; even majestic about seeing the gentle giants of the horse world pulling a carriage or a cart at a local autumn fair in the crisp air with thundering hooves that shake the ground as they pass you by.
For many it instils the “awe” for what used to be — these lovely giants with heart’s to match who used to work day in and day out until the job was done, and then take us home to our families! Almost all of these working horses have been replaced by the modern car or truck; while efficient in doing the task at hand I don’t think modern day transportation will ever replace the connection one gets from working with a such a giving animal as the horse.
A few weeks ago I spotted a lovely video featuring the Wadworth Shire horses, who still work regularly pulling a dray and making deliveries for Wadworth, a beer (and other fine beverage) brewing company who have been partnered with Shire horses since their establishment in 1875.

After further researching the Wadworth company I was pleased to find a whole page dedicated to their beautiful working horses (you can find that page here: Wadworth Shire Horses), but I just had to know more about these great horses and their role in modern times.
I was lucky to catch Tricia Hurle, the Marketing Administrator for Wadworth and PR for the Shires (and their Horsemen!) just as she came back from vacation and she was able to answer a few questions about the horses for me. Tricia isn’t just the PR for the horses though, she is extremely knowledgeable and passionate about the Wadworth Shire horses and was excited to share with me (and our Barnmice readers) about them.

Questions And Answers About The Wadworth Shire Horses

NS: What role or roles have the horses played throughout the Wadworth Brewery history, including their modern role?
TH: Max, Monty & Prince are the latest in a long line of Shire Horses which, apart from a brief interruption, have served Wadworth for over 120 years. In their heyday (before cars and lorries took to the roads) more than 40 Shires were used by the Brewery to deliver their beer to local inns and hostelries (and ponies and traps were used by the Brewery Representatives!). Being three of the very few remaining‘working’ Shires in the brewing industry in Britain today, they deliver our beers, plus wines and spirits, cider, minerals and soft drinks to our pubs and free trade customers in Devizes, within a 2 mile radius of the Brewery. At present, they work as a pair and a single with work drays, each dray carrying a load of up to two tons. We usually have four horses, but at the moment are working with three (a pair and a single) due to one recently being retired – we will be looking to add a fourth one as soon as possible. They are an integral and much loved part of the business, and are our ‘Carbon Hoofprint’!

NS: What does the daily routine of the horses consist of?
TH: The horsemen (of which there are four) arrive at stables at 6am, when the horses get their first feed of the day (they have six buckets of chaff, bran, molasses and supplements a day in total, plus haynets, each). They are then mucked out and fed again at 7am, when they are groomed and then left to settle for ½ hour before being harnessed up for work. Both the pair and single turnouts are then loaded up at the warehouse for their daily deliveries, and after that they are exercised outside the centre of the town before returning to the stables at about 12 noon for their next feed. During the afternoon, the stables are open to the public, where visitors can see the Shires and also look around the dray sheds and the harness room – there is always a horseman on duty to answer any questions! ‘Bedtime’ is around 9pm, when they have their final feed. They are bedded down on peat, which we have found to be the best bedding for them, and which we recycle as garden compost and sell to members of the public and garden centres!

NS: What sort of farrier and veterinary care do the horses receive routinely to keep them sound and healthy for their day-to-day routine?
TH: The horsemen check each horse thoroughly every day as part of the grooming routine, so any problems are quickly dealt with, and the vet called out if necessary. The equine dentist visits at least once a year, and an equine physiotherapist also visits if needed. They are regularly wormed and receive all the necessary inoculations when required. The farrier visits every week, and each horse has new shoes every 3 to 4 weeks, due to the amount of road work that they do.

NS: How often do the horses show or go to promotional events, how far in advance do you begin the preparation work for these events?
TH: The Shires ‘Show & Event’ schedule for the year is decided by the Chairman, the Head Horseman, the Distribution Manager and myself in early January. Although they are essentially working horses, they do attend many show, events and pub appearances throughout our estate each year, mainly during the summer months, as well as continuing with their daily work schedule. A huge amount of preparation goes into each event, with show harness and show dray cleaning and polishing beginning up to a week beforehand, and several hours of bathing, grooming and plaiting for the horses prior to travelling.

NS: When the horses are on holiday, how do they enjoy their down time?
TH: They spend just over 2 weeks each year (normally at the end of July / beginning of August) out in a field owned by our Chairman’s father, where they can rest their legs and enjoy the freedom of being outside. They are fed both morning and evening throughout their summer break to supplement their ‘self-catering’ diet of grass, and at those times are checked over by the Horseman on duty. As there is a public footpath through the field, they often receive visitors with treats of apples and carrots as well. Although they enjoy the break from work, they are usually more than ready to come in at the end of their holiday, as they do enjoy working and the comfort of a warm stable and ‘waiter service’ for meals!

NS: What role will the horses play in the future for the Wadworth Brewery? Will we see them for generations to come?
TH: The Brewery have no plans to stop using the Shire Horses – they are part of our heritage, and part of the family business. We hope that we can continue this wonderful tradition as long as possible for future generations of people to enjoy.

You can learn more about the Wadworth Shire horses and Wadworth & Co Ltd at the link below. Be sure to check back on the Wadworth site as the Brewery and their lovely Shire horses are going to be featured on an upcoming documentary called To The Manor Reborn, currently being filmed by BBC and the National Trust. Wadworth & Co Ltd