by Dan Barton - Take the NY Locavore Challenge
Could you do it? For a day, a week or a month, could you keep as much as your diet as you can from local sources?
That’s the goal of Slow Food Hudson Valley and the Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York: to raise awareness and highlight the delights of seeking out and eating food from as close by as possible. “Local” for the purposes of this New York Locavore Challenge is defined as food coming from anywhere within a 250-mile radius, but NOFA (see more about the challenge on its website, nofany.org) encourages tightening that radius to 100 miles.
“We’re trying to entice people to look local for a whole myriad of reasons,” said Rich Vergili, chapter leader of Hudson Valley Slow Food and an instructor at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park. “It’s just about awareness…We’re also trying to help people understand what ‘local’ means. We hope you look as much as you can locally.”
The availability of local food, spurred on by increased affection for the organic and natural and increased disdain for the processed and mass-produced, has exploded over the last five years. Numerous communities have farmers’ markets during the warm months, and a growing number – including Kingston – have launched monthly or weekly winter editions as well. Farmstands dot local highways; seeking them and discovering their wonders are adventures in and of themselves. More recently, the community-supported agriculture (CSA) movement has allowed non-farmers to get in on the good stuff by paying a flat fee and getting a weekly basket of bounty.
All of these, Vergili confirmed, are good methods for meeting the challenge, which can be taken for a day, a week or a month. “It’s whatever anyone wants to do,” he said. “We’re trying to get people to develop a community, keep money in the community and support our farmers…This time of the year, you can get fruits, vegetables, meat locally. It’s all available, and we are incredibly blessed, the Hudson Valley, with all of these available food items.”
The advantages to local foods are many and significant. An obvious one is the reduction of the collective carbon footprint by cutting down on transport distance, which goes hand-in-hand with the added taste and nutritional advantages of getting food off the farm and into your mouth sooner. What’s not so obvious, but delicious to discover, is the added variety and excellence of foods prepared on a smaller scale.
An example from this reporter’s life is Canadian bacon. The mass-produced kind comes in uniform, homogeneous discs; it could just as well have been made of plastic and sodium nitrite passed off as actual pig-flesh. It’s not bad, but the kind I like to get, made by Mountain Products Smokehouse in Lagrange and sold at Adams Fairacre Farms in Kingston, is obviously pieces of a pork loin, sliced, smoked and packaged. It tastes better and has a far more authentic mouthfeel; it’s real, honest, non-faked.
While the challenge cuts out some things that can’t grow in the Northeast, like coffee and chocolate, the range of foods available within a few hours’ driving distance is surprisingly diverse, said Vergili. “What people don’t realize…year-round now, certainly [local] meat is available in the Valley. It may not be fresh; it may be frozen. There are so many farmers who are breaking down the meat and selling that meat either as single cuts or right at the farm, and making them available on their websites.” Examples, Vergili said, include Herondale Farm in Ancramdale and Northwind Farms in Tivoli, the latter of which has hooked up with a charcuterie to start doing Italian sausages, kielbasa and “some of the best hot dogs I’ve ever had in my life.”
There’s even a yummy prize for participating in the Challenge, Vergili said. “We’re trying to entice the people who take the challenge to tell their stories, and if they type something up into a little blurb, we’re going to give them a bar of very high-end chocolate produced by a slow-food presidium down in the Ecuadorian Amazon, called Kallari Chocolates.”
The other yummy prize is a local-food barbecue set for Sunday, September 25 at the Epworth Center at 8 Epworth Lane in High Falls. The feast runs from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and will include cooking demos and informational sessions conducted by local experts. Noah Sheetz, executive chef at the Governor’s Mansion in Albany, may make an appearance either as a chef or a panelist. Dan Guenther, who has started several different CSAs in recent years, including in Poughkeepsie and the Phillies Bridge project in Gardiner, is also hoped to be on hand.
Wild Hive Bakery in Clinton Corners will show off its creations from grains grown not in the amber waves of the Midwest, but in the central Dutchess community of Millbrook. A Moveable Beast, Charles and Francesca Noble’s beef farm in Accord, will bring its London broil, flank, skirt steak and ground beef; the corn is to come from Gill and Davenport farms in Stone Ridge and potatoes from RSK Farm in Prattsville up in Greene County. There’ll be apple cider for sure, Kingston’s own Keegan Ales and Hudson Valley Fresh’s sinfully good chocolate milk.
“You don’t have to take the challenge to go to the [barbecue],” Vergili stressed. “The whole idea is that if we promote this well, we can get 500 people,” though Vergili noted that it’s the same weekend as the big Garlic Festival up in Saugerties. “We’re going to do it from 11 to 3, so maybe [Garlic Fest attendees] can find time on their way up.”
Tickets for the barbecue, which cost $12 for adults, $6 for children from age 6 through 12 and are free for children under age 6, have to be bought online before the event at www.slowfoodhv.org.