Tuesday , 23 April 2024
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Editorial: More than food
Editor Heidi Marttila-Losure can be reached at heidi@dakotafire.net.

Editorial: More than food

A stronger local food economy can bring significant opportunities for farmers, consumers and local communities. There is the potential for some really wonderful things to happen in the Dakotas around food.

Heidi Marttila-Losure, Dakotafire Publisher/Editor

But there is a catch: We’re going to have to cook it.

One of the great benefits of buying local food is the fact that it reminds us what real food is and where it comes from. Fred Kirschenmann tells a story during some of his presentations about a group of elementary school children who took a tour of a farm, which included a stop at the garden. Someone pulled a carrot out of the ground, and one of the children exclaimed, “Ew! Who put it in there? Now it’s dirty and we can’t eat it!”

It’s a funny story, but there’s a little too much truth to it. I’m sure we’ve all heard about children who think food comes from the grocery store. Those stories may even include some of the kids and grown-ups in farm country.

So going to the farmers market, or to pick up eggs from a neighbor, or ordering a half a pig or a quarter of a beef can prove educational all around. Potatoes are often purchased with some earth still on them; eggs are not always the same size or color, often reflecting the variations in the chickens they came from; and meat sometimes comes with parts we’d forgotten those animals had.

It’s a far cry from a microwavable dinner requiring the push of a few buttons and a turn half-way through.

Adopting a local food way of living faces two big challenges.

The first is lack of time. Our lives are packed with so many things, driving here and there, that we have come to depend on a grab-and-go food lifestyle. There are a limited number of locally purchasable foods that can be easily eaten in the car.

The second is the lack of knowledge. Many of us are in the second or third generation of packaged-food living and have little idea of the cooking skills our grandmothers or great-grandmothers mastered through trial and error over many years.

Neither one is quite as big an obstacle as it seems at first. As far as the art of cooking goes, recipes for almost anything you can imagine are easily Google-able. Some will be hits, some will be misses. But we learn as we go, just as our grandmothers did. (Probably faster, since they didn’t have Google.)

And the lack-of-time issue is also not as big as we make it out to be. Who would have thought 15 years ago we’d have time to fit 45 minutes a day of Facebook and Twitter into our lives? And yet somehow many of us did. We make time for the things that interest us and benefit us.

Consider the art of kuchen-making. That dessert is about much more than the sweet calories—it’s about keeping alive a mother’s memory, having something ready to serve guests whenever they might arrive, and bringing together a community.

Local food preparation can be like that for us. Some of my best memories of life on the farm are the days when we all gathered to process apples (with my dad joining the women to run one of the apple corers) or sweet corn (when my Aunt Lillian joined us into her 80s, bringing her own knives because ours were never quite good enough).

Last year I took part in my first chicken butchering day. To be honest, I was not very excited about taking part in all the steps between a chicken on the run and chicken chilled in plastic. But when we arrived at our neighbor’s, she had all the equipment set up outside in the shade of a big tree in her yard. There was no loud machinery and no overwhelming smell—just a pleasant early summer breeze.

The process kept us busy, but while our hands were moving we could talk. Our discussion included family stories, as well as a recent wedding and what it takes to have a good marriage—the kind of good conversation that happens when you’re working with friends. And at the end of the day, we had food that we absolutely knew where it came from. For me, that knowledge and the connections that happened around that food enhanced its taste.

This is the good stuff that life’s really all about.

The blessing of our modern lives is that we have choices. We don’t have to go hungry if we’re running from work or school to a ball game, and frozen pizzas can be a lifesaver.

But it would be a shame to be in such a hurry that we run past the good stuff.

I encourage you to add a little more local food to your menu.

Maybe kuchen.

But even if that local food is not a dessert, I’ll bet that it will make your life a little sweeter.

Dakotafire’s editor and publisher can be reached at heidi {at} dakotafire.net.

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