North Country Produce
Producing our own produce, can we always buy local?
Produce from California, grains from the mid-west, beef raised in New Mexico - do we eat anything grown in the North Country any more?
Though this area will never be the country’s bread basket, the North Country produces plenty of food. According to a community profile compiled by the Plattsburgh North-Country Chamber of Commerce, Clinton County alone produced $69,328,000 worth of agricultural products in 1999. The term agricultural products encompass goods such as maple syrup, apples, broccoli, beef, lumber, and milk.
Despite high agricultural productivity, certain parts of the North Country finds residents lacking a variety of locally grown produce during the winter months. Since North Country greenhouses can grow only so much produce during the barren winter season, one can’t help but wondering what would fill our salad bowls if not for imported lettuce?
"I’m not saying that people should never eat an orange in the winter."
It isn’t easy to subsist exclusively on local food grown during the winter months, but it’s possible, said Jodi Harrington, manager of Burlington's City Market Onion River Co-op. "We're not recommending that everyone try it, but the people who do it are very creative," explains Harrington. "We have a variety of foods available during the winter like our root crops, beans, and hydroponics tomatoes, but what you miss is the really fresh green vegetables. The people who eat only local all winter usually freeze summer vegetables for use during winter months."
Carol Czaja, an employee of Plattsburgh’s North Country Food Co-op, commented on the previously dismal local-winter produce situation. Until this past year, basically all that was available was during the winter months was apples. "Now that we have a Vermont produce connection, we can get a more diverse produce selection in the winter," Czaja notes. "We’re hoping that as the demand for local produce increases, more people will construct greenhouses to extend the growing season like it happened in Vermont."
Czaja went on to explain the complications of keeping one's salad bowl green
The downside to buying local is that availability of produce is limited to the plant’s specific growing season, but this is countered bythe numerous benefits of buying local.
"We have food delivered every day, so the produce you buy is at most a week old."
Harrington placed the benefits of buying local into three categories- food safety, flavor, and local economy. Food safety means knowing your food source and being able to see how it’s produced. Seeing a farm and inspecting it for yourself allows for a personal assessment of farm condition. If you noticed that the crops of a farm were being watered with sewage water and the cows were covered with open soars, you wouldn’t want to purchase that food. When that same food is already in a package on the supermarket shelf, it’s harder to determine whether or not the food is safe. Visiting the source of your food enables you to make a decision for yourself about the food safety of that product.
Harrington also described the flavor factor - the idea that food tastes better when it is fresher. "We have food delivered every day, so the produce you buy is at most a week old," Harrington says.The flavor factor is well known to anyone who has ever described the taste of produce as being right-off-the-vine.
The assistance provided to local farms is also an important factor to Harrington. Buying local helps sustain the local economy. Your dollars are going right to your neighbor and staying in the community instead of being shipped out somewhere.
Though buying local is optimal, neither Harrington nor Czaja seem to be completely against all food grown outside of the North Country. Czaja explained this: "I’m not saying that people should never eat an orange in the winter - its variety and it’s going to happen- but people are generally becoming aware that it’s important to know where food comes from, when it’s in season, and how it’s grown."
Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of
The beauty of buying local goods is that the buyer can answer all these question; if you by a local butternut squash from your neighbor in January, you know where it’s coming from, how it’s grown, who grew it, and how far it had to travel between the dirt and your plate.
Kimberly Cordier appears to be a manifestation that brief Pollan quote. Most of her food comes from her mother’s garden, the farmers market, the
local organic meat farmer during the summer months. She’s been to the farms
The local food movement is getting bigger, even in supermarkets, Cordier
says. When asked for an example, she had to pause for a moment and think. Plattsburgh's Hannaford grocery story recently sold apples from Ruffs orchard,
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