Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Emily Goes to the Farm

This past weekend, I drove up to western MA to visit my friend at Overlook Farm, where she is working for the summer. The farm is owned and operated by Heifer International, and all the food consumed on the farm is grown and produced right there, by the workers and volunteers.

I don't consider myself as living a particularly urban lifestyle or that I'm totally cut off from all knowledge of where food comes from. After all, I love to go the local farmer's market, and I buy fresh, local produce at our area grocery store whenever I can. I'm an environmental studies major...of course I've studied different kinds of farming and agricultural practices. But I never realized everything that goes in to truly eating locally and producing all your own food. While I was there, I got to help in both the kitchen and the garden. We cooked dinner for a school group that was visiting: pizza made with homemade dough, beef that had been raised on the farm, and fresh broccoli that had been picked the week before and a salad made with various leafy vegetables that had just been harvested and marigolds on top to garnish it (yes, you can eat marigolds, apparently. They're kind of spicy).

The next day, we went out into the garden, picked beans, beets, turnips, and carrots, gathered some eggs from the chickens, went back to the house, and made homemade kimchi--a jar of which is sitting down in my basement fermenting right now. The idea that it is possible for me (or for anyone else) to make a food that normally we only see served to us at Korean restaurants, was just a little mind-blowing. I instantly started thinking of all the other things I could make, and I realized that almost anything that I buy packaged and processed, I could probably make at home. Now I have plans for making homemade veggie burgers, pickled vegetables, butter, granola, and pesto.

Zac is just finishing up his book on where food comes from, and my experience on the farm makes me realize just how little we know about our food. Sure, a lot of people have read The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollen, or buy fresh produce at farmer's markets. But there's a lot of food products that we still take for granted and most of us are still willing to buy processed, frozen foods that have traveled across the country multiple times in their journeys to their present shapes. A lot of this has to do with convenience--I am well aware that slapping a frozen veggie patty on the grill is a lot less labor intensive than making your own (and, for those of you who eat meat, it's much easier and cheaper to buy pre-made, frozen hamburger patties than going out and trying to find local or grass-fed beef.) However, I feel like many people, and I know this was the case for me until a few days ago, appreciate fresh fruits and vegetables, but don't really understand how these are also connected to the canned soups and potato chips that we buy at the grocery stores. Maybe that's something that has to be experienced, and not just read about to really understand. Whatever the case, I hope that Zac's book (which hopefully I will get to read soon...but my role in that whole process is a whole different topic, which I might talk about eventually...) will help us realize how various food items are changed and processed by the time they get to us, as well as maybe how we can get more involved in experiencing our food before the finished product.

Ok, there's my thoughts on local farming and where food comes from. Now back to the real work. I'm in the processing of laying out and producing a catalog for another publishing company that features all the books they've produced. But, like my role in the "Big Picture" series for AlphaHouse, that will have to wait for another day.

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