Anyone who sits next to me long enough is bound to hear me rant about food. This goes far beyond drinking-the-Whole-Foods’-koolaid-organic lifestyle (in fact, I don’t give a rat’s patootie about certified organic, which is based on government standards for those chemicals it deems “okay”). I can talk ad naseum about the CSA movement (for the uninitiated, my friend Jacquie Berger at Just Food has a great piece about what is—and, more importantly, isn’t—a CSA). I’ve had heated debates with family members who just don’t understand the difference between eating a cow/pig/chicken/lamb from an industrialized CAFO and “happy meat” that lived a free range life until being slaughtered humanely. I could write a book (perhaps one day I shall) about my opinions regarding food safety, sustainable farming, and national security (a country that can’t feed its citizens healthy food or that imports its food supply from other nations is at a far greater risk of harm than any terrorist might impose).
However, rather than use this post to pontificate, I want to explain how I got to this point. When I lived in Pittsburgh (I moved just over four years ago), I supported a very small local farmers’ market, but I purchased 90 percent of my food stuffs from grocery stores, ranging from the WalMart/Cosco variety to small delis and independent markets. I shopped at the ubiquitous Giant Eagle, rarely making a foray to the only Whole Foods in the region (back in the day when shopping at Whole Foods still meant something other than a huge grocery bill). I never really contemplated whether my soy milk came from China or my asparagus from Argentina. I drove my SUV miles to get to the store of my choice where everything and anything I desired could be purchased.
When I moved to New York City, I was unhappy to say the least. This city is expensive, dirty, loud, stinky, and did I mention expensive? Our move coincided with the peak of the bubble, and within a year we were struggling on pretty much every level. I joke that New York killed my marriage, but there is truth in this statement. I was looking for anything that would make me like New York.
I found out about Community Supported Agriculture through a website and located the nascent Tribeca CSA; I took the last full share the day before the group had planned to visit their farm. My son and I climbed into a van and headed up to Goshen to the black dirt farm that would be providing us vegetables for the next five months. It was fascinating to see all these city kids revert to a style of play totally foreign to them (turns out loading a plastic buggy with rocks and pushing it until it tips over is a lot of fun!). I’m not sure why I even had signed up for the CSA, but being around people who were so passionate about the food they ate, where it came from, and how it was cultivated was infectious. I began to educate myself about the sustainable farm movement in the New York area. I found organizations such as GrowNYC and the Green Market network. With more than 100 markets in five boroughs and another 100 CSAs affiliated with Just Food, I came to understand how I could feed my family all the year round from local agriculture. By 2010, I vowed to eat 98 percent locally (while I haven’t quite made that level, I certainly have flipped my suburban eating style with 90 percent of my food coming from my four CSAs or the city’s many farmers’ markets). I pretty much only buy cat food/litter, paper products and lemons from the neighborhood grocery (so in that sense, even those purchase are “local”). I buy my coffee from local roasters (can’t do much about those beans!). When I get fish these days (a rarity, given the global decimation of the fish supply), I buy from a Long Island fisherman. I’ve discovered the Slow Food Network and The Good Beer Seal, meaning when I eat (or drink) out, I can do so with my priorities intact.
Embracing local agriculture/business has saved my sanity in a city of millions. I have discovered a tight-knit community that may not always see eye-to-eye (paleo v. vegetarian, for example), but who eat conscientiously and with a full understanding that what they eat is much more than who they are. Our community is keeping small farms alive as more and more people get off the corporate track and seek out a meaningful life of farming and nourishing this great big apple.