We’re living in an age of global markets, with almost all of us buying our food from chain supermarkets, convenient stores, and fast food outlets; rarely thinking about where our food comes from or how it was grown or processed.
More often than not, the food we eat is grown on large industrial farms, before being shipped across the country, or from central or South America or overseas, to huge distribution centers, where it’s sorted, packaged, and processed before it’s trucked to retailers. This means that a remarkable diversity of food is available all year round, for consumers who can to afford to buy it.
But food globalization has environmental consequences; i.e. the ecological impacts that result from large-scale production of cropping food in monocultures with intensive use of pesticides, and the air pollution resulting from expanded mechanization and transportation of foodstuffs over great distances, which contributes to global warming. Food globalization impacts local communities too, as small family farms and dollars that might otherwise remain in the area are lost.
Before globalization, the foods people ate were either grown or gathered locally and seasonally, which offers many benefits. They’re fresher, have more nutrients, and taste better because they haven’t traveled thousands of miles to get here. Unfortunately, we live in an area where the variety and availability of fresh, local foods is limited during much of the year, at which time a healthy, balanced diet may require eating whole, nutritious foods grown elsewhere.
Spring foraging can be a sensible part of eating locally. This time of year, I often add a few trout lily (Erythronium americanum) and dandelion (Taxicum officinale) leaves to salads. Both grow abundantly almost everywhere, so there’s no danger of eradication. I may throw in a few dandelion flower petals as well, for color. And dandelion flower buds are quite tasty when dipped in batter and fried.
I like to harvest a few leeks (ramps; Allium tricoccum), too. They add a wonderful, uniquely pungent flavor to soups, rice, potato dishes, scrambled eggs, and casseroles. But, unlike trout lilies and dandelions, leeks can be quickly eradicated. They should be conservatively harvested. Among the many other edible spring forages are chickweed, violets, and curly dock.
If I’m lucky, as I was this year, I may find a few morel mushrooms. They’re prized by chefs, worldwide, for their delicate texture and nutty flavor. And they’re wonderful with scrambled eggs and cheddar cheese or prepared as a sauce to use over pasta, steak, or chicken.
But please! Never eat any wild plant unless you are absolutely certain that you have identified it correctly! I feel uneasy about harvesting fiddleheads (ostrich fern; Matteuccia struthiopteri) because I’m inexperienced and, like morels, look-alikes (i.e. bracken fern), may be carcinogenic. Nonetheless, I love fiddleheads’ asparagus-like flavor and purchase them from local growers. Hardwood woodlot owners take note. Harvesting ostrich ferns or planting new ferns on your woodlot can be a great source of springtime non-timber income. Fiddleheads sell easily for $5 or more per pound.
Many plant and produce growers also have rhubarb, greens, asparagus, sprouts, and microgreens for sale now, as well as bedding plants and locally-raised meats and eggs; much of it all-naturally grown. Radishes and strawberries aren’t far behind.
And, of course, there’s local maple syrup; the first forage-harvested crop of the year.
As the season progresses, you’ll also find fresh beans, beets, berries, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, corn, cucumbers, peas, tomatoes, herbs; the list goes on.
Seasonal eating connects us to the calendar. It allows us to build meals around foods that have just been harvested; at their peak of freshness! It supports small and midsize local farmers. And, when you support local growers, you’re supporting productive use of land and water, preservation of agricultural land, passing on the knowledge of our agricultural heritage to future generations, and bolstering our rural economies.
Small, local, independent farmers grow for quality, not quantity. They provide the freshest, safest, highest-quality products that money can buy. They grow and raise food in ways that are ecologically and ethically responsible, using practices that protect the environment and safeguard human health. They raise farm animals in ways that are humane. And pastured animal products tend to be more healthful than products from animals raised in factory farms.
For information on Farmers Markets across the North Country, click here.
For information on Farmers Markets throughout New York State, click here.
For a comprehensive list of where to buy locally-grown and produced foods at the farm gate, contact your county Cornell Cooperative Extension office.
Photo of Adirondack farm produce courtesy Shannon Houlihan.