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Remember visiting Grandma’s farm as a child, helping feed the chickens, or watching her make an apple pie from scratch? Remember helping haul firewood for the cook stove or climbing down into the earthen root cellar for potatoes or carrots? Remember the smell of fresh-pressed garlic or the joy of a roast turkey that was raised right on the farm by Grandpa’s loving hands? While many of these memories are part of our collective past—often many generations removed—these are experiences contemporary food enthusiasts (today called “foodies”) savor as part of a regenerative interest in bringing the eater closer to the rich experience of food production and preparation.
As part of what has been called “the foodie generation,” I take a special delight in sharing our farm’s unique story, history, and values with the wide variety of folks who visit us—whether this is through a farm tour, a wholesome and homemade meal at Farmstead Creamery & Café, or most recently through educational courses.
The idea that “Those who can—do and those who can’t—teach” is a far cry from our philosophies at North Star Homestead Farms. So often, the best learning opportunities happens “in the doing”—or what is otherwise called experiential learning. Most recently, our farm organized a course titled “Sustainable Foodie: Making a Meal, Making a Life” through Northland College’s Wellness Program, which seeks to round out the liberal arts experience for their students by fostering meaningful life skills beyond the classroom.
“Sustainable Foodie” focuses especially on building traditional food skills, appreciating the value of local foods and knowing your farmer, and exploring the vocational potential for young folks interested in sustainable food’s many facets. Conceived as a mix of critical theory and hands-on experience that culminates each session by preparing and sharing a meal together, “Sustainable Foodie” is capped at 10 students. Held three consecutive Sunday afternoons, it fills the requirements for three of the eight wellness criteria required by the college. Add that statistic to the idea of making and eating food, and it’s not surprising that enrollment filled within the first 10 minutes.
Last Sunday, the dark blue Northland van pulled into the Farmstead Creamery parking lot, and a unique and creative assortment of students from freshmen through seniors piled out and stepped into the transportive world that is our family’s homestead.
With an in-depth farm tour, cheese tastings, and discussions on finding your local farmer, the conundrum of food miles, and the value of eating regionally and seasonally, we were off to an exciting and poignant start. But the hands-on learning aspects focused primarily on comparisons to bring the discussion points to full reality. Along the way, we snapped some photos to document the process.
The poster child of comparison projects was making salads. Splitting the group in half, the first five worked in the kitchen downstairs with my mother and sister, while I led group discussion and cheese tasting in the loft upstairs. The first salad team approached the prep tables to discover their potential ingredients: a head of iceberg lettuce; two hard, pink tomatoes; an aging cucumber with a withering issue at one end; and a bag of “baby” carrots. The long carrot is to show that those little carrots don’t grow that way—they’re cut and rounded to size.
After reading the list of ingredients off the bag of carrots, my sister Kara asked the crew, “Now, why do you think these carrots don’t spoil?” The students looked at one another, shrugging. Kara smiled. “Notice that the carrots are wet. That’s because they’ve been dipped in a chlorine bath as a sanitizer. Yum, yum.”
The students opted to use the long carrot and did not even bother to open the bag of baby carrots.
After preparing their salads, one student offered. “Hmm…looks like a nice, em, restaurant type salad.” Everyone chuckled knowingly.
The groups switched and the second team came down to the kitchen for the salad project. All traces of the first salad had been hidden away and a new tray lay ready. This time, all of the ingredients were harvested that day from our aquaponics greenhouse and included butterhead lettuce, mixed leaf lettuce, elegance micro greens (a mix of baby bok choy, mustard, kale, and Chinese cabbage leaves), broccoli raab, and fresh radishes.
The students marveled at the mix of colors, textures, and flavors, filling a bowl with a medley of purple, red, and dark green. “Yum!” one student exclaimed. “Can I eat this now?”
Later that afternoon, we shared how to make homemade applesauce from local apples and created individualized locavore pizzas (being a locavore means that you choose to eat locally). All the toppings, from the tomato sauce or pesto to the sausage, onions, garlic, and cheese, were grown and prepared here or from area farms. As we enjoyed our handmade meal together, each group introduced their salad before passing it around.
I encouraged the group to try some of each salad, but the community opinion (despite the best verbal marketing efforts of each salad team) was quite apparent as we cleared the table. This is what remained of the iceberg salad AFTER supper was finished. Did anyone even try this?
And this, good friends, is what was left of the aquaponics salad.
Need I say more? Remember that our individual choices, based on our learning experiences, can make a difference. This week, I hope all these students are making new and critical choices about their food, which is an important cornerstone in everyone’s wellbeing.
Feeling hungry for a salad? We’ve got some! (And I promise not to serve the pale stuff.) See you down on the farm sometime.
Laura Berlage is a co-owner of North Star Homestead Farms, LLC and Farmstead Creamery & Café. northstarhomestead.com