LocalHarvest Newsletter, October 21, 2010

Welcome back to the LocalHarvest newsletter.

In college I dated someone whose response to ambiguous news was always, "Who's to say what is good and what is bad?" At 22 I thought myself an excellent judge of the good and the bad. Needless to say, the relationship didn't last. I have thought of his question often over the years, though, and it came back to me last week when I read the New York Times article describing Walmart's decision to make a major investment in local and sustainable foods.

On one hand, the thought of Walmart sticking its gigantic foot in the local food door seems potentially ruinous. The company is known for setting extremely low prices with its suppliers, and the margins on real food are already achingly slim. Would contracts with Walmart actually help farmers, or ultimately hurt them?

On the other hand, Walmart is going to get its apples and broccoli and onions from somewhere. It might as well be close to home, with some type of sustainable practices. Decentralizing food production is a good idea. If the planet's biggest grocer turns sustained attention toward buying a significant amount of local food (which, according to the Times, they define as within the state) they could do a great deal to encourage the establishment and growth of mid-sized farms across the country. That would be a good thing.

Walmart may be able to procure foods grown within certain geographic boundaries, but for many of us, local food means more than that. For me, "local food" is a kind of shorthand for an entire ethic. In this ethic, food is produced under quality conditions, on a scale that feels human rather than corporate, by people whose focus is on natural resource stewardship as much as it is on the bottom line, in a business whose owners do right by their employees. On the consumer side of this ethic, the food is purchased, prepared and eaten with awareness of its true value.

All week I have been thinking about what single word would capture the feeling behind this ideal. The word I came up with was 'kindness'. In my estimation, there is a broad, radical kindness that underlies the emerging alternative food economy, which ultimately is an economy based on relationship. It is hard for me to imagine that kindness and relationships are at the heart of the megastore's buy local campaign. But it is also hard for me to imagine a future without grocery store chains. I fully expect that the groundswell of support for authentic food and small farmers will continue to grow and flourish. If, alongside it, the nation's grocers begin engaging local farmers in their response to consumer demand for higher quality food, and if farmers are able to get fair prices, that would also be a good thing.

As always, take good care and eat well,

Erin Barnett

From the LocalHarvest Store:

It's late October, and still harvest time in many parts of the country. The cranberry harvest is in full swing, just in time to make a star appearance in Thanksgiving relish and holiday quick breads. Organic cranberries are hard to find, but we have plenty, thanks to our friends at Cranberry Hill.

And of course, the Thanksgiving turkey! LocalHarvest turkeys are high quality, humanely treated birds for your family's holiday feast. Order yours today.

The fall nut harvest is also upon us, so fresh walnuts, pistachios, chestnuts, pecans, and almonds are all ready for holiday snacking.

Cookbook Giveaway

If you're lucky enough to live in apple country, you know the season is upon us! Just in time, Ten Speed Press has published, An Apple Harvest: Recipes and Orchard Lore, by Frank Browning and Sharon Silva. Cooks intrigued by the notion of including apples in imaginative, savory dishes will enjoy this pretty, conversational book. And those whose love for apples centers around the sweet something at the end of a meal will not be disappointed. Just look at the Classic Tarte Tatin on the cover! The very picture of fall's particular charms. We have five copies to give away. Want to try for one? Enter the giveaway here, before 5:00 PST on Sunday, October 31. Winners will be notified by email on November 1. Enjoy!

Food from the Farm: Apple Barley Pilaf

My family has been going out to our favorite orchard every weekend this fall. We pick a bag of whatever looks best and then spend the week adding chopped apples to our oatmeal, slathering slices with peanut butter for an afternoon snack, and making crisps to serve to guests. Thanks to Cynthia Chiles from Chiles Peach Orchard, we now have a savory new way to get our apple fix: a beautiful apple barley pilaf.