The Quest for Local Food

Pawpaw was a farmer. He toiled away at Exxon for his lifelong career and pension, but his passion was growing things. One afternoon I watched with horror as his little shed containing his collection of farming tools burned to the ground. It may have been the only time I ever saw him cry. But the next spring strawberries pushed out of the ground and ended up on our shortcakes. His farming and his spirit taught me that there is always another growing season in the wings.

Local asparagus

We spent our summers shucking corn, shelling peas and watching Momma and Mawmaw can and preserve vegetables and fruits. Unlike many people, I know where my food comes from. It is propagated from a seed and cultivated with the warmth of the sun and the liquid nourishment of water. The hearts, heads and hands of scientists that we call farmers is irreplaceable for our survival and health on this planet.

I had to drive 30 minutes to a campground store to find this local milk!

I live in the Midwest. In fact I live in the largest fruit-producing area in the country next to California. At this time of year, grapevines, apple orchards, and rows of sweet corn climb energetically out of their winter sleep. The early spring bloom is past, and the sprint to the sun is in full stride. Asparagus is everywhere. Buttery and sweet, it doesn’t even compare to the supermarket imposter.

I cannot wait to get my teeth into the season’s first peach and to devour my first 5-pound box of local blueberries. This year my favorite fruit stand is closed. The sign has been removed, and the windows and doors look permanently boarded up. Earlier in the year I drove to their other location where they serve the most amazing tacos, and the sign on their door said they were taking a “pause” to see where their future might lead. I literally cried in the parking lot with the loss of their wonderful Mexican cook, the Detroit-roasted cashews they stocked and my favorite source for Lavazza coffee. My food world shrunk.

I hear of people living in food deserts, and I sometimes feel like I’m in a food desert while driving past a landscape of gigantic farms. The grocery stores have limited local produce. I drive 25 minutes to get to a specialty grocery that sells lots of local produce and 45 minutes to an hour to get to a food co-op to get local dairy. I want to eat local. But even here it is super hard to do. At least the farmer’s markets are getting into full swing now, so I have a few options beyond the mainstream grocery.

I was talking to a girlfriend the other day about my most recent quest to find local dairy. I make my own kefir, and it’s just not as good with ultra-pasteurized milk. She thought it was really weird that living in a rural area I couldn’t find local dairy. But they need to make a living, too. According to the dairy farmers and creameries I’ve called, they don’t have a big enough customer base here to sell their own milk. So even though I can go to their farm and pet their cows, I can’t buy what they produce. My access has tightened.

Pawpaw’s aging process was evident in his garden. Three gardens were scaled down to one. One garden became a row. Toward the end of his life, a solitary tomato plant grew in a container on his porch. With its demise, his zest for life – and the cultivating of it – was gone from this earth. I know where my food comes from. It comes from the passion and knowledge of farmers. They get up early and go to bed late. They shuck corn, shell peas and prepare it for market. They adapt to the weather and curse the unforeseen disasters. They are the lifeblood of this world. Pawpaw cultivated plants to feed his family. He taught me to cultivate farmers.

Articles and resources to support local farming:

I’m sure there are many more. Keep looking! How do you find local food?

2 Comments on “The Quest for Local Food

  1. Lovely legacy your grandfather left and a very sensitive description you made of him holding on to gardening as long as he could.

    • Thank you. Unfortunately I was a self-centered 20-something when he died. I had no clue what I was learning when I learned it. I feel closer to him today than I ever did when he was alive.

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