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A taste of place


Fri, Feb 21st, 2003
Posted in Features

Phyllis and Ralph Stelling, representing PastureLand, were just a few of the many local area producers that showcased their products at the“Local Flavors” event held recently. The Stelling’s have a dairy farm near Millville. PastureLand is small cooperative that sells its own brand of cheese and butter made with milk from pasture-raised cows. Photo by Loni Kemp

Think of a bag of Doritos or a Big Mac. What defines fast food?

Fast food is predictable, exactly the same every time we buy it, no matter what the season, no matter where in the world. It is highly processed, made in mass quantities, and always available. It is anonymous food – we do not know who grew it or how they grew it, how it got to us, or who cooked it. Our consumer dollar goes to support the profits of some far away corporation.

Now think of a tender slow-roasted chicken, swimming in a luscious sauce made with garlic and grapes that provide a surprising touch of sweetness. You know the farmer. He is Aaron Gillespie, who raises chickens on pasture between Fountain and Lanesboro. The chicken is drug-free and has a natural good taste so often missing from factory raised chickens. Your purchase helped sustain a local farm, and that farmer is taking good care of his land. You enjoy the healthful food, and you enjoy the connections you are making to the land and your community.

The experience of local food is the opposite of fast food.

All who dined last Saturday at the Local Flavors event at Eagle Bluff Environmental Learning Center got to sample Aaron Gillespie’s chicken, along with other local foods produced by some 25 area farmers.

Eagle Bluff’s Chef Laura Thompson planned the event to help raise awareness of the quality and variety of foods produced locally. She teamed up with the Southeastern Minnesota Food Network, organized a year ago to help market local foods to area businesses, especially restaurants and institutions. Together they invited farmers from Fillmore, Houston and Winona Counties to display their products and tell about their farms and their farming methods.

For example, Joe and Bonnie Austin of Hill and Vale Farms near Wykoff offer beef, lamb, and chickens -- either frozen or fresh -- along with brown eggs and wool products.

Mike Rupprecht sells his pasture-raised beef, pork, and poultry, along with wieners, brats, popcorn and eggs, all raised with his wife Jennifer on their beautiful Lewiston farm.

Featherstone Fruits and Vegetables is a 40-acre organic farm near Winona farmed by three partners. Their diverse seasonal produce is sold at area farmers’ markets, cooperatives, and grocery stores. They also feature Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), where weekly deliveries are made to subscribers in Rochester and Winona, with Lanesboro hoping to become the next site.

PastureLand is a small cooperative that sells its own brand of cheese and butter made with milk from pasture-raised cows, carried by dozens of area stores.

After chatting with farmers passionate about the quality of their products, participants were more than ready to flock to the buffet table. Chef Thompson had prepared a feast to satisfy those looking for comfort food, as well as more adventurous gourmet diners.

In addition to the chicken, we sampled from a groaning smorgasbord of sliced turkey breast with a tangy salsa, elk meatballs in barbeque sauce, buffalo chile with black beans, and a shiitake mushroom-vegetable egg bake for the vegetarians. A mild and tender lamb dish was a real highlight. Topping the meal off was a dessert of apple-blackcap raspberry pie with an excellent crust. A glass of local cider or locally brewed beer was enjoyed by many.

Those of us lucky enough to have a local food system growing up around us in southeastern Minnesota enjoyed the opportunity to partake of a delicious and more rewarding way of eating. The celebration of southeast foods will be held again in summer, when a different cornucopia of seasonal fresh fruits and vegetables will be featured.

Local foods are not the opposite of fast food because they necessarily take a lot of time. After all, how much time does it take to grill a wild rice bratwurst just picked up at the local grocery store, or to fry up a couple of beautiful dark-yolked fresh eggs?

Local foods are the opposite of fast food because they are laden with rich connections. The farmers who produce these foods are also producing beautiful landscapes, and personal connections between themselves and consumers. Many are emphasizing quality foods grown without chemicals or hormones, humane production methods, and the freshness that comes only come when food travels a few miles instead of thousands of miles.

Resources

www.localfoodnetwork.org One-stop ordering for business buyers, from 37 producers. www.mda.state.mn.us/mngrown/directory.htm Statewide listing of 500 Minnesota growers. http://www.landstewardshipproject.org/pdf/sfn_02.pdf Listing of 100 sustainable Minnesota farmers.

Loni Kemp, Canton, is a Food and Society Policy Fellow, a program of the Thomas Jefferson Agricultural Institute in partnership with the Institute for Agricultural and Trade Policy and funded by the W.K.Kellogg Foundation.

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