Food Security in the Valley

PVGrowsA Food-Secure Pioneer Valley- from Our Fields to Our Tables

While I couldn’t possibly capture the whole of the wonderful energy and information that flew through the air at the PVGrows Fall Forum, I can certainly try to grab some of the highlights and bits that I held onto in order to enlighten those who couldn’t make it.

The first big handy chunk of information was the description of a healthy food system.  The elements of this included: vibrant gardens, justice & fairness, healthy people, sustainable ecosystems, thriving local economies, and strong communities. Continue reading “Food Security in the Valley”

Redefining the Heroine

Traditionally the hero/ine was the achetype that comes in and saves the day when something has gone wrong or justice needs to be done.

To me, through the lens of sustainability and environmental justice, a heroine is a support for people who know they need help.   She enables organizations and groups of citizens, through facilitation and training, to create a better world for themselves. A better world which is based on the shared values and culture of the community and not what someone else thinks they should be. Continue reading “Redefining the Heroine”

Eastern States Exposition: The Big E

Last year my first year at the BIG E and since I could not muster up the desire to attend again this year, it might just be my last unless some changes are made.

The Big E is an awesome opportunity to reach out and share some of what is truly special about New England.  Music, arts, goods grown and made here, could all be featured in such a way to generate revenue, and encourage additional tourism and ‘local holidays.’ Continue reading “Eastern States Exposition: The Big E”

Italian Food Part 2: Tuscany

The market at Monterci in Tuscany introduced me to a new gastronomic passion, porchetta.  Porchetta is a whole sucking pig, de-boned and stuffed with garlic, rosemary, fennel and liver.  This juicy and delicious meat is a regional favorite which makes for a delicious and inexpensive lunch at the market when topped with a crunchy piece of skin and stuffed in a crispy roll, its exact flavors varying based on the chef.

It was here in Tuscany that I was made aware that not only were the restaurant menu items, and market items locally grown, but that they are also seasonally available.  What this means is that should I go back to Tuscany in July the foods available would be what is ripe at that time.  Fortunately for me ‘in season’ during December is cingale (wild boar), black truffles, chestnuts, porchini mushrooms and persimmon.

In the Caprese Michelangelo area, locals who harvest the mushrooms, truffles, and chestnuts from the forest are able to bring the fruits of their labor to market with the assistance of a local Co-op.  Sounds like an easy and exotic way to get those truffles that you love?  It isn’t.  Each of the trees in the forest is ‘owned’ by someone and you would very literally be taking their livelihood.

Overall I have really enjoyed the regional flavors and the lessons that are evident when a locale seems to have  a more sustainable food system.

Learn more about the foods of Tuscany from our hostess.

Italian Food Part 1: Sorrento

I’m sitting in a kitchen in Caprese Michelangelo in the hills of Tuscany with a glass of a local white wine.  There s a fire going to keep the room toasty warm.  Jay is busy in our hostess’ kitchen preparing a tomato and fennel fish stew with ingredients that we picked up from the market that day, all of which were locally grown or brought in from the coast.

Is ‘local’ a theme here?  So far, it is and not just because it is a passion of mine.

Let’s start from the beginning:

In Sorrento, where I spent my first few days, the streets are lined with orange trees.  Small orchards of a few trees, herbs, and grape vines seemed to occupy all available space in backyards and on balconies.

Limoncello, a lemon based liquor, is not only regionally unique but also varies by producer.  One variety I tasted on a whim was far better, in my opinion, than others to the point that I might have though it was a different drink all together.

At night while enjoying a stroll down Sorrento’s small side streets, I caught a glimpses of the day’s catch – frutta di mare – in display cases visible from the outside of the restaurants.  No doubt this is meant to entice you in, and also to let you know what the fresh catch is for the day.  Fresh meaning that it was caught that day and brought up from the harbour.

Once seated at the restaurant for the evening I was pleasantly surprised with a local and superior in quality bottle of vino rosso – red wine.  This left no need to spend money on the otherwise pricey wine list, a pleasant occurrence which repeated itself throughout the trip until Rome.

Sorrento’s ability to not only feed me, but to do so locally and with great flavor was definitely appreciated.  I appreciated knowing that the locally produced and harvested foods comprised the entire menu.

Would this be repeated?  Find out about Tuscany in Italian Food Part 2: Tuscany.

What is local?

When I say local I’m referring to a store that is in walking distance from my house and food grown in my backyard.  I go further out when what I need is unavailable.

Think of local like a bulls eye.  You and your home is the center.  You only go outside of each ring if necessary.  There are varying sizes of the ring, but once you reach 100 miles away from home you are outside of local.  Why 100 miles? Well the people of the 100 mile diet used that number and their argument sounds reasonable.

When buying locally the things I need, the first consideration is what is best for the environment (non-toxic, low footprint, little packaging) and and second how close can I get to home?  I’m not talking about close to home as in a store in your town.  I am referring to one that is locally owned and independent.  Businesses such as large retail stores, restaurants and hotel chains are typically not local.

Local ownership results in 68% of the money spent returning to the community compared with 43% spent at a non-locally owned store.  For the Andersonville study- where I got those numbers- click here.  But enough about that: there will be more information on why buying local is important in another post or you can check some information out now at Pioneer Valley Local First.

Just remember that while in many ways the definition of the term is based on personal decision there are some things that according to the dictionary, local is not.

Local is not widespread or general.

Local is unique and gives you a taste of an area’s culture that you can’t get everywhere.

Branded!

Over the years I have read Adbusters, participated in TV turn off week, and generally avoided brands. I prefer to shop locally. I prefer to find great independent clothing designers, such as those that can be found on Stars and Infinite Darkness, who are more often in line with my beliefs that the larger companies. My look is more unique because of this. Spending my money this way makes me happy because I feel like I am supporting a more diverse marketplace. I am the last person that you would expect to see wearing all the ‘latest’ fashion trends. Granted there are some things that currently can’t be purchased unbranded or lesser known because of functionality and quality, just like not every community can currently produce for all of its needs.

While helping out at the StartingBloc 2009 Institute for Social Innovation, the fellows and volunteers received a number of items. The one that caught my attention the most was from Terracycle; it was their Reusable Target Bag. Very cool concept- it is made out of multiple layers of old Target plastic bags that were pressed with heat. Should it rip in the future it can go back into their system and be fixed. Love the concept, but I would be less likely to use it because of the very visible and prominent branding. I did take the bag because I give away reusable bags that I collect over time to people who need them. I figured I would give it away.

Upcycled Target bag by Terracycle
Upcycled Target bag by Terracycle

Before I could give it away, one day it was the only bag in the car and I had to use it or take new plastic bags from the store. I felt self-conscious walking into the grocery store with a bright red and white bag on my arm, literally covered in targets. Walking up to the register the cashier made a comment about it being deer season, and we started talking. From there I was able to talk about Terracycle and the great things that they are doing with upcycled materials, the importance of buying local, why it is a good thing to reuse bags and rethink waste, et cetera. With what was initially something I dreaded, I found that I was able to initiate a conversation on a topic that I am passionate about and get more awareness out to someone because of the branding. My discomfort with the brand was greatly lessened by the more comfortable ease into an important conversation.

So while I will still support Adbusters, buy local, and stay as unbranded as possible, I appreciate the opportunity that that experience gave me. I have Terracycle to thank for that.

From this experience I take the lesson that if you are trying to get a message out, it helps to meet people part way and allow them to ask instead of preaching at them. This instance indicates to me that conversation is enabled when you are living lightly in a friendly manner. What do I mean by friendly? I mean acting in a way that allows for an opening for the questions to be asked. And what does that mean? Well, I think we need to really think about how we present ourselves and our opinions. If the way I present myself is off-putting, it makes those ideas more off-putting. Consider what this means for the expansion of going green, being sustainable and saving the environment.