Getting to know your food
For the past couple of months I’ve been farming one day a week at Transition Farm. Learning how to grow vegetables, what it takes to tend to, care for and harvest them. I’m discovering the importance of good soil, of working with the environment around you, respecting it and nurturing it. And in doing so, respecting and nurturing yourself and your loved ones with the produce you’ve grown. It’s meditation in soil. It’s a truly invigorating and inspiring practice. I just love it. I’m observing and encouraging the natural cycle of nourishment. I'm getting to know my food.
A couple of weeks ago I was chatting with Robin as we packaged the edible flowers gift for the Christmas CSA boxes. We were speaking of the importance of connecting with your food, of knowing where, for example, your meat, milk and vegetables come from. This is the food that nourishes your body and your family’s bodies, that helps it to grow and learn and skip and love. Knowing this is something we both consider to be incredibly important.
I’ve written about this topic before in My Mindful Kitchen. From personal experience, I know it can feel overwhelming when deciding you want to become more selective with your food. We are so used to visiting the Supermarket for all our needs. Where will I shop? How will I know it’s the best option for me and my family?
Personally, I have found connecting with smaller producers to be key when transitioning towards a more "farm to table" lifestyle. And specifically, I like to focus on buying local as well as supporting sustainable practices via buying organic and being smart with my consumption. Let me translate that a little… When I say local I mean buying goods from my region on the Mornington Peninsula as a preference. I’m spoilt where I live, why would I need to travel very far for food? I'm keen on supporting my local community. Though it’s important to note that just because it’s made locally does not mean it will be the healthiest choice, and this is something you need to consider. I do love me some Tasmanian cheese, after all, and I’ve been lucky enough to see first hand how some of these goods are produced. Now in terms of sustainability, I like to preference products that are grown organically and hence are better for the environment (and my own health, too). This may take a little detective work on my behalf, so I might need to call a producer or farm and find out where they source their products or whether they spray their crops with chemicals and their processes. And in terms of animals, I’ll call to ensure they’re not crowding their chickens into poor conditions or that their animals have a proper life and are fed appropriately. Furthermore (this is just so important) the onus is also on me to ensure I purchase and consume these goods in a sustainable way - not eating 300g steaks every second night, for example.
These practices may take time, certainly initially while you set up a list of producers who tick your boxes, but it is worth it. And for a few important reasons...
Firstly, the food these producers make tastes amazing. Better. Best. It’s a noticeable quality difference.
Secondly, this food is more nutritious. Meat from cows who eat grass is more nutritious than grain fed animals. Eggs from chickens who can peck at worms and greens are more nutritious. Vegetables from healthy soil picked at peak and eaten fresh are more nutritious. You get the picture…
Thirdly, I would personally rather support smaller local producers than monopolistic corporations.
Fourthly, by finding producers who employ sustainable practices, I am directing my funds away from practices that are damaging the environment and I am supporting sustainable, environmentally-conscious practices. These are the four reasons that drive me when I consider where I spend my money. They encourage me to put in the effort to drive around to multiple shops or vendors for my goods, to break away from this culture of convenience and to get to know my food. You just need to make time to do this.
Overwhelming? I think it is.
And so I asked Robin where she’d think it best to start when getting to know our food. Robin suggested finding one producer each month. Search online, ask friends, call around and find a producer who grows and supplies the community with goods. This may be eggs, beef, vegetables, grains, fruit, whatever feels achievable and interesting and important to you. Inquire about their practices - are they sustainable? How are the animals treated? What are they fed? Can I come and visit the farm?... Find a producer you’re comfortable with and figure out a way to buy from them. Where are their goods stocked? Which farmers’ markets do they visit? When and where can I buy from you? And then make the commitment to support them. Incorporate the practice of buying from sustainable producers into your lifestyle. Each week you might make a pilgrimage to purchase goods. This can become part of your routine. Instead of multiple trips to the supermarket each week, take the time out to do one weekly shop from your chosen producer. If purchasing meat, you won’t even need to go weekly.
For January, I’m starting off with vegetables. I still have my own vegetable garden, but this was not enough to sustain Ben and I and our veggie ways, and so I’ll be getting a weekly box of organic vegetables from Transition Farm (where I salute the soil and learn one day a week). We have been eating their vegetables for about a month and already we feel a difference. I mean, we were always vegetable-loving folk but our passion for greens and potatoes and carrots and beets has just grown beyond belief. Ben cannot wait for me to get home of a Friday with our box of veg. He goes straight for the peas, shelling a handful and delighting in the burst of flavour. The most surprising benefit has been discovering the joy of lettuce. Lettuce! Who knew it could taste so sweet and tender?! A couple of weeks ago we got a bunch of celery. "Oh, so this is what celery should taste like”, I marvelled. My creativity in the kitchen has grown, as I work with what I have in the box, focusing on how to best celebrate this beautiful produce. Yes, we’re rather smitten with our vegetable box from Transition Farm.
What we eat is so personal, it so greatly dictates our health and wellness. And yet somehow we’ve given this control over to big businesses who try to make us eat more processed foods and take two chocolate bars for the price of one. I hope you join me this year in reconnecting with our food. One producer each month. We can do this!
A couple of weeks ago, for our Friday dinner after working at the farm Ben and I celebrated Summer tomatoes with our favourite salad.
Sliced tomatoes, sliced bocconcini, fresh basil leaves, a generous drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and a sprinkle of sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper. Perfection on a plate.
Here are some links for further reading, the first two keenly supplied by Robin from Transition Farm. Nothing too text heavy, it's all very readable and encouraging. Helping you to transition in the right direction.
PS. I did not think to note that Transition Farm only deliver to a portion of the Mornington Peninsula and can only take on a certain number of boxes. Silly me! Send an application in via their website if you're keen to sign up to their program but do keep this in mind.