Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Local joys and sorrows

Eating locally means revelling in the joys of the season. From the first bunch of spring kale to the first winter squash, each flavor speaks of its own diet of sun and rain. A tomato grown in the hot humidity of the south will taste and look different than one grown in the short-lived, intense dry heat of a higher altitude.

As an herbalist, I learned that native plants address native concerns. A mullein plant produces leaves that are a powerful expectorant in the season when nasty summer colds are at their worst. More recently I learned that even meats are seasonal, with the heavier beef and pork being suited to autumn and winter slaughter, while chicken is more suited to summer slaughter. Springtime? That's reserved for the new, tender greens like dandelion that cleanse the liver from all that heavy meat over the winter! It all works together in a beautifully choreographed dance.

But sometimes it doesn't work perfectly. 2007 was a year of profound drought in our state. Many farms closed for the season, others switched crops after suffering economically-disastrous crop failure early in the year. Eating locally was challenging as well, with more weeks of less water-intensive heat-tolerant crops, and fewer strawberries and tomatoes. That's part of the deal. What grows is what you eat. Sure, you could run to the store and buy some over-priced non-local strawberries. But the price you pay includes dependence on foreign oil for the packaging and the transport, pollution spewed out by the trucks or trains bringing the food to market, pesticides and fertilizers seeping into the groundwater, not to mention the practically tasteless product that has taken up to ten days getting to you. Now that's one expensive strawberry!

So, while we suffered through a strawberryless year in 2007, it makes this year's strawberries all the more precious. We have eaten each gem whole and raw, savoring every bite. I've been tempted to make a shortcake or preserve, but can't bring myself to. Seeing strawberries in my CSA box is an invitation to praise the Lord who caused the vine to flower and sent the rain to nourish each one. And that's one valuable strawberry!

1 comment:

Kim said...

hmmm ... not a lot is in season for well over half of Michigan's year ...