Buy Local. We hear this a lot. But I wonder if people really understand why-beside the obvious fact that it’s fresher and you are supporting your local farmer. All of this is true but it goes much further than that. I am sure you have heard the terms GMO and non-GMO. But what does it actually mean? Well, for starters GMO stands for “Genetically Modified Organisms”. In the case of food, it usually refers to foods that have been genetically engineered for reasons unrelated to health or nourishment. A non-GMO food means food that has NOT been altered in this way. Corn, soy and sugar beets in the US are almost always GMO in high production, highly processed foods like commercial cereals, corn syrup, corn oil, soy sauce, etc., unless they are specifically certified as organic, since genetic engineering is not allowed in organic foods. Many other processed foods that are “created” before they get to your kitchen contain GMO ingredients. So why does this matter to me? WELL. Let me begin.
First it is important to understand why companies create a version of food that is GMO. Let’s say you are a corn farmer. You have thousands of acres you grow each year for a large company. But every year you have a bit more of your corn destroyed by a corn fungus, making your yield less than your customer demands and you are in danger of losing that customer. You hear of a GMO corn that has been developed that is resistant to this fungus. How? Well, maybe it was discovered that by introducing a gene from, let’s say a catfish, into the corn DNA, you get a corn variety that ignores that fungus and happily grows. Maybe it doesn’t taste as good or the fish gene has destroyed some of the vitamins that the unaltered version of this corn has, but most production farmers will grow that GMO corn. Eventually, no production farmer will take a chance on non-GMO corn. But a small LOCAL farmer will.
So now you get what GMO is, we move on to hybrids. A hybrid vegetable is created when plant breeders intentionally cross-pollinate two different varieties of a plant, aiming to produce an offspring, or hybrid, that contains the best traits of each of the parents. In hybridization, pollination is carefully controlled to ensure that the right plants are crossed to achieve the desired combination of characteristics, such as bigger size or better disease resistance. The process of developing a hybrid typically requires many years. Big production farmers, like the ones who produce the vegetables you buy in the supermarket create and grow hybrids that can be picked under-ripe, that will hold up to shipping, that have a long shelf life, that are disease resistant, that require less care, that look more uniform…and on and on. NOTHING to do with taste and nutrition. While there is nothing inherently wrong with a hybrid-some varieties are delicious- generally those hybrids are not grown by production farmers unless they are also pest resistant, easy-care and uniform. In many ways, we have brought this on ourselves by demanding perfect looking fruits and vegetables-the ugly ones get left behind on the market shelves. The supermarket doesn’t want to eat the cost of that waste and neither does the farmer. Thus, the creation of perfect looking, shipping stable produce. Never mind that it has the taste of wood and the texture of flannel. IT LOOKS GOOD, so we buy it. (kinda like that empty-headed, hot girl at the bar, missing the more wonderful person on the next seat). Big farmers depend on that good-looking uniformity and our shallowness. Small local farmers grow what tastes good.
Then we have the heirlooms. These typically they are at least 50 years old, and are often pre-WWII varieties. Most heirlooms come from seed that has been handed down for generations in a particular region or area, hand-selected by gardeners for a special trait. Others may have been developed by a university a long time ago (again, at least 50 years), in the early days of commercial breeding. All heirloom vegetables are open-pollinated, which means they’re pollinated by insects or wind without human intervention. In addition, they tend to remain stable in their characteristics from one year to the next.
Most people agree that heirloom varieties boast greater flavor than that found in hybrids, While hybrid plants typically yield a crop that is uniform in both appearance and timing, heirloom vegetables may produce a “mixed bag” harvest. The harvest may come in less predictably, and fruit size can vary greatly even on the same plant. Just go to your local farm market and see the quirky size and shapes of the tomatoes, especially. Embrace that quirkiness. You will greatly benefit in taste and nutrition.
Besides tomatoes, nowhere is local tastier than strawberries. Come-on, don’t tell me you actually LIKE those pale, smell-less, tasteless perfect orbs in the clamshell plastic box from the supermarket?! In that case, you’ve never tasted a locally grown, picked-ripe strawberry.
Strawberries are coming in right now. Go to your local farm and pick/buy a box and make this ridiculously easy, but yummy dessert. The strawberry flavor pops!
Strawberries with Balsamic Vinegar and Toasted Almonds
4 C. farm fresh strawberries, rinsed, drained and sliced thick
2 TBL. balsamic vinegar (strawberry balsamic, if you can find it)
1 TBL. sugar (more or less to your taste)
¼ tsp. fresh ground pepper
Vanilla ice cream or lightly sweetened whipped cream
¼ C. of toasted slivered almonds
- About 1 hour before serving, combine the strawberries, balsamic vinegar, sugar and pepper. Set aside at room temperature to macerate*.
- Put the berries in a bowl with a scoop of ice cream or whipped cream on top and sprinkle with almonds for some crunch.
*macerate-to steep in fluid
Don’t get me wrong. In our area, it’s not possible to eat local all year long, unless you only want to eat ONLY winter squash in the depth of winter. I, too, shop the supermarket almost exclusively October through April, concentrating on organic produce when possible. But now starts the local growing season. So, get out there and buy local. I assure you it’s worth the extra trip…and the extra taste!!