One Year After the 250-Mile Diet

my Brooklyn garden in late August
my Brooklyn garden in late August

It’s August, and with all the rain we’ve had this summer my garden is looking lush, if a bit unruly.

Last August my year-long challenge of eating food raised within 250 miles of my apartment in Park Slope, Brooklyn officially ended. Before this August comes to an end, I want to share what has changed–and what hasn’t–since The 250.

First, confession time. These are the non-local foods that have crept back into my diet since The 250 ended:

Crackers. During The 250, I made them, but I haven’t done so since. I’ve started buying them from Hot Bread Kitchen, but although they are locally made (and delicious!), they aren’t made with flours from locally grown grains.

Commercial yeast. I’m still baking bread with local grains and flours, but while I was away from NYC earlier this year I forgot to put my sourdough starter into the freezer and it died. That starter was the leavening for every loaf of bread I baked during The 250. Since it died, I’ve been using commercial yeast instead. I do plan to get another batch of starter going this fall.

An occasional beer. There are locally brewed beers, but there are no commercial beers made with local grains or malts.

Pasta. I still make my own from local flour and eggs sometimes…but sometimes I don’t. This should be lumped with the store-bought crackers into the sheer laziness category.

Fresh ginger. I love my native Northeastern wild ginger (Asarum canadense) for flavor, but it is too stringy to use fresh and really needs to be dried and ground. A bit of fresh ginger, the commonly sold Indonesian stuff (Zingiber officinale), has found its way into some of my chutneys and Asian-style dinners this year.

An occasional non-local wine. I’d guesstimate that about one out every ten bottles of wine that passes through my door these days isn’t local, although I do still try to go for organic when that is the case.

An occasional lemon or lime.

Nuts. There are black walnuts, butternuts, and other nuts out there growing wild in our region, but none offered commercially. I like walnuts on my salads. I missed them.

Raisins. I keep hoping these will show up at the farmers’ markets, since we’ve got plenty of grapes. I tried drying my own in the dehydrator but instead of turning into raisins they kept their round shape and developed a texture something like Cheerios. Interesting, but not very good.

That’s it. I still haven’t bothered restocking black pepper or sugar because I really haven’t missed them at all. I gorged on avocados while I was out in California last month, but haven’t felt an urge to splurge on one since I got back. No particular lust for pineapples, mangos, or other tropical fruit, either.

Okay, enough with the confessional part of this post. Here is a big change I’ve noticed since The 250 ended a year ago: it would be much, much easier to do if I was starting now than it was when I began the project back in 2007.

beansThose locally grown dry beans that took me four months to track down? They’re now available from Cayuga Pure Organics at the Union Square market in Manhattan every Wednesday and the Grand Army Plaza market in Brooklyn every Saturday. Local butter? No need to wait for  farmers’ market days because my neighborhood supermarket now carries Ronnybrook‘s. And on and on…the locavorian life has definitely gotten easier in New York City during the past year.

The implications of that fact make me grin. May it continue to get even easier for people to find local ingredients! Please vote with your fork and keep the momentum behind the sustainable food system movement growing.

On a different note, here’s a post about the foraging class I gave last weekend on Soilicious, an excellent blog for urban gardeners interested in growing food: You Can Eat THAT? Urban Foraging with Leda Meredith

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Botany, Ballet, & Dinner from Scratch: A Memoir with Recipes by Leda Meredith

Foraging in Prospect Park

foragingclassQuickie update about a wild edible plants tour I’m leading this Saturday. There are only a couple of spots left, but if you’re interested in free gourmet food from within the city, please join me this Saturday at Brooklyn’s Prospect Park. The event is hosted by Green Edge Collaborative, and you can sign up here. At this time of year, I’m expecting wild cherries, blackberries, cornelian cherries, and other fruit, and with all the rain we’ve had we may luck into some good edible mushrooms.

Also, if you’re curious about how a professional dancer ended up teaching wild edible plants and becoming a local foods activist, there’s an interview with me online at About Harvest.

Cheers,

Leda

Botany, Ballet, & Dinner from Scratch: A Memoir with Recipes by Leda Meredith

Tomato Troubles

first tomatoes from the garden
first tomatoes from the garden

August and September are the months when tomatoes are usually plentiful and inexpensive, and I put up lots of canned and dried ones for the winter. With that in mind, I optimistically brought a lot of extra bags with me to the Union Square Greenmarket yesterday. I was doing a food preservation demo for NYBG from 10-2, and figured that on my way home I’d pick up some cheap, peak season tomatoes.

But there weren’t any cheap tomatoes. There weren’t many tomatoes at all. There were beefsteak varieties and yellow tomatoes, and one or two heirlooms, but nothing like the variety (or low prices) I’d been hoping for.

I’d thought it was bad when a freakin’ Brooklyn squirrel started eating the Black Krim heirloom tomatoes in my garden just before they were perfectly ripe. As some of you have heard me exclaim in the past, I am not opposed to squirrel stew. But it turns out that pesky squirrel may be the least of my tomato troubles.

This past week farmer Ted Blomgren wrote in our CSA newsletter that one of his three tomato fields has been hit by the dreaded blight that is sweeping through the Northeast. He’s teased us with a few token tomatoes, but it looks like we won’t get much more than that.

The center aisle of the Park Slope Food Coop in August is usually tomato heaven, but there was only one cart devoted to tomatoes when I was there a few days ago.

And in yesterday’s New York Times, Dan Barber of Blue Hill Restaurant wrote that his farmer at Stone Barns has lost most of his tomato crop and that throughout the Northeast during the past couple of months  “…organic farmers were forced to make a brutal choice: spray their tomato plants with fungicides, and lose organic certification, or watch the crop disappear. Even for farmers who routinely spray, or who reluctantly spray precautionary amounts, this year’s blight lowered yields. (Fungicides work only to suppress the disease, not cure it.) As one plant pathologist told me, ‘Farmers are out there praying and spraying.’)” You can read his full piece, which includes some interesting points about biodiversity and the interconnectedness of gardens and farms, here.

So far the handful of tomato plants I have in my garden are doing okay, and I’ve formed a temporary truce with the squirrel based on bribery (he likes bread crusts). But it doesn’t look like I’ll be canning nearly as many tomatoes as I have grown accustomed to having on hand over the winter.

That fact brings up locavorian choices.

If I had the extra cash, I could just fork over the higher price for the local tomatoes that are surviving this year’s blight, and put up as many jars as I’m used to but at a higher cost.

Or I could decide that since we had a bad tomato year here, I’ll compromise my local foods commitment out of “necessity” and it’ll be Muir Glen’s canned organic (mostly from California-grown) this winter.

Or I could decide that I’m going to rethink my winter menus and not include as many tomato-based sauces in them because of this year’s blighted crop. That is the choice I’m going with because it not only keeps my diet local, it is honest to what is going on agriculturally in my area. Mind you, I’m still going to eat and dry and can every affordable local tomato I can get my hands on between now and first frost.

Fortunately, other harvests are going gangbusters this year. I’ve already got the four pounds of elderberries Ellen needs to make wine picked and de-stemmed, and there are lots more on the way.

elderberries

On the food preservation front, I may not have put up many tomatoes yet, but the pickled carrot

pickled-carrots

and dilly bean recipes I demonstrated at the Greenmarket are lining up nicely on my shelves (I’ll be doing another food preservation demo at Union Square this coming Weds. from 10-1 if you’d like to stop by).

And the wild edibles keep coming in, including the first blackberries. (One more  plug: I’m leading a foraging walk in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park on Saturday 15th. You can get more info or register here).

My CSA contract is that I share the risk with my farmer as well as the harvest. My commitment to local food, including but also  beyond my CSA share, means that what happens to my region’s crops happens to me.

So…what else will be good on pasta this winter?

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Botany, Ballet, & Dinner from Scratch: A Memoir with Recipes by Leda Meredith