Arielle Greenberg is the co-author, with Rachel Zucker, of Home/Birth: A Poemic (1913 Press, forthcoming 2011), and author of My Kafka Century (Action Books, 2005), Given (Verse, 2002) and the chapbooks Shake Her (Dusie Kollektiv, 2009) and Farther Down: Songs from the Allergy Trials (New Michigan, 2003). She is co-editor of three anthologies: with Rachel Zucker, Starting Today: 100 Poems for Obama's First 100 Days (Iowa, 2010) and Women Poets on Mentorship: Efforts and Affections (Iowa, 2008); and with Lara Glenum, Gurlesque (Saturnalia, 2010). Twice featured in Best American Poetry and the recipient of a MacDowell Colony fellowship, she is the founder-moderator of the poet-moms listserv and is an Associate Professor at Columbia College Chicago. Currently she is on sabbatical in Maine and is trying out Mark Bittman's Food Matters eating plan.
No Farms, No Food: Eating Local in Waldo County, Maine by Arielle Greenberg
I'm on sabbatical right now from my college teaching job in Chicago. My sabbatical project involves collecting stories from young farmers and homesteaders--the new back-to-the-landers, I call them--who are making strides towards doing things more self-sufficiently than the average American, growing their own food in closer connection to the earth. I'm collaborating on the project with my husband; our interview subjects live in Waldo County, Maine, a traditionally rural community anchored on its west end in the town of Unity by MOFGA, the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association and organic certification organization, and on the east end in the town of Belfast (where we live) by the Belfast Co-op, the state's oldest and largest food co-op, with plenty of farmer's markets and farmstands sprinkled in between. Many people here "put up" their own pickles and jams, hunt for their own meat, and gather their own eggs not because it's trendy, but because it's inexpensive, healthy and has long been part of what it means to live here. "Eating local" is not the cause du jour in Waldo County: it's an actual way of life, one of which the citizenry is justifiably proud.
And it's a way of life that resonates deeply with me, which is why I've chosen to document it: I can't quite get over how important these food issues are, and how deeply they impact us, in ways big and small. One popular bumper sticker here reads "NO FARMS / NO FOOD." A catchy rallying cry, I thought, until I stopped to realize that it was actually true: without farmers, there are no vegetables, no fruit. No grains, no eggs. No dairy, no meat. No food. Wow.
Of course, I cared about this stuff before we came to Maine. Back in Chicago, I was a shareholder in a Community Supported Agriculture farm (a CSA) with my family; we bought almost entirely organic produce, some of it from the local farmer's market; we cooked most of our own meals. But even in the heartland that is Illinois, we could not get local milk, produce or eggs most of the year. We were also frustrated at our inability to compost our food waste: we lived in a condo with no green space of our own, so there was no place for a heap, and no garden to use it on. And we resented having to shop at Whole Foods, which shipped pricey, fancy food items from all over the world, but rarely stocked its shelves with locally made products.
I'm sure I don't have to explain to all of you why buying and eating local food is important, but in case anyone needs a refresher, here are some of the highlights: Seasonally-appropriate diets. Fresher food. Fewer viruses trucked in from afar. Less oil used in the trucking. Less oil used because of less plastic packaging. More robust local economies. More small farms, so more biodiversity. Yummier meals.
Given all of this, it is perhaps not surprising that as part of my research, I've ended up digging into--sometimes quite literally--the local food cause, and learning as much as I can from the new farmer friends we made through conducting our interviews. I've made my first-ever blueberry jam from wild organic blueberries we picked ourselves and bought from local farms, washed and prepared raw shrimp fresh from the shrimp boats off our coast, helped neighbors with maple syrup tapping and apple cider pressing, and even managed to get some carrots out of our little backyard plot. And yes, I've composted, shopped almost exclusively at co-ops and farmer's markets, and eaten local food all year round.
In fact, when we first arrived here in Belfast, Maine, it was January, not exactly the height of the growing season here in the Northeast, and yet when I went to make weekend breakfast for my family, I found I was able to fix blueberry pancakes made with almost 100% local ingredients. Not just local, but within an easy driving distance: Day Trip pancakes! It was a delightful revelation to be able to use local ingredients even in the dead of a Maine winter. Local food all year round, not just the farmer's market strawberries in June? Who knew?
You may very well not be able to make these pancakes from locally grown ingredients in your own area (how many of you have access to locally harvested, unbleached sea salt, processed in solar green houses?!), but if we can have a recipe made from 99% local ingredients here in Maine in January, it can happen anywhere. I challenge you to figure out your own go-to recipe you can make with almost exclusively local ingredients any day of the year.
Arielle's Day Trip Blueberry Pancakes
1 cup organic spelt flour (from the Crown of Maine Organic Cooperative in Vassalboro, 44 miles)
1 cup organic whole wheat or other flour (from Crown of Maine)
1 tsp baking powder (not local)
1 tsp baking soda (not local)
¼ tsp natural sea salt (from the Maine Sea Salt Company in Marshfield, 99 miles)
2 organic, free-range eggs (from various local producers, including Village Farm in Freedom, 17 miles)
1 cup organic milk (from Maine's Own Organic Milk Company in Augusta, 45 miles)
1 cup organic yogurt (I often use vanilla or maple-flavored, from various local producers, including Smith Family Farm on Mount Desert Island, 53 miles)
2 tbsp organic butter (from Kate's Homemade Butter in Old Orchard Beach, 122 miles)
½ cup or more organic frozen blueberries (from Stoneset Farm in Brooklin, 48 miles)
½ tsp vanilla (not local)
Canola oil for the pan (from Maine Natural Oils in Presque Isle, 195 miles)
Organic maple syrup (from Strawberry Hill Farms in Skowhegan, 53 miles)
Heat cast-iron pan over medium heat. Mix dry ingredients together. Beat the eggs into the milk and mix into dry ingredients. Stir vanilla into the yogurt and mix into batter. Add the blueberries. Mix until combined but not necessarily smooth, careful not to squish the berries too much. Add oil to pan and wait until it's hot. Pour batter into pan, making sure not to crowd your pancakes. Flip after two minutes or when bubbles are rising to the surface of the pancake; cook for two minutes more on other side and serve with plenty of syrup!