A Journey Through The Orchard.
I have a confession to make. I feel guilty and terrible just saying it, but I would be willing to be that she agrees with me. My mother isn’t the greatest cook. It became clear early on that I was much more interested in food and cooking than she was, and my first basic recipes growing up came from an old 1950’s cookbook that my grandma passed down to my mother. I butchered my first recipe, a batch of peanut butter cookies, but thankfully my mother gave me encouragement and managed to choke down a bite or two.
I must have tried all of the recipes in that book at least a dozen times over the years. Through much trial and error I learned how simple ingredients combined together can create outstanding flavors and textures.
As I grew older I was naturally drawn to the culinary scene, and my first step on this journey was working as a line cook in various local New Hampshire restaurants. It didn’t take long for me to recognize the disconnect between the food I was preparing and the diners who were eating it. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t an issue of variety or availability. There were plenty of companies talking about the seemingly endless types of produce they offered, and being the only option as far as most people were concerned, the restaurants would flock to these companies because of their low prices and simple delivery options. I don’t think that these companies or the restaurants that purchased from them intended any ill will, I simply think that as the poet Maya Angelou once said, “You did what you knew how to do.” It wasn’t an issue of choice or principles that led these restaurants to source their food from hundreds or thousands of miles away, it was simply ignorance. They didn’t know that local farmers were already producing high quality food in their area, and if they did they assumed it would be too complicated or expensive to use fresh local food. Once I realized this I became interested in finding alternative ways to source produce, and it was this desire that began my journey to empower hometown farmers and let people appreciate local food.
I still remember the feeling of walking through the apple orchard in Hollis, New Hampshire for the first time. The smell of the crisp autumn air, the muddy ground trampled on by hundreds of shoes, the rows of pristine trees ripped with deep reds and greens as winter began its approach. I remember the feeling of reaching high up in the branches and twisting a fresh apple off the limb, the cracking sound as the tree released its fruit. These indelible memories are ones that I cherish and long to share with others, but I fear that one day future generations will lose the ability and interest to understand and appreciate their food.
Learning where your food comes from isn’t a fad, it’s not the trendy thing to do, and it’s not just a luxury that the affluent can afford. As far as I am concerned knowing about your food is a basic human right. Today we live in a world that is disconnected from farms and farmers. We have ostracized farming to a relic of the past and relegated its responsibilities to minorities for low wages. Farms are forced into this paradigm of low wage hiring because farming is an occupation that we wouldn’t want for our children. We dream big for our children, hoping that they become lawyers, doctors or fortune 500 executives, but rarely do parents hope their children become farmers.
The facts are undeniable when it comes to making a living as a farmer. According to the Sustainability Institute, in New Hampshire, the average farmer takes in $6,414 per year in income. Their average operating costs exceeds $46,997 per year. When you combine this with 15 hour work days and stiff competition in the marketplace you can see why people aren’t lining up with their MBA’s to become farmers.
The plight of the American farmer is something we should all be concerned about because it reflects poorly on our entire society, and because we have the ability to change it. With every dollar you spend on food you are voting on the future of America’s agriculture industry. Every penny has a purpose, every dime a destination. When you spend money on low quality food shipped from abroad, you are supporting and reinforcing this system. The money goes to the big companies, the farmers get very little, and you saved a few bucks at the expense of your local economy. When you choose to source your food locally, however, you improve the community by giving back to the men and women who work tirelessly to produce the highest quality ingredients around and by keeping money in your home town. Not only do you live a healthier life by eating higher quality food, but you preserve the local farms of your community for future generations so that they too can know what it’s like to pick a fresh apple off a tree and hear the snap as they take a bite into one of nature’s finest creations.
I don’t expect this article to change the entire food industry. I simply have to make you think. I aim to be a small voice that resonates in your mind the next time you are in a grocery store, asking you simply to take a fraction of your food budget and visit a local farm. If I can accomplish this small and simple thing, we all win. By buying produce locally you enrich the local community, keep the economy in your area healthy, and most importantly support a group of people who work tirelessly to bring you high quality food in an age where mechanization and mass production of low quality calories seems more important than the experience of picking a fresh apple and knowing where it came from.