Meet my food system

Lesson Number One (repeat after me as many times as it takes to get through your thick skull): It’s not about me.

This has been among my highest insights in my most expanded states of mind. It’s also clear that eating – however much it is keyed into the “it’s all about me” survival systems of the body – is a collective endeavor or it just doesn’t work. For humans at least. I live because we live – in reciprocity. Me, you, the farmers, the politicians, the merchants, the animals, the vegetables, the minerals, the trees and oceans, the earth. These are my pals. These are my suppliers.

One of the largely unsung efforts spawned by Transition Whidbey is a mapping project of our food system. Click here for the report and I’ll have more to say about it as we go along. John Lee, one of the authors, spoke about it briefly at our launch potluck for our September Eat Local challenge. He said that a food system is made up of:

Home gardeners
Home gardeners with surplus to share
Market gardeners who provide CSA and Farmer’s Market shoppers with weekly supplemental vegetables — whatever is in season.
Suppliers who reliably provide restaurants, grocery stores and institutions with the food they need everyday in reliable quanties and qualities to run their business.

Here’s a picture of most of my food system working hard for me:

Meet carrots and Italian Beans and a Patty Pan squash and a Zucchini from my garden, fresh picked in early morning barefoot, drawn into the singing of the birds.

Meet tomatoes from my friend Terra’s garden, Terra who has a husband Tom who built a hoop house fit for a nursery where the tomatoes are so plentiful she sent me home with a bag full. If Terra’s thumb were any greener it would be day-glo.

Meet Potatoes and Beets and a Green Pepper from Tricia’s market garden. Tricia is my main food system maven. I took the picture while Tricia’s potatoes and leeks and garlic were simmering in stock I got from boiling the bones of Carol and Ed’s fresh slaughtered and plucked chicken (more on local chicken later) which she delivered to my door and stopped for a cup of tea.

After the photo I then chunked my carrots, added them to the potatoes and beets along with some oil and salt and roasted them. Yum! I was conserving heat after roasting a baseball bat zuke sliced almost lengthwise, best yet.

Roast Zucchini with Gourmet Magazine presentation

And meet Farmer John’s onion. John Peterson has been growing on the island for years and now his daughter is taking over. He sells at the Farmer’s market. I went to see if he had onions and squash because I want to stock up for the winter. After some banter about…

“Do you have your squash drivers license” to which I replied

“Do I need a license if it is under 10 pounds?”

He said he’d be harvesting the storing onions later in the season and to call him. I didn’t even know there was a difference between the storing and eating onions, but now I do.

All the while that huge red onion was staring me in the face. I LOVE to cook with onions. All cooking for me starts with chopping an onion. I nigh on to drooled over that onion as Tricia’s have been enough but not that luxuriant plenty that allows you to over-do.

As you know, I’ve been hungry at times – hungry for food that isn’t in my 10 miles. I’ve now lost 5 pounds (and don’t miss it one bit!). So that big fat onion grown just miles from my home proved irresistible. I bought it. And bit it this morning in my fritatta.

I also stopped by Georgie’s stand. She’s as close to a supplier as we have on the Island – she grows up in Coupeville (out of my range) on Ebey’s Prairie, but if I want to try a not so hyper local experiment in the winter I’ll need some winter squash and (storing) potatoes. Word had it from Chris Williams who, through the Grange, puts out a bulletin about available regional food that Georgie would have 10 pound net bags of potatoes today. But Chris jumped the gun and Georgie hadn’t started digging up the potatoes – and the squash, she said, are just sitting there not growing due to all the rain (it has been a wet summer).

Here is another sobering fact of a local food system. If you are eating local and there is a gap or a failure in what is produced, you are back into food insecurity. I met Georgie a few years ago when tagging along with Vito Zingarelli who was trying to create a Whidbey Fresh Farm to Chef network. His efforts introduced farmers to chefs, yes (and I had the privilege of designing a bit of that meet-up) but the gaps were clear. To wit:

Unless a farmer can provide a chef with what he needs for his menu, he can’t rely on the farmer. So he must buy from Charley’s food delivery truck, a big distributor on the mainland.

Unless there is a reliable delivery system – a truck that picks up and delivers produce from the growers – it can’t work. And that business was yet to be started. A truck and a person willing to take the risk of developing the business. To make his living in the system.

The cultures of farmers and chefs – even though they both deal in food – is different. This was a party of engineers and artists. Some cultural bridging needs to happen to hook our system up so we have a reliable supply.

In Chris’s bulletin there was also word of a big food warehouse in Marysville – which if I were doing a 50-mile diet would be in my foodshed – that’s selling bulk produce at amazing prices. If it is produced nearby, it is a good source for winter storage.

One thing that is plentiful these days is stuff to write about. I have blog posts stacked up. Coming out my fingers before breakfast. Who knew this would be such a hit with my inner writer. That it would feed my soul.

So off to do some “real work” – and then eat my veggie roast for lunch. And my soup for dinner. And a bit of that chicken. And the last of the apple sauce. Who says there isn’t “enough.” At least for now.

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