Once upon I time I fell in love. It was a love affair with nature, with my local farm, and the discovery of all the wonderful things that local agriculture has to offer. There was a hidden passion there that I had been unaware of. It was a passion for soil, seed, and fruit; a passion that revealed itself through the care, hard work, and attention to detail that I saw in the farmers who worked the land. It’s what got me into the kitchen. There’s nothing more inspirational than having premium fruits, vegetables, and herbs find their way into my kitchen on the very day they were picked. They just beg to be formed into something amazing for my loved ones and I to enjoy.
You have to understand, however, I’m no country girl. I live in a small suburban townhouse just outside of Philadelphia, where SUVs and shopping malls abound. My “garden” consists of a few potted tomatoes and herbs that I squeeze onto my tiny patio in hopes of having some connection with the natural world. Before my love affair with local and seasonal foods, I settled for under-ripe produce and tasteless meat from poorly raised animals. That lack of care and flavor reflected in my cooking.
A few years ago, however, my affinity towards cooking had a renaissance. I discovered Community Supported Agriculture, known simply as CSA farms, where produce flourishes unaided by chemicals, and small grass-fed meat farms where happy cows get to munch on an all-natural diet. Every year I purchase a crop share from a local naturally grown farm. As a result, my little 4 year-old and I get to spend afternoons on a glorious, pristine farm once a week throughout the summer. We return home with a large bag of premium produce that was sown and harvested by hand. Local agriculture got me, quite literally, out of the kitchen and onto a farm where I discovered a world of vine-ripened produce and pastured meats. I returned with a true sense of inspiration.
The delicious results achieved by these farmers, with their care and attention to detail, is one of the primary reasons I began writing a food blog. Spend some time talking to them and you’ll discover that they’re anything but simple farmers. They’re scientists, artists, and customer service masters. I hear it in a farmer’s voice as he passionately discusses the importance of good soil. I see it in how beautifully they arrange a basket of fresh peppers, cucumbers, and onions on their market stand. I feel it as I stand in a quiet field among rows of pick-your-own cherry tomatoes and a wonderful sense of calm and peace washes over me. Quality like this needs to be shared with the world.
The sweetness of community agriculture extends beyond the tangible benefits of amazing food. The intrinsic value is just as sweet for me; supporting the local economy, protecting the earth for future generations, and especially having a relationship with the farmers and the soil that nourish my family.
The connection to nature that I was having trouble finding on my patio no longer alludes me. I owe a great deal of thanks for this to my weekly adventures at our local farm, rambling amongst the rows of summer squash and sunflowers. I’m sure that Betsy, the farm dog in training, agrees that it’s a connection we all should experience.
Want to meet purveyors who are making a difference with their customers? Check out BonAppetit.com’s “Out of the Kitchen”, an ongoing exploration of the relationships that build and sustain the food industry. See how hyper-local food markets operate and how their focus on quality and service keep customers coming back for more.
Photographs taken at Living Hope Farm, Harleysville, PA.
Betsy hounds from Ledamete Grass Farm, Schnecksville, PA.