What’s a local foodie to do if you don’t have the right spot for a garden? Maybe you just don’t exude the green thumb karma and enthusiasm for growing your own seasonal fare? Or what if there isn’t a farmers’ market nearby for one-stop local food shopping?
Join Charlene Torchia and be a local food forager, developing connections, routines and routes for regularly traversing your area and buying direct from area family farms and food artisans. “I call it my ‘food run’,” explains Torchia, who runs the eco-friendly bed and breakfast, Journey Inn, in Maiden Rock, Wisconsin, about an hour from St. Paul/Minneapolis. “Once a week I make my rounds and stock up on key supplies such as meat from Anderson Farm, goat cheese, organic parmesan from Eau Galle Cheese, apples and cider. Vegetables come from a local CSA – Community Supported Agriculture – and I can even buy bread through them as they grow and grind their own wheat.”
With no dirt under the fingernails required, Torchia exemplifies the spirit that if you’re passionate about the local foods movement and supporting sustainable agriculture, you can find direct sources for bootie in your area. Try plugging your zip code into the Local Harvest database for a starter list of area options. “It’s all about relationships that go beyond shopping transactions,” Torchia adds. “Friendships developed from my food run. I feel part of the community and my B&B guests love hearing the personal story of where each breakfast ingredient came from.”
Here are some starter tips for becoming a local foods forager in your area:
1. Support Fledgling Farms
Seek out and support newer farms, the fledgling start-ups that really need a loyal customer base to make a financial go of it. “It is rewarding to be a part of the community that helps these farms grow,” Torchia recalls. “My apple source, Maiden Rock Apples, just recently started diversifying into apple wine and hard cider.”
2. Stock Up Annually
Some seasonal items require one-stop annual shopping, especially if the farm isn’t close by. My family makes an annual pilgrimage to Turkey Ridge, an organic Wisconsin apple orchard a few hours north of our farm. We profiled Turkey Ridge, an innovative cooperative business, for Renewing the Countryside – Wisconsin, a book showcasing progressive rural business throughout the state. We tie the Turkey Ridge stop in with a longer trip to the area and stock up on several bushels of apples that will last us through the winter with proper cool, dry storage.
3. Bring Cash and a Cooler – and Call First
Many small farms don’t have the ability to process credit cards. Even if they do, there’s often hefty processing fees they need to pay and would much rather take cash payments. A cooler with ice blocks keeps your foraging harvest fresh till you get home. And don’t forget to call or e-mail first to confirm someone will be there and able to sell you direct from the farm. From duties in the field to farmers’ markets, farmers lead a packed summertime schedule.
4. Be Fuel Smart
Plan your route to maximize pick-ups and minimize driving, especially if these are fresh food runs you make on a regular basis, like Torchia does. Try to find sources close to other places you regularly drive to, such as the office, gym or family members.
5. Take Friends Along
Share your local discoveries with others by taking them along your foraging route. Torchia is launching her first “Lake Pepin Food Tour” for Journey Inn guests this summer, taking folks on her regular “food run” as well as blueberry picking at Rush River Produce farm. “This is a great opportunity to share my local food connections with others as well as help increase sales and business for my farmer friends,” sums up Torchia.
Local blueberries often turn up on the Journey Inn breakfast menu (Torchia freezes the berries for use year-round), most often in these most muffins:
BLUEBERRY MUFFINS RECIPE
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup raw, organic sugar
1/2 cup corn meal
1/4 tsp of cinnamon
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
pinch of ginger or lemon zest
1/2 tsp sea salt
2 large eggs
2 cups fresh (or frozen) blueberries
3/4 cup of milk, mixed with 1 tsp of vanilla
Preheat oven to 400
Paper line muffin pans. Mix flour, baking powder & salt. Beat butter, sugar, cinnamon and ginger until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs one at a time, stir in milk/vanilla. Stir mixture into dry ingredients until just moistened. Fold in blueberries. Spoon batter into muffin cups. Sprinkle top with brown sugar. Bake 25-30 minutes. Cool on a wire rack. Makes 12-14 muffins.
Photo Credit: John Huffaker