The Local Food Report: the proof is in

Would you like to see something beautiful?

That is a salad I made on Saturday, January 23rd entirely from Massachusetts foods. The green curls are pea tendrils, from Allen Farms in Westport. The maroon slivers and chunks are pickled beets and onions leftover from a big batch our friend Tracy made for our wedding at the end of October, with veggies from her very own garden. She made the pickled carrots, too. The white blobs, believe it or not, are actually not marshmallows, but little Hannahbells. Oh! and I saved the best for last. Those little golden things? Real, live greenhouse-grown pear tomatoes. Debbie Barrett is very proud of those.

If anyone tells you it's impossible to eat locally in New England in the middle of January because you're going to contract scurvy or starve to death or accidentally stab your neighbor for his Florida orange, well, the proof is in the pudding, people. Or the salad. Or whatever. The point is, that rainbow dish up there should get them to pipe down.

Also, our area now officially has two—TWO!—winter farmers' markets. One in Marstons Mills slated to start next Saturday, February 6th at 10am sharp, and another already underway on the third Thursday of every month from 3:30 to 6pm at Plimoth Plantation. When I first heard about both of these, I did a little dance in my seat. The best part it, the Plimoth one even has an online ordering shop so that if you're going to drive all that way, you can make sure you get what you want.

When I first heard about the online store, I was actually a little bit wary to tell you the truth. I was at the annual Cape Cod Buy Fresh Buy Local meeting, sitting in the back drinking my friend Jessie's homemade cranberry syrup-seltzer infusion and trying not to make too much noise eating smoked bluefish, and these two very smart looking women from Plymouth pulled a computer and a laser pointer out. While they talked about the software, and how the farmers submitted what they had, and then got a report back after the customers had ordered about what to bring, I realized that the whole idea made me just the slightest bit nervous. The thing I like about farmers' markets, after all, is that they are by definition very low tech, and rather than involving computers and telephones and wireless internet and e-trading, they involve people and wicker baskets and carrots and dirt. I had this flash-forward nightmare vision of the local food movement going the way of Big Organics, and for a second my mouth got so dry I had to push away my plate.

I thought about their presentation a lot over the next few weeks.

Eventually, I decided that the only way to get over it would be to call them up and see if they might want to talk. And so I did—I got in touch with Barbara Anglin, the market organizer, and Sasha Purpura, one of the farmers—and last week I ended up walking around with my recording gear and my camera and a big bag of fresh carrots and Chinese cabbage and homemade granola in the Plimoth Plantation parking lot. Then I went inside, and the more we talked, the more I was convinced that online ordering was a good idea after all. Here's how they got me convinced.

For starters, they said that their main goal with the online store is to give more people better access to local food. That isn't really a mission statement I can argue with. Secondly, they pointed out that there are a lot of working parents—mostly mothers, so far as they've noticed, but fathers too—who work during market hours, and therefore can never, ever make it there to do the household shop for the week. Even if they have the money and are into it and are willing to pay the price, they either can't get there at all or get there so late that the eggs and the greens and the grapes and all the good stuff have completely disappeared. Also, Barbara and Sasha argued that the online store has the potential to eventually expand what the market has to offer, because Barbara gives all of the farmers a print out every week showing them who put what up and which items sold like hot potatoes and which ones didn't. The vendors will start to see holes or overlaps, Barbara very reasonably predicted, and then they'll start ramping up new varieties and scaling back in places where there's too much overlap. Ultimately, that could lead to a lot of new foods on our plates.

But the most convincing reason they offered is this: Even though the store is geared toward busy, working parents, and even though they estimate that ninety percent of the people using it are busy, working parents, after these busy people pick up their boxes, they still stick around to shop. They wander through the stalls, and say hello to the farmers they ordered from, and usually buy a few other things. In other words, it's the guarantee they're looking for, not a whole different experience. They have time to say hello, but not to arrive ready for a week's shop and find out nothing's there. That's a wonderfully reassuring thing.

As it turns out, a lot of other people think the online store is a good idea, too. There are a few other places using the exact same program, which was put together originally by a market in Plymouth New Hampshire. The New Hampshire folks were the first people to do it, back in 2006, when the Plymouth Area Renewable Energy Initiative decided to brainstorm ways to get people to buy more local food. The thought was that this, in turn, would decrease these households' overall energy use—and a group of local farmers suggested an online marketplace. That's how the first Local Foods Plymouth was born. Right now, there are about six or seven markets in Maine, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire, including the one in our Plymouth, using the software. There's also a different online ordering model—Massachusetts Local—at work in the western part of the state.

It's hard to say whether or not the idea will catch on out here. But based on how well it's doing up north, if I were you I'd take a peek.


Victoria Rose said...

Glad you posted about eating local in the winter. I wrote a similar post but mine didn't have any green in it (but I should probably write one like that since we are surrounded by greenhouses):

Anonymous said...

Elspeth, this is a great post and a very important message to be getting out there. Thank you.

Another organization that is doing great work in this regard and that very much merits a look-see is Idaho's Bounty: www.idahosbounty.org. This relatively new group provides a wonderful business model for how to market and access local foods. I encourage you and your readers to check it out. They have a great website.

I learned about Idaho's Bounty from a Chewonki alum and would be happy to put you in touch with her if you are interested.

xo, Mama

Elspeth said...


That sausage looks DELICIOUS. I have seen nothing like that being produced locally around here, but I will keep my fingers crossed. Yum!

All the best,


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