By Patrick Hutchison, Selby meat & seafood buyer
Traveling always has the potential to be eye-opening. We leave for a new destination bearing assumptions, hopes and worries. What will we find when we arrive? Will it be different than our home? Will home look different when we return?
I spent much of the Eat Local Challenge far outside my familiar Twin Cities food-shed, first in New York City and later in the relative wilds of Central Pennsylvania. And I certainly had assumptions about how well, or how poorly I would fare in finding locally produced foods while out of town. My preconceived notion was that I’d find a fair amount of local food on offer in the “big city” and considerably less in the countryside, based both on popular media accounts and my own previous experience in trying to eat locally in rural PA.
Reading only lifestyle and food culture writing from the New York Times, it would be very easy to believe that the epicenters of the local food movement are to be found in New York City or San Francisco. The entire mass of the United States located (inconveniently) between these two points is of little interest, apparently. And from a local food movement perspective, this has not always been inaccurate; growing up in Indiana, I was surrounded by agricultural industry but little to none of that bounty was produced for local, or even human consumption. Turns out that it’s becoming much easier to find locally grown produce in conventional stores in Central Pennsylvania; I was able to source several basic summer staples, as well as obtain some legendary sweet corn from “Farmer Moofy’s Produce”, a farm stand that has been a family favorite for several generations. Local meat was virtually non-existent however, and none of the produce was likely “sustainable” in the same sense that we have come to expect from farmers near the Twin Cities. But things are looking up.
As I had anticipated, New York City has a lot of local, sustainable food. Problem was I couldn’t get to it… The immediate city boasts around 60 CSA programs (some with multiple drop points), serving every borough. Even understanding the problems of food access related to income, I was shocked to learn that the typical CSA cost is upwards of $600 for a season and that the drop points were overwhelmingly located in the wealthiest parts of the city. Manhattan and Brooklyn account for roughly 70 out of around 90 distribution points. And as a tourist, it was difficult to knowingly access any of this food. The city is chock full of gourmet and specialty food shops, but most focus on imported goods. Restaurants do use locally sourced ingredients but don’t tend to list them. Eating locally is possible in New York, but only if one has the time and resources to search it out.
By way of comparison, the humble Twin Cities are home to 68 CSA farms, numerous easily accessible farmer’s markets and Co-op groceries*, serving a population only about a quarter of the size. We’ve definitely got it good here, and it’s good to be back home.
* more than NYC and San Francisco… combined