A Call to Action
For its 25th anniversary, the Réseau des fermiers·ères de famille (Family Farmers Network) has become the Réseau des fermiers.ères de famille, in addition to launching a new branding campaign. And to ensure we enter this new era on the right foot, it is critical to know how to take action.
My name is Julie Aubé. I am a nutritionist with a special focus on communications in local food networks. The Family Farmers Network has asked me to be their spokesperson for their 25th anniversary year. In this article, I want to share 8 ways for you to take action and "eat local" more often!
Ready? Get set…GO!
1. Sign up to become a member of a family farm
Beyond a show of solidarity, community-supported agriculture (CSA) is a means of securing access to a regular supply of fresh produce with a focus on putting local food on your plate and building a relationship with the local farmer who grows your food. It allows you to develop a special bond over the season. This website is a great place to start by placing your order for an organic CSA basket now!
2. Change how you plan your meals
Oftentimes, we see a recipe which piques our curiosity or we feel a sudden urge to cook something, and then go looking for the necessary ingredients. You have a sudden hankering for asparagus in September? Did a recipe you happened upon create an overwhelming craving for a side dish of roasted fennel in March? Suddenly you find yourself searching for ingredients that are most definitely not in season, and therefore not local. The easiest way to eat local is to rethink our meal planning using in-season produce as the inspiration for our creative impulses. When zucchini season is upon us, it should become the point of departure for our meal ideas. A multitude of variations on a theme suddenly appear, allowing us to choose to serve up summer squash in a salad, a frittata, on the grill or in a quiche. By consciously organizing our meal plans along these lines (i.e. based on available seasonal produce rather than on arecipe in a vacuum), we give ingredients from our local farmers the opportunity to shine. When you’re registered for an organic CSA basket, it’s easy : every week (or two) you get fresh-harvested vegetables which are the natural starting point for all your meals.
3. Become informed
There are many sources of information available to help you find out more about local, seasonal, foods – including how to use them in recipes and where to find them. For starters, here are three such sources, all published in 2020. By turns informational, inspirational and downright practical, they will allow you to expand your knowledge of food while choosing to eat local, more easily and more often. What’s more, two of the three books are actually written by women family farmers!
• Cuisiner sans recettes - A resilient food guide by Véronique Bouchard (Ferme aux petits oignons), Écosociété, October 2020.
• La saison des légumes, by Marieve Savaria (Les Jardins d'Ambroisie), self-published, September 2020.
• Mangez local!, by Julie Aubé, Les Éditions de l'Homme, june 2020.
PS : A random draw of these books has been organized by the Family Farmers Network to celebrate the organization’s 25th anniversary, find out more!
4. Choose creativity over convenience
The global food system has made access to everything, always, the norm. This embarassment of culinary choices may make local, seasonal options seem restrictive or inconvenient. In truth, it’s all about attitude: it is up to us to seize the call of the seasons as an irresistible opportunity to exercise our creativity! Figuring out what do you with your white turnips seems like a major inconvenience? Asking your farmer for inspiration, chatting with fellow foodies at your pick-up location, or leafing through cookbooks and parsing through online recipes are so many ways to unleash your creativity as the growing season unfolds. Perhaps you’ll make the best turnip salad ever, add turnips to barbecued kebabs or just enjoy raw turnips with your favourite dip. Taking action means embracing the harvest calendar as an open invitation to experiment, to unleash your creativity and to vary your menus in keeping with the changing seasons.
5. Flex your green thumb
Depending on your particular circumstances, grow something edible in your backyard (or the backyard of a friend or a family member), on a balcony or in a community garden. It doesn’t get much more local than that! If you feel the urge, try growing a few vegetables and garden herbs – not only to complement your CSA basket, but also (and more importantly) to make you all the more admirative of, and grateful for, your farmer. Gardening will make you hyper-aware of all the work, care and knowledge that goes into growing food. Growing food of your own will breed both humility and respect. Moreover, if you have your children partake in your gardening project, they will be exposed to the miracle of life, from seed to vegetable, as well as to the origins of food, and to the fact that food is precious, something to be cared for, not wasted, and valued.
6. Make provisions
Taking action to eat locally year-round means benefiting from the seasonal bonanza not only to enrich our daily fare but also to make provisions for the off-season. There are well-known techniques (e.g., freezing) which can easily be optimized. But then there are other techniques which require a bit more expertise such as canning, drying or lactofermentation. Developing vegetable preservation reflexes and skills is a means not only of building provisions for the long winter months, but also of managing those occasional (and sometimes overwhelming) periods of excessive bounty. Too many greens, for example, can be a great excuse for cooking and freezing a variety of pestos, green soups or vegetable tarts – so many dishes which can be enjoyed with gusto later in the year.
7. Take to the fields
In addition to meeting your farmer at your basket pick-up location, try to seize the opportunity, if and when it presents itself, to partake in activities at the farm. Get to know where your produce comes from, deepen your relationship with your farmer and increase your feeling of being locally grounded. You can also meet up with your farmer at his/her farm boutique or public market farm stand. Summer and fall are the time of year to venture out on country roads, visit with farmers, harvest u-pick produce, discover markets, enjoy a farm picnic and shop local while you’re at it. In sum, practice the art of joining practicality and pleasure.
8. Keep your eyes and ears open
Family farmers never cease to amaze us as we rediscover local flavours we thought we knew already…and to surprise us, too. Did you know that several of them grow local ginger? Others offer small fruits and berries which they either grow themselves or add to their baskets compliments of other organic farmers. Quebec table grapes, for example, are delicious. Some farmers offer lacto-fermented vegetables, others eggs from their hens, others still bouquets of farm-fresh cut flowers. Be aware of all the ways in which you will be invited to take action and to make local food a shared priority. Read your farmer’s newsletter, follow your farm (and other farms – why not?) on social media, participate in workshops, read, share, listen…with eyes and ears wide open, you’ll realize that you’ll find inspiration everywhere!
Julie Aubé is a nutritionist, editor, public speaker and author with a two-fold mission. Firstly, she seeks to connect food consumers with the inspired and inspiring people who provide access to quality local food. Convinced that associating stories, faces and landscapes to food fosters solidarity and makes us more curious, aware and respectful, she invites people to seek out opportunities to better understand the agriculture that feeds us. Inevitably, that creates an urge to fill our plates with meaningful flavours, and to ensure we do so – the second part of her mission – Julie strives to enable and inspire consumers to embrace local food more often, year-round.