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Archive for April, 2009

Over the next few months, I’ll be lucky enough to follow strawberry season north, as we go from Alabama, through New York and Massachusetts, to Vermont, where we’ll look forward to going to the strawberry festival at Cedar Circle Farm in Thetford.  Here in Auburn, we had our first local organic strawberries yesterday, from Miles Berry Farm, in Baxley, Georgia.  Jack found a Siamese twin:

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Kids love strawberries, and for that reason, it’s particularly important to buy the organic ones.  Strawberries are at the top of the list of “the dirty dozen”—the fruits and vegetables most likely to be contaminated with pesticide, herbicide, and fungicide residues.  Here’s what Cindy Burke writes, in her meticulously researched book To Buy or Not to Buy Organic:

Some organic growers joke that conventionally grown strawberries are so full of chemicals, you could grind them up and use them as pesticide.  But pesticides are no laughing matter.  Sixty-five different pesticides, fungicides, and herbicides are registered for use on strawberries.
Strawberries are the most chemically intensive crop in California. Most commercial strawberry growers use methyl bromide, a toxic, ozone-depleting chemical, to eradicate all fungus, nematodes, microorganisms, and weeds, effectively killing every living thing in the soil where strawberry plants are grown.  For the remaining growth cycle, the berry plants are drip-fed chemical fertilizers.  Because methyl bromide can cause poisoning, neurological damage, and reproductive harm, the EPA classifies it as a Toxicity Category I compound, which is a classification reserved for the most deadly substances it regulates.
Nonorganic strawberries are highly likely to contain pesticide residue after harvest.  When the Pesticide Data Program releases its annual list of produce samples with residues that exceed tolerance levels, strawberries appear more often than any other fruit or vegetable. (84-5)

Wow!

Perhaps the best way to enjoy (organic!) strawberries is just to bite into them and slurp up the juice.  During rhubarb season, clearly, it’s pie time.  When I visited Spain in high school, the three sisters in my host family ate strawberries and cream for dessert every day.

But strawberries can be delicious additions to savory fare as well.  A classic salad consists of arugula tossed with goat cheese, strawberries, and a tangy vinaigrette.  A surprising appetizer can be made with a variation on this theme.  Here’s a little recipe:

Toast thin slices of baguette and drizzle a few drops of olive oil on them.
Spread goat cheese on the slices.
Top with thin slices of strawberry and a few leaves of rosemary.

When I make this later today, aside from the bread and olive oil, everything will be local. I’ll use my Georgia berries, goat cheese from Fromagerie Belle Chèvre in Elkmont, Alabama (217 miles away), and the rosemary Jack and I planted out back.

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The Locavores of the San Francisco Bay area (www.locavores.com) define locavorism as eating food that comes from within a one-hundred-mile radius of home.  Having lived there, I know the bounty and variety of sustainably raised food that can be procured within that radius—including everything from lamb to Tomales Bay Sweetwater oysters, and from goat cheese to Meyer lemons.  Many locales are much more limited when it comes to locally-produced food, so I prefer to think of the radius as more of an ellipse that can wobble this way and that, embracing the cherries or chicken from a bit farther afield.

Here’s an example of the ellipse philosophy in practice.  When we lived in Chestertown, Maryland, I belonged to a food co-op.  Once a month, we’d unload cases of food in Jenn Hicks’ garage, and divide it up.  One item I always purchased was chicken.  This was not just any chicken, but the most chickeny tasting chicken, which was sustainably raised by the Amish community in the region.  I dream about the taste of that chicken.  Here in Auburn, I haven’t been able to find local chicken, so I stretch my locavore-ellipse to reach Springer Mountain Farms in Georgia, 190 miles away. Their chicken is delicious and sustainably raised; the farm is also the first chicken farm in the world to be certified by the American Humane Association.  It is worth those extra food-miles.

Another kind of stretch, or trade-off, can be made for local food that isn’t certified organic.  For example, Auburn University’s meat sciences program runs a shop, behind which is a sloping green hill where black steers stand around munching grass and swishing their tails.  The shop sells grassfed beef, pork and student-made spicy pork sausage, and eggs.  None of these products are certified organic by the USDA, but they couldn’t get much more local.  My house is about a mile away.
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It’s strawberry season in southern Georgia, so I stretched my ellipse yesterday when I bought a pint of organic berries at my local natural food store, Dayspring.  The strawberries came from Miles Berry Farm, in Baxley, Georgia, about 240 miles away from Auburn.  To hear more about these berries check out my strawberry post.

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