Of Pressure Cookers and Black Radish French Fries: How to Keep it Local in the Wintertime

By Adam Brock

With a million farmer’s markets, CSAs, and green restaurants starting up in the New York area, it’s getting easier and easier to eat locally – that is, between April and November. But what about during the dark, cold days of winter? Without all those local peaches and basil, it might seem like time to turn to Chile and California, but in fact there’s an abundance of great local food even in January – it just requires a different approach. I asked a bunch of my locavore pals how they dealt with the challenge, and was amazed with the feast of solutions they presented.

First up are some tips from Annie Myers of Thoughts On The Table:

  • If you eat meat (smartly, of course) there’s plenty of it this time of year. Check out: 3-Corner Field Farm (Karen sells at the Union Square Greenmarket) and DiPaolo Turkey (also at Union Square, and several other greenmarkets).
  • Root vegetables are in! And they’re my favorite, to be honest. beets, parsnips, turnips, carrots, onions, potatoes…are always good roasted with oil and salt, pureed thick or thin, boiled in soups, or made into spreads.
  • Use milk and cheese! Especially as part of recipes with the root veggies. The animals need a rest at some point during the year of course, but it’s not necessarily this one! And plenty of cheesemakers are making their winter cheeses. go to the Greenmarket, or to Saxelby Cheesemongers at the Essex Street Market, for plenty of local cheeses, and Ronnybrook and Evan’s Farmhouse Creamery for milk and yogurt.
  • Embrace the bread. Bakeries may not be using local grains, but I’m working on finding more of that, and in any case, it’s a good time of year to support your local baker. And there are always local jams and spreads available, preserved from the summer.
  • Greenhouse tomatoes are great. Expensive, yes, but just as good as the summer ones.
  • Can or pickle the root vegetables! And if you pickle beets, don’t put more than one or two cloves in the jar, like I did. You’ll get something that tastes like beet-shaped cloves.
  • Embrace local businesses. If it feels like local products aren’t plentiful enough for you, it’s still “locavore” to avoid large companies, brands, and mass-produced foods, and support artisan work (like the baker), rather than industrial machinery.

My friend Abby Rosenbaum seconds Annie’s thoughts on root vegetables and canning, and also suggests making the most of dried fruits and beans.

Andrew Faust, permaculturalist and founder of the Center for Bioregional Living, gives us this handy list of veggies to buy (and grow!):

  • All root crops: potatoes, garlic, turnips, celeriacs. Especially experiment with, say, black radish french fries, or rutbaga with your mashed potatoes.
  • For leaf crops: kale, collards, dandelion, chickories
  • Be starting mizuna, purple mustard, arugula and lettuce in indoor window boxes or pots.
  • Cabbage (fermented and fresh), carrots and beets

Finally, Kerry Trueman of Eating Liberally gives us a cornucopia of tips for buying and cooking local winter foods like a pro:

First, let’s put to rest the notion that the winter pickin’s at the Greenmarket are slim. OK, so there’s not much in the way of salad greens, but we are, in fact, blessed with an abundance of root vegetables, squashes, apples, pears, and the meat, dairy, and bread vendors don’t go into hibernation either.

Thanks to our globalized food chain, though, we’ve grown so used to an eternal summer of hothouse tomatoes and raspberries from Chile that everyone turns up their noses at turnips. And the sweet potato’s only invited to most American dinner tables once a year, on Thanksgiving—what a waste of a versatile, nutritious and tasty tuber. Other root vegetables I’m especially fond of are parsnips and beets— if you can find beets with the greens intact, you get two vegetables for the price of one, because beet greens are essentially the same as Swiss chard.

Winter produce does require a bit more planning than summer’s eat-it-now bounty; you have to buy your Bosc pears a few days beforehand and let them ripen, and most root vegetables are better eaten cooked than raw. On the other hand, you can buy a gorgeous heirloom squash and admire it for weeks or even months before making it into a soup or stew.

The Greenmarket’s obviously the ideal source for those looking to eat as locally as possible. But it does have its limitations; if you’re pursuing a predominantly plant-based diet for your own health as well as the health of the planet, you’ll want to include plenty of beans and whole grains in your diet, most of which are not produced locally. I have been able to find locally grown and milled corn meal, spelt flour, and buckwheat, but for other grains and beans I go to Integral Yoga, Life Thyme or Kalustyan’s.

There are some staples I end up buying at Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s, things like ginger, soy sauce, olive oil, lemons, canned fish and so on. But we strive to buy as much of our food from our local farmers as we possibly can. I’m more of a retrovore than a locavore, which is to say that I prefer the kind of food that pre-dates industrial agriculture—pasture-raised animal products, minimally processed foods, ideally from our own region whenever possible. No pears from Argentina or asparagus from Peru or garlic from China.

I go to the Greenmarket nearly every other day to bring our kitchen scraps to the Lower East Side Ecology Center’s drop-off site, so I’m in the habit of browsing the stalls and buying whatever looks good. I bring a list, but it’s best to be flexible—yesterday, my list called for red onions, blue potatoes, and garlic, none of which was available. So I came home instead with sweet potatoes, Brussels sprouts, and an acorn squash. It’s all good, and if you’re not sure what to do with it, the Greenmarket booth has pages of simple and
tasty recipes there for the taking.

The thing that makes it so easy for me to cook up all this produce is a life-changing—and, sadly, rather expensive—appliance; the new, improved pressure cooker (not to be confused with the ones that our grandmas used, which had a reputation for blowing their tops off.) I use mine two or three times a day and can’t imagine life without it. It’s the ultimate low-carbon cooker, because it lets you make all kinds of dishes in a fraction of the time they would take to cook conventionally. It’s a godsend for making grains, beans, soups and stews and cooks any kind of vegetable you can think of in just a few

The Greenmarket is definitely a streamlined operation in the winter, but I know several farmers upstate who are devising ways to extend their growing season with alternatively heated greenhouses and other innovations, so I suspect we’ll have more variety in the future. In the meantime, though, take advantage of all the treats the market has to offer: the magenta-pink watermelon radishes that taste almost like jicama; Adirondack blue potatoes; Hawthorne Valley’s jalapeno sauerkraut; fresh-baked cider donuts from any of the apple vendors, and so on. Just go to the Greenmarket with an open mind–you’ll be sure to find something delicious and filling.

photo credit: flickr/ianqui 



By Adam Brock

In a society obsessed with efficiency, the miracle of crisscrossing the planet in a matter of hours has become mundane. Every day, from Duluth to Dubai, millions of people shuffle through metal detectors, pack themselves into cramped metal tubes, doze off, distractedly watch a movie or two, and disembark, sore, bleary, and suddenly somewhere else. All in all, it’s a pretty depressing cultural dance: like so much else in the overdeveloped world, our contemporary paradigm of transporation is high on quantity and short on quality. We might be able to travel between any major city in a matter of hours, but that freedom comes at a dear cost – not only to our climate, but also our mental health and our sense of place.

This summer, I made the decision to stop flying altogether. When I explain my decision to people, I think most assume that I’m caught up in footprint mania, on some kind quest for carbon martyrdom. But while the emissions thing is indeed a part of my decision to stick to the ground, what’s more important is my desire to make long-distance transportation something that nourishes rather than drains me. I want to experience what it really feels like to get from place to place, to travel in a way that’s as much about process as product. Being able to take note of the subtle shifts in culture and landscape on the way from A to B gives me much richer sense of place when I get to my destination. What’s more, moving at a more human speed allows me the time to reflect on where I’m coming from and where I’m going – something I hardly ever get to do in my supersaturated life.

I’ve been practicing this philosophy of “slow travel” for a few years now, but I hadn’t made the explicit decision to avoid the airplane until this winter break, when I convinced a few friends from my hometown of Denver to take the train back from New York with me. I went into the ride expecting a certain dose of adventure, and there were certainly some hitches: a snowstorm on the way to Chicago stretched what should have been an 18-hour ride into a 23-hour one, and the circa-1981 seats were much better to look at than sleep in. But I also enjoyed great conversation, met some fascinating folks, and saw with fresh eyes a part of the country I’d long written off.

I’m fortunate that the trip I wanted to take was relatively simple and cheap to make on the ground. Of course, it won’t always be that easy: trains might be an underrated way to traverse the USA, but much of the travel we’re accustomed to can’t practically happen without the miracle of flight. From volunteering in remote African villages to attending business meetings thousands of miles away, the fact of cheap and easy air travel has opened up all kinds of doors for citizens of the overdeveloped world, and few people (myself included) would like to see those doors shut.

But whether the remarkable ease of mobility that aviation creates is a good thing or not, the reality is that it natural limits, filtered through policy and economics, won’t allow it to exist for much longer. Carbon legislation and ever-climbing fuel prices are all but certain to make air travel a luxury in the near future – and an un-PC one at that, like wearing a fur coat.

The implications, as they say, are vast, for the way we get around shapes our experience of the world. The successive transportation revolutions of the fossil fuel era laid the groundwork for a global society, enabling unprecedented migration and cross-cultural dialogue. The regeneration, in contrast, will bring about a rediscovery of the art of inhabitance. Grist reader naught101 made a good case for staying put in a comment a few weeks back:

I’d like to point out that it’s quite possible to spend decades in one place, and still not discover everything that’s within walking distance. And the biodiversity in your local ecosystems (assuming they’re not completely destroyed) is more complex than anything you’ll ever learn from travelling for a short period to any other ecosystem.

The fundamental answer to this question is another question: why travel?

Naught101’s question might be overdoing it slightly; I still believe in the value of experiencing a place fundamentally different from the one you’re used to. But his point remains: the end of easy aviation will challenge us to rethink what it means to explore the world around us. Perhaps we’ll a have a smaller menu of destinations to choose from, but we’ll be afforded the time to enjoy the journey – and the opportunity to rediscover the wonders that lie a bit closer to home.

photo credit: flickr/cjelli

Loose and Local: NYC’s Niche Green Networks

By Adam Brock

At Just Food’s Good Food Now! summit on Saturday, I attended a workshop session held by members of the Green Edge Collaborative, a newish organization that facilitates potlucks and eco-eatery tours around the city. Listening to the participants brainstorm ideas for future events, I couldn’t help but feel a little bit of deja vu – Green Edge seemed to be aiming for a cross between Green Drinks and Green Arch, with a little bit of Green Maps thrown in.

The experience keyed me into a trend in the New York environmental movement that seems both entirely obvious and completely novel: thanks in large part to the adhesive powers of the internet, the regeneration is creating a proliferation of loose, local communities centered around increasingly specific themes. These mini-networks exist half online, half in the real world, and are usually managed by one or two people in their free time. They’re multiplying at a dizzying pace, but it would be silly to think of them as competing with each other: as Annie noted the other day, maintaining diversity in the movement is key. Here’s a rundown of the NYCentric green collectives I’m hip to (it’s by no means comprehensive – please add your own in the comments):

Perhaps the best known verdy social networks in NYC are the two local chapters of Green Drinks, which host monthly gatherings at bars in both Manhattan and Brooklyn. Each meetup usually brings a few hundred young greensters to eco-conscious locales around town, though I can’t say they’re really my scene: the crowd tends towards the lime and profesh.

Another network that’s been getting some hype of a different stripe is freegan.info. These folks are best known for their propensity to dumpster dive, but there’s far more to the freegan philosophy than that: drawing wealth from the abundance of other peoples’ waste is just one strategy in their fight to extract themselves from the global capitalist system. On the freegan.info site, you’ll find the scoop on upcoming bike workshops, wild food foraging walks – and, yes, trash tours.

On a slightly more entertaining tip is nonsense, a weekly email of hipster happenings curated by Williamsurg resident Jeff Stark (also a co-host of the biweekly freegan feast grub). While many of the nonsense events don’t have a lick of greenness about them, the ones that do make it well worth the occasional read – this week’s email included a benefit auction for food security in Nicaragua, a gathering of the “trash worship society” and a holiday fair of local crafts.

Eating Liberally is an NYC sustainable food network run by Greenwich Village residents Kerry Trueman and Matthew Rosenberg. Eating Liberally hosts and promotes potlucks, food-related parties, and movie screenings, and the site’s got a terrific blog on sustainable ag.

The NYC chapter of the Peak Oil Meetup group has been hosting some thought-provoking talks as of late: see my posts on recent lectures by peak oilers Albert Bates and Daniel Lerch.

Finally, there’s the Green Arch Initiative, a google group managed by yours truly that promotes verdy activities around NYU and NYC at large. Green Arch was founded a few years ago as a student club, but is now largely an online presence that caters to NYU students and New Yorkers alike.

Druid Dunnit

By Adam Brock

Leave it to the modern-day leader of an ancient religious order to come up with some of the most penetrating social commentary on the big issues of our time. John Michael Greer’s Archdruid Report is something of an anomaly of the green blogosphere, foregoing the usual rapid-fire approach in favor of lengthy, incisive essays on such topics as the dangers of technocentrism and human development as seen through the lens of ecological succession – heady stuff, but well worth the few minutes they take to read. As the name implies, Greer is the leader of the Ancient Order of Druids in America, an ecospiritual group inspired by medieval Celtic traditions. But, somehow, that seems to be beside the point; Greer’s essays betray far more influence from thinkers like James Howard Kuntzler and Derek Jensen than new age spirituality.

The latest Archdruid Report, titled “The Age of Scarcity Industrialism”, draws an extended and compelling analogy between our culture’s response to the energy crisis and the five stages of dealing with death posited by Elizabeth Kübler-Ross in the 70s. According to Greer, we’ve passed through the stages of denial and anger, and are now entering the period of bargaining; I’ll leave his predictions of how this period will play out for you to read. Like any futurism, it’s necessarily full of lofty, unsubstantiated statements, but Greer’s writing makes it seem sensible enough – at least if you’re not already convinced that technology’s gonna save us.

RIP: the People Here Before Us

By Adam Brock

RIPI’m not quite sure what the PC term is these days for today’s holiday – I’ve been calling it Remembering Indigenous Peoples day, or RIP for short. But whatever you want to name it, the holiday has more significance for me now than it ever has before: the more I learn about native American societies, the more I’m astounded by their sophistication and seamless integration with the landscape around them. In honor of RIP Day, I’d like to share a couple of interesting facets of Native American cultures that I’ve picked up in the last year.

Malcolm Margolin’s essay “The Human-Nature Dance: Humans as a Keystone Species” explains the intricate system of land management employed by Native Americans on the West coast, a system that went completely over the heads of early missionaries:

According to the Europeans’ naïve view, Indians had lived in California for thousands of years without altering the land. But the landscape discovered by the newcomers was not what natural California looks like… to a large extent ‘primeval’ California was a landscape managed by human beings in a very particular and conscious way.

Just like us westerners, Native Americans fundamentally altered the environment around them. The difference is that, through the wisdom accrued from inhabiting a place for centuries, these alterations weren’t just for their own good but rather worked to the benefit of the entire ecology. Setting controlled burns, carefully managing animal populations, coppicing forests for basketry, and digging for roots in a way that propagated the plant, Native Americans acted as “keystone species” in their environment, masterfully orchestrating the complex web of life around them.

Another lesson to be gained from our continent’s original inhabitants is their emphasis on communalism. While we non-native Americans pride ourselves on our individual freedom, Native Americans prided themselves on their community. Their status as individuals was less important than their role within the tribe, an arrangement that encouraged societal stability. This humble acceptance of one’s place in the greater framework – something we might label today as a violation of human rights – was in fact the very backbone of Native American culture. Here’s a tongue-in-cheek passage from Edward Abbey’s classic Desert Solitaire:

The average Navajo suffers from a handicap more severe than skin color, the language barrier or insufficient education: his acquisitive instict is poorly developed. He lacks the drive to get ahead of his fellows or to figure out ways and means of profiting from other people’s labor. Coming from a tradition which honors sharing and mutual aid above private interest, the Navajo thinks it somehow immoral for one man to prosper while while his neighbors go without… shackled by such primitive attitudes, is it any wonder that the Navajos have not yet been able to get in step with the rest of us?

What’s the lesson to be learned here? The strange ways of the People Here Before Us might make interesting dinner conversation, but does it hold any practical value? Of course it does. No, we’re not about to start making all our furniture from willows in the backyard. But we’ll never be able to truly collaborate with nature until we develop a rootedness, a deep understanding of the natural patterns and flows in a given place. And we might not be letting go of capitalism anytime soon, but we could stand to learn a lesson or two from Native American traditions of mutual caring and modesty.

So, on RIP day, take a moment and reflect on who might have graced the place where you are a thousand years ago – and what they might have to say about what’s there now. The wisdom of the ancients is still all around us. It’s just waiting for us to listen.