Locally Grown Goodness

Eating delicious food is one of our primal drives, and good food makes me very, very happy. That said, my definition of “good food” has been evolving quite a bit. I used to love munching treats like cheese doodles—and sometimes I still do—although in recent years I’ve stretched: I’ve opened up to a much wider variety of gastronomic delights.
It started when I was living in New York City and decided to quit smoking. It took me years, and when I finally quit, the effort was rewarded with a weight gain of almost 25 pounds—for the first time I needed to think seriously about my diet. But the onslaught of advice out there was conflicting, complicated and sometimes just weird. And I hate dieting. 
At the same time, a farmers market opened in my neighborhood. Every week, the street filled with aromatic fruit, gorgeous vegetables, delightful flowers and friendly farmers with commonsense guidance. Farmstands and farmers markets are a great place to hang out, do a little taste-testing, run into neighbors, meet new people, share recipes, even hear live music and get other locally made products. And being around all those amazing shapes, colors, scents and textures is exciting in a very elemental way—we are hard-wired by our genes to be happy around good, healthy nourishment. I was seduced. Soon I was carrying home bike-loads of juicy, fresh, seasonal bounty and inviting farmers, fishermen, foragers and other hungry pals over to my loft for enthusiastic group dinners. 
To find out what to do with produce I’d never cooked before, I researched. Michael Pollan’s books awakened me to the idea that a great diet can actually be simpler that what I had been eating. Eating and cooking with unprocessed ingredients (old school: “from scratch”) is surprisingly easy, and whole foods naturally have much more balanced nutrition (less of the bad stuff and more of the good) than food made in factories.  I doubled up on the amount of vegetables I ate, began discovering the world of whole grains (which are just as varied and interesting as pasta), and cultivated a sweet tooth for fresh fruit. 
Wonderfully, I have found that eating seasonal, locally grown food, is way more luscious than anything whipped up by food engineers. The freshest and ripest fruit and vegetables are also the most tasty because that’s when they’re at their peak of sugars, aromatic oils, and juice.  Local fruit and veggies are varieties that are grown for taste, fragrance and texture rather than a long shelf life or durability in shipping. 
I’ve discovered that when I stick to locally grown food I experience and enjoy the seasons of year way more. If I haven’t had fresh asparagus for ages, I look forward to the first asparagus of the season—it is exciting and precious. And later, if there’s plenty, there’s even time for a hedonistic gorge or two. Every season and every crop ripening is a little holiday to celebrate!
Over several years, making the shift to eating more local food changed my life. I had a posse of new friends in well-grounded places, an exciting culinary life and even though I had given up trying to lose those post-nicotine pounds, the extra weight had gradually just melted away and I felt fantastic. Since then, I've become compelled to share this wonderful “new” world and have become a dyed-in-the-wool (ahem) local farm and food activist. 
Now, I'm super-pleased to share that the Stick to Local Farms Cookbook, which I've been working on for years, is out this month. It's a good companion to Stick to Local Farms, an annual sticker adventure I launched in 2014 to share the fun and adventure of visiting farms in the Rondout Valley, a lovely part of Ulster County.