This installment of Sustainabites was supposed to be a simple guide to sustainable dining terms like pasture-raised, grass-fed or humanely-raised meats. After speaking with Ann McGinnis, the Eastern Region Program Assistant at Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture (PASA), I realized this was not as easy of a task as I initially imagined.
There are many pieces that make up farming: land and water management, livestock’s diet and living conditions, worker’s conditions, pest management, crop origin and biodiversity, slaughterhouse and processing practices, environmental impact and use of artificial additives (antibiotics, hormones or preservatives) in crops and livestock. Unless certified by a third party, most food labels are self-reported, leaving consumers with lots of gray areas and questions about their foods. Ann’s recommendation for solving the puzzle of our complicated food system is simple—get to know your local farmer.
“What we recommend when we talk to people is it’s not enough to just read the labels. It is really important you get to meet the farmer where your food is coming from and even better yet go see the farm,” said McGinnis. “A lot of the farmers we work with love having people on the farms. They want people to understand how their food is being raised.”
Low and behold, such an opportunity arrived in my inbox that same week, Greener Partner’s “Eating Seasonably with Sarah Groat” class. The class began with Sarah Grout, Greener Partner’s Education Garden Manager, guiding participants through the farm’s 90 acres to their heated hoop houses.
During the scenic walk, students in this intimate class asked questions about preparing and eating winter foods like turnips, potatoes, squash, rutabaga, beans, carrots, parsnips, cabbage, radishes and root vegetables.
“The true meaning of sustainability? Being economically feasible, socially responsible and environmentally sound. Eating from South America is not any of those. To travel thousands of miles on boats, trains and cars uses a lot of natural resources,” explained Sarah during our walk.
“Spinach from thousands of miles away uses a lot of preservatives and every day that the spinach is traveling is a day that its nutrition is lost. By eating locally, you are putting that nutrition into your body sometimes within days or even hours of having vegetables and fruits harvested.”
After we strolled through rows of kale, Swiss chard and bunching onions, everyone picked their arugula straight out of the ground. Sarah finished the class by going over simple seasonal recipes. Sarah explained that our bodies are in tune with the seasons. Heartier foods keep us fueled through winters. Fruits and veggies are lighter and easy to digest in the summer.
Chester County has plenty of ways to support your local farms and the local economy. Using Buy Fresh, Buy Local fresh food finder, I found 530 farms, farmers markets, farm stands, restaurants and CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture) within 40 miles of West Chester.
For more information and events about eating seasonally and supporting your local farmer visit: Buy Fresh, Buy Local PA, PASA, Philly Homegrown, Locavore Network, Greener Partners, Food Alliance or pick up copies of “The Locavore’s Handbook,” “From Asparagus to Zucchini” or “A Celebration of Local Foods.”