Dining

Year-round Locavore

With spring's crops—and soon summer's—upon us, it's time to plan ahead.

May 2009

It's close to dinnertime and Longmont resident Valerie Wilson is performing what I call the Mom's Hail Mary pass: Opening the freezer door, standing back to survey the field, and hoping for a touchdown. Like many of us, her freezer is overflowing, but that's where the similarity ends. Instead of half-eaten gallons of ice cream, Wilson pulls out homemade eggplant Parmesan and sliced peaches for pie, both prepared last summer with local organic produce.

In other words: Wilson, 7. Ordering out, 0.

Though she doesn't define herself as such, Wilson is a locavore, a person who prefers to eat homemade food over processed; local over shipped; farm-fresh over factory. This movement has grown in popularity over the past few years, fueled by voices like Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore's Dilemma, and Barbara Kingsolver, whose Animal, Vegetable, Miracle chronicles her year of living off the land. But it's far easier to eat locally in the summer when farmers' markets are overflowing. How is one to walk the walk, not just talk the talk, the rest of the year?

Like the ants from Aesop's fable, locavores plan ahead and put away food for the winter. In the summer, for example, Wilson is in the kitchen by 7 a.m., working until midafternoon to put up as many as 14 pints of whatever's in season. In addition to her pressure canner, she owns a hot-water bath canner, a dehydrator, a vacuum sealer, two refrigerators, and a commercial-size freezer, all of which allow her to eat local organic sweet corn, onions, peaches, potatoes, beets, green beans, zucchini, eggplant, squash, pumpkin, tomatoes, apricots, cherries, and apples all winter long.

But what about the rest of us who don't have the time or foresight to can, dehydrate, or freeze? For some items, like potatoes, onions, and winter squash, there's always Vitamin Cottage or Whole Foods. Both stores are committed to the local movement and maintain a network—albeit a much smaller one than in summer—of local growers. But when that supply runs out, it's time for dedicated locavores to make hard choices.

Lisa Warshafsky, whose interest in locally grown produce was piqued by Kingsolver's book, says that now she pays more attention to labels than ever. Apples from New Zealand? Back in the bin. Mangoes from India? Ditto. But this Denver mother of two is realistic, too. "I haven't gone so far as to say we can't eat bananas, because my daughter loves them so much."

Even if her freezer isn't full like Wilson's, Warshafsky is thinking like a locavore, learning to compost and joining Monroe Organic Farms (a Colorado community-supported agriculture farm, or CSA). She's also tried her hand at canning, and dreams of eventually growing more of her own food. She's on her way, even if she's just beginning to walk the walk.