By Tiffany Connolly
Like a fall gust of wind triggering the release of spring’s foliage, a routine trip to the Tahoe Food Hub set in motion a series of thoughts and ruminations that culminated in a new perspective about my place in our local ecosystem.
After enjoying a work lunch at Red Truck, I veered over to the Food Hub to grab whatever fruit was available to pack in my daughter’s lunch over the next few days. I generally prefer small markets, even if it means paying more, as I become overwhelmed and overstimulated in big box stores.
There was a stack of white peaches that were soft to the touch and bright in their enormity, and I was surprised by their size. I grabbed three of them, along with a bag of mixed greens, a wine-colored heirloom tomato, two red beets still covered in soil, and a few bright-orange carrots, their leafy green tops still attached.
The young man who rang up my order had an easy-going and genuine smile. I glanced at the chalkboard behind him, artfully expressing “What’s in Season.” I made this trip in September, and here is what the board said:
August: pears, peppers, heirlooms
September: eggplant, blackberries, winter squash
October: persimmons, pumpkins, apples
As I considered the bounty to come, I remembered an interview clip I recently saw of Anthony Bourdain, in which he said:
“… when we started thinking of food as convenient, meaning I can have mediocre strawberries 365 days a year … We got spoiled … and we lowered our standards. In Italy, you look forward to the month or so where you have fresh tomatoes. That’s unthinkable to an American … We stopped thinking about food as an important and pleasurable experience worth waiting for or worth working for.”
As I drove home with my fresh produce, the phrase “worth working for” stuck with me like a bit of sap that won’t seem to wash off. Questions formed: What if I worked harder for the food I ate? What if I committed to cooking with produce that is in season and available within a 150-mile radius of North Tahoe (the Food Hub’s radius for sourcing)? What would that look like, and what challenges would it present?
The biggest challenge for our family would be finding main dish recipes in which the seasonal local produce is the star while incorporating a non-animal protein. We are a primarily plant-based family; when my daughter was 5 years old, she learned about vegetarianism and where meat comes from and declared that it was off her plate. Besides the occasional salty slice of salami, she’s kept her word now for two and half years. I rarely eat meat, and I (almost) never cook meat at home.
Another hurdle would be obtaining the produce, especially with the Food Hub’s limited winter hours. However, New Moon Natural Foods partners with them to offer local produce, and their opening hours are more accessible.
Meal planning would come down to creativity and an openness to try new things, which seemed less of a challenge and more of an opportunity. The more I researched, the more my questions changed. Rather than asking, “What are the challenges?” I wondered, “What are the benefits?” It turns out the benefits far outweigh the challenges.
Choosing locally-produced provisions delivers an abundance of advantages for local communities, including our own. It supports our micro-economies, creating a circular and reciprocal relationship that benefits producers, small businesses, and families. In addition, the impact casts an even wider net. According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation — a charity committed to creating a circular economy — sourcing local, regeneratively-grown food is a significant step in combating climate change, as it alters the mechanics of the modern food system, which is linear and results in the exhaustion of finite resources, depletion of natural resources, and more.
The Food Hub only sources from farmers who practice regenerative farming practices. Their standards for vendors extend beyond produce — ranchers must consider the health of their soil and animals, and artisans that offer specialty products are required to source local ingredients. What a gem we have in our town — accessibility to food that makes a positive difference locally and beyond.
As the temperatures drop and evenings cool, as the sun slides below Donner Summit earlier every day, what better time to explore new recipes with my family? If summer is a time of outward expansion, exploration, and growth, fall is a time of coming home, finding solace through introspection, and putting a season of high output to rest. It’s the season of closure and finding warmth and connection and gratitude. As I gather with my family to share a fresh meal made with ingredients we’ve received as a result of the hardworking farmers in Placerville, Pleasant Grove, Grass Valley, and so many more, I am full of gratitude.
Enlisting my 7-year-old daughter’s help is an added bonus, as we’ll learn together: exploring recipes, learning about vegetables we may have never cooked with before, and reading about the farms that grew the plants we’re eating. The Food Hub provides an entire page about its producers, making the connection from farm to table that much stronger. I’m looking forward to shopping in a new way — picking the vegetable first and then finding a recipe to highlight its flavors. I don’t imagine every meal will turn out great, and I’m sure I won’t be able to buy only local all the time, but I will try my best.
Years ago, I picked up a refrigerator magnet titled, “A handy guide to eating with the seasons in Placer and Nevada counties.” It says that this fall, we’ll be cooking with apples, celery, fennel, figs, pears, potatoes, sweet potatoes, root vegetables, leeks, persimmons, and more. Winter bounty includes broccoli, garlic, onions, citrus, cabbage, pomegranates, and winter squash.
I’m excited to become part of a circular relationship with our neighbors down the hill, “working” for my food and revisiting my wild self to reconnect with the ecosystem right out my backdoor.