A collection of seasonal recipes and stories

the local difference

Given my near-worship of all things agricultural, it’s entirely possible that I was born into the wrong century. Or perhaps I just read too much Little House on the Prairie as a child.

For weeks I looked forward to our local dairy’s annual open barn, an opportunity to tour the facilities, meet the cows, and eat ice cream.  This delightfully rural event had been noted on my calendar for over a month, and I’d mentioned it dozens of times to friends and family members.  Early last week I began a mental cow countdown and by Friday evening I was practically bursting with anticipation. “Guess what tomorrow is,” I eagerly prompted Chris.  But after three lame guesses (one of which he actually wasted on “Saturday”) it became clear that he’d forgotten all about the cows and he was therefore forced to endure yet another round of my open barn enthusiasm.  

Chris looked somewhat crestfallen.  “I thought you said I didn’t have to go,” he sighed.  Which I did, but it hadn’t occurred to me that he might not want to go.  I mean helloooooo? cows.  “You can see cows anywhere,” Chris pointed out.  “True, but these cows make our milk,” I countered. 

Which, of course, is the appeal of the locavore movement.  I mean, sure, local food tastes about a billion times better and you significantly reduce your carbon footprint and support your local economy by eating it, but for me the most compelling reason to eat locally is the connection forged between producer and consumer.  

After a summer filled with twice-weekly visits to the farmers market, I’ve gotten to know the farmers whose stands I patronize most frequently. I’ve chatted with them about the flavors and varieties of what they grow and about their growing practices themselves.  We’ve exchanged suggestions for preparing or freezing different sorts of produce and they’ve offered me tips to keep deer out of my garden (although “get a shotgun” is advice I’m not likely to follow).  My favorite farmer is a big fan of the nasturtium blossom pasta recipe I shared with him, and I rarely leave his stand without a free sample of something I simply must try.  All of this leaves me far more informed and connected than any trip to the grocery could.

Local eating, then, is mindful eating.  In the case of the cows, milk becomes not just a jug of white something you transport from the grocery’s cooler to your breakfast table, but a nourishing substance extracted with care from a large and gentle animal.  Buying milk from a dairy we’ve actually visited (because to be fair, Chris did go last year) assures us that the cows are well-cared for — an assurance I suspect most people would demand if they stopped to think about it, and supporting this dairy rather than some unknown corporate behemoth ensures the availability of humanely-produced milk in our area.

Plus the cows are really cute.  And you get to pet them and feed them and watch them being milked, and then you get to eat ice cream made from the milk of those very same cows, and you can tromp through the barns and around the fields talking to the cows and wishing that your boyfriend would let you get one, and if you are really really lucky one of those cows might like you enough to lick you.

Try all that with your lame-ass grocery store milk.

10 responses

  1. Mooo.

    September 28, 2008 at 11:02 pm

  2. Would this concept work as well for beef cattle? I’m not sure…

    September 29, 2008 at 2:37 am

  3. Megan

    Well no, not for me. The dairy also raises a few pigs (for meat) and I had high hopes of bringing home some bacon (ha ha), but as soon as I saw those piggies I knew I couldn’t eat them.

    However, for the less squeamish and/or sappy I think the overall concept could be easily applied to animals being raised for food. I don’t know that folks would want to actually pet them, but I think knowing how your meat is raised is just as important as knowing how your milk was produced.

    September 29, 2008 at 7:49 am

  4. On the farms that I grew up around, you absolutely ate animals that you raised from a baby. To tell you the truth, I don’t know how anyone can make their heart that hard. When my mom later remarried and moved to a farm and raised beef cattle, I asked how she could stand to sell calves that she had delivered and raised get sold to the slaughterhouse and she said “Well, I just don’t think about it.”

    Such a quintessential Midwestern answer.

    September 29, 2008 at 6:56 pm

  5. I love cows too – their licks are a good way to exfoliate your skin.

    September 30, 2008 at 10:54 am

  6. ahole activist alert:

    i realize not everyone is an animal lover, but why on mother earth do we cherish dogs and cats and murder cattle and pigs? because “we just don’t think about it.” why don’t we think about where our meat comes from? because its too horrible to think about and talk about.

    i recently went veg after reading Skinny Bitch (NY Times bestseller, http://www.skinnybitch.net) which describes what happens in those slaughterhouses. the book gave me nightmares, and at the very least i felt like if i couldn’t kill my own food i didn’t deserve to eat it and i assure you that i can’t. i let Doodle the Cat kill stuff, she’s naturally carnivorous, i’m not.

    one meatless meal a week saves money, your health (and conscience), the lives of animals over time, and the environment, yo.

    ahole activist alert: over.

    October 1, 2008 at 12:26 pm

  7. Hello ladies! Moo! Those cows are gorgeous. I wish I could meet the cow who gave the milk for the Tilsen Point cheese I’ve been getting at the market. I would give her a big hug. Depressing question: they eat the boy calves, right?

    October 1, 2008 at 3:55 pm

  8. Megan

    Vikki & Anne – I really believe that if people thought about where their food comes from they’d make very different decisions about what ends up on their plates, and I think this is especially true for meat. I can’t think of anyone I know who would willingly participate in the cruelty of factory farming if they allowed themselves to think about the whole process.

    Clare – Yes, the boy cows grow up to be hamburgers. For a peek into the sad lives of the male calves born to dairy cows, check out Portrait of a Burger as a Young Calf.

    October 2, 2008 at 8:07 pm

  9. Your Farmer’s Market is open twice a week? Lucky…

    October 4, 2008 at 11:50 am

  10. Marc

    If you are a vegetarian, you have the right to be squeamish abt animals raised for meat. However, if you eat any meat, it is MORE ETHICAL, MORE AWARE, MORE HONEST to accept responsibility for where that meat comes from.

    I am too squeamish (and hypocritical??) to butcher my own meat. However, I have made the following choices:

    1) I no longer eat anonymous, industrial meat or eggs;

    2) I do eat meat that has been raised by people I know; ie., local farmers, neighbors, 4H kids, etc Even if slaughter is not pretty, you know that the animal has been allowed to live a good life for that type of animal

    3) I have raised chickens for meat adn eggs. These birds have a longer, happier life than any industrial bird! My birds run around outside and act like chickens. Even the meat birds take 4 months to mature (because they are HERITAGE breeds). That pale, flabby “chicken” that you buy in the store was 6 WEEKS old at slaughter. It lived it’s brief life in a crowded, amonia-stinking confinement pole barn. It never saw the sun or ate a blade of grass. Even if you don’t care about the animals themselves; consider this: animals that are allowed to run outside & eat a healthy diet produce meat & eggs that are much healthier for you, the consumer, to eat. (See Mother Earth News study on free-range eggs.) end of sermon!!

    April 7, 2009 at 1:49 pm

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