Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Guest Blog: My Sister Talks Local Food in NY

This week on Eat What You Grow my youngest Sister shares her experiences in New York at farmers markets and local farms:

I am a proud Washington native but I moved to New York two years ago when I landed an AmeriCorps VISTA Fellowship with Siena College in the Capital Region of New York. Upon first getting here, I judged this area pretty quickly. The boarded-up, vacant buildings were my first clue that it was once a booming industrial town and now it is a dying city. Most of this region's population is living at the poverty line or just barely over. Besides the local colleges and state office officials supporting the economy, there isn't much more to say for this area. That's what I saw and believed for a long time but now I don't think that is so accurate anymore. So what did I discover?

If you're at all familiar with Upstate New York, you know it is pretty rural. Rolling hills of green deciduous trees go on for miles and most of the land is owned by farmers. One of the biggest crops here is apples. Go to any given grocery store and you'll find freshly squeezed apple cider. At the local farms, you'll find apple cider donuts (some of the best donuts you'll ever taste).

One of my favorite local farms that sells apple cider donuts is Indian Ladder Farms. I have visited several times to not only get the delicious donuts but also to pick apples and I have also been to Bowman Orchards where I have picked strawberries. Yesterday, I got to visit a new farm called Samascott Orchards. It was a beautiful farm in Kinderhook, NY and I picked sour cherries, gooseberries, currants, and blueberries. I tried not to sneak in too many fresh berries off the trees and bushes, but they were so good and so unbelievably fresh. How can I ever go back to the grocery store? And just out of curiosity, have you ever seen a gooseberry at a grocery store? You have got to try one. Just a short drive out of the local cities and you'll find yourself in this rural paradise. It's hard to leave the countryside, but the great thing is, you still have access to it when you get back.

I found a way to access local farm produce at my local farmers' market in Troy, New York. The Troy Waterfront Farmers' Market is every Saturday all-year-round. You can find just about everything there like fresh produce, baked goods, condiments and preserves, sweeteners and sweets, flowers and plants, household items and artisan wares. My favorite items have always been the rare alfalfa honey, freshly made pesto, milk from Battenkill Creamery, and the homemade soaps. I often go there with no agenda but just to take in all the wonderful sounds and smells of the market. For many years in a row, this market has been named the best in the Capital Region.

You can really tell that our local cities support local gardening and farming. At many of the local farmers' markets, credit cards and food stamps are accepted, people are using reusable bags and containers, and community members are finding vacant plots of land and repurposing them for community gardens. There is a movement here and it is inspiring. Maybe this area isn't what it used to be in terms of economic wealth and power of the industrial period, but it is a great example of establishing city-farm relationships and supporting ways to get fresh, local produce into the homes of our communities. Whether you grow your produce in a local community garden, buy it at the farmers' market, or drive a short distance to pick fresh crops yourself, the Capital Region of New York is a great example of the growing national movement to eat fresh foods grown locally. Join the movement and find your nearest farmers' market or family farm and you won't be disappointed!

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