For years, I’ve had friends asking me to write about a very large, overarching aspect of my life: my need to preserve food grown locally as a means to support my local farmers and in turn, fair worker and environmentally responsible practices. And for years, I’ve countered that any simple Google search will show a huge number of other people doing exactly that (so many mason jars). I've started this website to compile my current efforts with the knowledge I gained while in Chicago. Food begets memories and my food has become a common reminder that I’m living with a little bit of my head and heart in two cities (Chicago - my former home and Minnesota - my current one).
When I eat a frozen blueberry now, in October, I still remember crying over them back in August when I had to find the time to freeze them despite feeling weighed down by a really sad first visit back to Chicago, family trauma, and news that the job I moved away for was probably ending. But, I taste and recall visiting a blueberry farmer in Michigan in spring 2014 and learning the berries from each shrub are established before fall the prior year. And I think of the 61st Street Farmers Market I managed in Woodlawn and feeding almost-bad berries to the chickens with youth from Blackstone Bikes last summer. I think of Chicago and the food community I miss. In other words, food body slams your emotions, and it’s not just the berries that do it.
Since moving to Minnesota in June, almost every piece of produce I touch reminds me of the Michigan, Wisconsin, or Illinois farmers that I knew before I moved. Recently, it was when I frantically realized I needed tomatoes before they vanished from the local farmers market. The farmer I got them from forced me to take a 25-lb box of tomato seconds because “they’ll just go bad anyway” - making me recall the time in 2013 when I hauled 80-lbs of tomatoes home on my bike.
I had a foul language laden freak out in June when I found out that peaches and stone fruit aren’t available in Minnesota at most direct from farmer venues. The local Co-Ops carry commodity organic produce from California or Mexico, even when local farmers are growing them and often these same items are rotting in the fields because they can’t find a buyer. (The rationale here being a barrier of existing logistics and lack of consumer awareness that they can’t have everything they want 100% of the time, so the stores would rather purchase from suppliers they know will have the product).
But, then there are celebrations that solidify my decision to move too. Like finding out rhubarb is basically an all you can eat buffet in Minnesota, from spring to late fall (guess what y’all are getting for Christmas). Or how small farmers are supported through like-minded associations that foster culturally significant practices and foods. And the deep validation and celebration of finding projects to join that are exciting and would never have found me if I hadn’t already been here working alongside proactive organizations in an area where regulations aren’t created out of fear of the unknown.
There are some amazing food projects starting out and I’m really happy to be part of them and share them on this site. If you had told me last November that within a year I would be back in Minnesota and writing about food as a metaphor for navigating relocation and professional/personal whirlwind, I would be sending you a large chunk of money right about now to make good on a bet that you were wrong.
Last year’s Kim Werst would have also argued to anyone who would listen that maintaining transparency and a connection to where one’s food comes from, along with making it accessible financially could be a reality, given that a person took the time to prioritize and budget accordingly. That’s still true. However, I want this post to end with an acknowledgment of the privilege my recent background held in that belief and set the tone for this site as a resource and sharing platform and not a tool for convincing others to feel how I do. This move, away from my weekly exposure to farmers I knew and loved and into a world as a consumer only, has reiterated to me the great deal of time and money it takes to stick to my convictions. With the cooler temperatures moving in, and a solid 15% of my preservation plan left to complete, I like the idea of starting at this time of year. So here we are.
Stay tuned and go hug your local farmer for me. They grow your future food memories with love and at this time of year, they’re real tired.