Blanche DuBois said it best: “I have always depended on the the kindness of strangers.”
There is no streetcar by my house, no bestial man yelling “Stella!” in my front yard, and no dark truths about humanity festering beneath my manic exterior (I don’t think), but I identify with Blanche’s closing sentiment all the same. While I generally consider myself a strong, independent woman fully capable of Getting Stuff Done, when I examine how I’ve gotten to where I am in life, I find I owe a large part of my progress to the kindness of absolute strangers, as well as friends and family. I should have expected it would be no different when it came to filling my kitchen with local foods.
I didn’t prep my kitchen for my 30 days of eating local. Yes, I was supposed to prep, but as they say, life happens. And I frankly was so freaked out by what I perceived as the monumental hurdle of trying to feed a household with only locally sourced food, I didn’t really want to start doing what I expected was the hard work for the project until I absolutely had to.
Which is, of course, why I found myself at the Rillito Park farmers market on the first day of the project, running horrendously late and desperately hoping to buy something–anything–like the ingredients I’m used to having on hand for cooking.
I experienced two revelations that day at the market. The first was that I realized how addicted I am to comparing “per ounce” price labels at the grocery store. Not being able to do that at the farmers market made me feel uneasy, like I might miss out on the best deal because there weren’t diminutive black numbers tucked onto the corner of every price tag (assuming there were price tags visable at all). However, I shortly overcame my objections to this difference when I reached my second realization: I felt like an idiot for not having ever gone to a farmers market before. Okay, so the layout was very different than in a grocery store, and not everyone accepted Visa. But – a lot of my old familiar foods were staring back at me, oftentimes at prices that were lower than or equal to what I would spend in the organic section of a grocery story. And this stuff was locally grown, by small farms with real people – people standing in front of me, betting their livelihoods that enough people would care to buy local that they could stay in business. There was no doubt: although it had taken a moment to get my bearings when we arrived, once I had relaxed a little, I was well on my way to soaring past “farmers market fan” and straight into “farmers market evangelist.”
The first day of the project also had me rapidly adding names of people I met that day to my mental “THANK YOU” list. The patience and casual attitude of the folks at Sleeping Frog Farms was a calming antidote to my usual harried rush, even with the added pressure of other vendors packing up shop as closing time loomed. Double Check Ranch walked us through their various cuts as Chad and I tried to imagine our week’s menu as quickly as possible, Larry’s Veggies allowed me to snatch already- packed up potatoes and onions out of the back of their truck, and Sue Wycoff of Grammy’s Garden guided me through her wares with a smile, pointing out the locally grown items so I didn’t waste time with the rest.
It wasn’t until I was driving back home from my first famers market experience that I realized I didn’t have any local oil to cook with – olive, animal fat or otherwise. I thought I remembered a mention of Arizona olive oil being available at St. Philips Plaza, so we decided to risk the baby’s wrath and turn the car around. My olive oil tip turned out to be badly remembered information: the Queen Creek Olive Mill shop in Tucson is actually located in La Encatada; Alphonso Gourmet Olive Oil and Balsamics is the shop inside St. Phillips Plaza. While Alphonso sells many wonderful olive oils, they do not carry any pressed from trees grown in Baja Arizona. Luckily, my mistake led to a very fortuitous meeting: Cindy Freeman and I got to chat inside Flying Leap Vineyard‘s store, and she revealed she had quite the stock of White Sonoran Wheat berries sitting in her house. She told me she had received them from Tom at LaoZona Farms, but she couldn’t get through all of them; would I like some? Of course I said yes, and departed from the plaza with a bottle of Flying Leap’s delightful 2013 Grenache and plans to meet Cindy the next day.
I also said yes when Phillipe Waterinckx of the Tucson CSA suggested that I schedule my CSA pickup for Wednesdays so that, when possible, he could send some of the surplus my way, having learned through his own experience just how quickly one can go through a CSA share when it’s all there is to eat. He sat with me for an hour discussing the ins and outs of eating local: what I would be able to source locally and what I wouldn’t, what recipes he keeps in his back pocket for local eating, what he’s found make good substitutes for common non-local ingredients.
This is just the short list of people whom I’ve met because of this project; my friend Mitchell heard about what I was doing and offered me a great deal on eggs from his backyard chickens. eBA managing editor Megan Kimble gave me a bag of whole wheat White Sonoran Wheat flour and lent me her bread machine for the length of the project to help me avoid any dreaded 2:00am bread baking sessions. My friends have been helping me seek out restaurants that feature locally sourced menu items, and my family has embarked on an attempt to buy local ingredients for our weekly potluck dinners.
Every one of these people has done something to help make the Local Girl Goes Local project a success. As Gary Paul Nabhan describes in his book Coming Home to Eat, the decision to eat local foods seems to lead to the discovery of a community of like-minded individuals, and I feel like this project is helping me define my community in a whole new way – as one that actively works to replace big brands and industrial farms with actual people, locally grown food, and a great deal of kindness.