Here in the mid-Atlantic it’s betwixt and between at the farmer’s markets. The early spring and winter crops are gone, and the summer crops are not yet in. Tomatoes did appear this weekend in abundance, but they are greenhouse grown and I’m waiting. Many varieties of strawberries remain in season. I froze two quarts today at $6.00 a quart, cheaper than Driscoll’s at Fresh Fields and cheaper than most organic frozen berries.
One Spring favorite is still available — asparagus. Native to the western coast of Europe and some part of Africa and Asia, it now grows all over the world. Asparagus can be found growing wild along country roads. I used to pick it around Dixon, New Mexico, along the northern stretches of the Rio Grande, where long, slender asparagus shoots appeared each spring.
Europeans have eaten it from at least Roman times, when asparagus appeared in Apricius, a collection of Roman recipes from the 4th or 5th century. We also know it was cultivated by the ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans and is pictured on an Egyptian frieze dating to 3000 BC.
I broil or grill asparagus very quickly after brushing it with a little olive oil and then serve it simply with freshly squeezed lemon juice. But here’s an alternative that I call Wild Asparagus Salad. The asparagus doesn’t really have to be wild, but this salad works best with the the narrow, long stalks I found in my farmer’s market this weekend.
Ingredients for Wild Asparagus Salad
1 bunch asparagus
2-3 cloves of garlic
1 tablespoon olive oil
Spring salad mix for four people. Frise is particularly appropriate with asparagus because it’s light green color contrasts nicely with the darker green asparagus and the slightly bitter flavor contrasts with the milder and sweeter asparagus, but any tender greens will work.
2 tablespoons vinaigrette
A few thin slices of parmesan cheese.
Cut the asparagus into 1 inch pieces.
Mince the garlic.
Heat the olive oil in a skillet and add the garlic. Cook until the garlic begins to turn brown and add the asparagus, except for the tops. Saute quickly for two or three minutes, add the tops and cook another minute then remove and cool to room temperature.
Dress the salad with the vinaigrette and serve on four plates. Add the asparagus to each salad plate and garnish with thin strips of parmesan cheese and fresh pepper.
This week’s rant
I’ve been thinking about the local food movement. More and more people understand that our current system of food production and distribution is broken, but few writers have offered reasonable alternatives Joanna Blythman in an op ed piece in the London Guardian sums up what many of us believe, “… if we want our food to be truly safe, we must recognise that this can only be delivered by a radically different model of food and agriculture, one that is based on the largely untapped potential of small-scale, much more regional production and food distribution.” ]http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/jun/05/ecoli-farming-food-production
Blythman and others make a compelling argument for local systems, and I’ve seen many articles on various experiments that encourage local production and distribution of quality food from farmers’ markets and buying clubs to joint ownership experiments and underground food fairs.
The key question is whether or not these experiments can be scaled up to provide enough food for everyone, particularly in the world’s increasingly sprawling mega-cities. The mainstream wisdom argues that providing such quantities of food in such concentrated areas would be impossible without modern, commercial agriculture.
A localized food system would require huge cultural changes including legislation to encourage local agriculture and, let’s face it, a willingness to spend more of our budget on quality food. But if food could be produced and distributed locally, couldn’t other simple commodities be produced and distributed locally as well? Perhaps the cities would devolve, like Detroit, leaving room for local agriculture.
Once 40% of American workers were involved with farming. It’s doubtful that many farmers could generate enough profit each to live a modern life style. Most American farms were barely subsistent. But what about ten per cent?
Small scale, regional food production could encourage an anti-corporate, human economy. If independent farmers, local chefs using local food to prepare packaged food for busy urbanites (everything from breakfast cereals to frozen dinners), and the local services needed to process and distribute the food could work, why not a wider range of goods and services?
Has anyone done any real work on scaling up the local food movement?
Next week, some answers to that question. But what do you know? What are the economics of small farming in America today?