The last year has done a great deal for exposing and demonstrating the weak links in the food supply chain Americans are reliant upon, but that reliance is a relative blip in our collective agricultural history. Prior to our parents’ generation, the word “farmer” didn’t conjure images of hazmat-suited hothouse workers, and “fresh fruit” didn’t come frozen and shipped from the furthest reaches to the local Walmart.
Rather, a farmer was your neighbor who knew they could count on you to buy in as much as you counted on them to provide a bountiful harvest. In fact, for many local Omaha restaurateurs, farmers are the business partners they develop trusted relationships with to provide the freshest, most flavorful dishes to their diners. So why should your kitchen be any different?
This month, we’re taking down your doubts one at a time and trying to make a farm loyalist out of Omaha’s Readers.
An easy answer for why big-box grocers have become the default for many American families’ weekly grocery run has to do with accessibility. You know what’s going to be on the stands, and you know it has been quality-controlled. You walk in, grab your four identical tomatoes and your pound of bleached baby carrots, and you walk out. But patronizing a local farm has become just as easy, with less risk of accidentally grabbing an assortment of junk food items and running up your bill as you go.
Signing up for a CSA share is as simple as following a farm website’s link, and picking up your produce means choosing from a list of convenient pick-up locations already near you. My family has loved our Wenninghoff Farms shares for the last nine years, and we have the option of choosing from pickup sites downtown or in Midtown, Rockbrook, Ralston, out west at 156th and West Dodge St. or at the farm in Irvington.
Many question whether they will have access to the same fruits and vegetables they’re able to find at the store, and the answer is a resounding … maybe. It’s true that you’re at the mercy of Nebraska weather, but farmers do everything humanly possible to provide shares reliably. The trade-off comes from the uncommon quality of each ingredient you purchase. You’ll find the richness of flavor varies wildly from store-bought produce, and you may struggle to ever use a waxy commercial bell pepper again after experiencing the difference.
You may also find that your children (or yourself) are not as vegetable-resistant as you thought. Try shucking peas with your kids at the kitchen table and see how quickly they start snacking on them. Many find they even become loyal to a certain farm and only like cucumbers from one or tomatoes from another.
Not only can your share include a delicious variety of produce, but many farms offer market shares that include meats, artisan cheeses, herbs, honeys, eggs, baked goods, jams and butters, or flowers.
We have come to blindly trust that the produce we find at the grocery store is safe, healthy and preapproved for human consumption. How we came to that conclusion is beyond me, as toxic and tainted produce has resulted in countless illnesses, recalls and some mortal injuries. When you pick up your CSA shares, they will likely be covered in dirt and still warm from the sun. For some, the dirt equates to “dirty.” For me, the dirt means “this box of berries isn’t covered in commercial solvents.” It’s a personal preference, but I suspect I’m far from alone.
If a carrot grows any way but straight on a commercial farm, it’s left in the field to rot. When the stock in your grocery store produce cooler begins to wilt, it’s instantly chucked. When produce grows a little ugly on a family farm, it goes into an “ugly produce” pile and is sold at a discount. This approach slows the skyrocketing price of food and curbs food waste. It also creates even deeper discounts on fresh, wholesome produce, making it more affordable for families in a bind.
Many food rescue programs rely on this ugly produce to supply fresh food to food banks, soup kitchens, food pantries and programs available to schools and churches in food deserts. Reducing waste cuts costs for us all, provides respite to landfills and creates opportunities for food security programs to continue providing healthful meals to those in need.
Where Do I Start?
While many of us missed the Omaha Farmers Market last year, Local Harvest has made finding your new favorite farm easy! Head to localharvest.org to find a CSA that suits your family. Sign up for full or partial shares and instantly show support to the local growers who keep Nebraska well-rooted in health and prosperity.