Locavore Family Lives Off the Land
The "100-mile diet" keeps the focus on local foods.
photos by luigi ciuffetelli
Concerned about genetically modified foods and vegetables grown with pesticides, Jason Barrowcliff began buying organic produce at the supermarket. But with two acres of land around his Oxford, Pa., home, he soon decided to take the DIY approach. He started with six 3-by-16-foot raised vegetable beds. He then added 28 3-by-14-foot plots and next came a 1,024-square foot space for pumpkins and watermelons. The “farm-ette” has become a family affair. Wife Lauri and their daughters Sarah, 9, and Samantha, 7, pitch in to plant, water and pick. “I just love to dig in the soil, see things grow and then taste it,” Barrowcliff says. Given that he is the chef de cuisine at Brandywine Prime Seafood and Chops in Chadds Ford, Pa., taste is a major motivator. “I grew broccoli this year, and I’ll never buy supermarket broccoli again,” he vows. Even freshly picked celery tastes better.The chef grew so much produce this year that he sold the surplus to Brandywine Prime, allowing fellow chefs Tim Smith of Twelves in West Grove, Pa., and William Hoffman of The House of William & Merry in Hockessin to benefit from his green thumb, too.
Although Barrowcliff might not define himself as one, he is a locavore, a consumer who seeks to primarily eat food grown within 100 miles of home. (In Barrowcliff’s case, it’s more like 100 feet.) Locavores know no state boundaries. In Delaware, their circle might encompass Maryland, Pennsylvania and southern New Jersey. Some restrict the growing area to 60 miles; others take a regional approach—anything from northern New Jersey into Virginia is fair game. Yet, being a locavore in this region has its challenges, namely a change of seasons that makes it difficult to only find locally grown products in cooler weather. What’s more, while the number of farmers markets has increased, finding locally grown chicken and beef might force northern Delawareans to hoof it downstate or into Lancaster. Pure Harvest Farm in Milton, for instance, sells pasture-raised chicken and eggs. The family-run TA Farms in Camden-Wyoming sells local turkey—fresh at Thanksgiving and Christmas and frozen sausage and ground meat throughout the year—beef and pork. Tappahanna Creek Farms near Georgetown sells acorn-fed Berkshire and Heritage breed pork at the Historic Lewes Farmers Market.
But for those who even just dabble in the “100-mile diet,” the rewards are worth the extra effort. There are several reasons why consumers support local growers. Like Barrowcliff, some are concerned about their family’s health. Amy Watson Bish of Wilmington purchases local honey because it reportedly can help build immunity to local allergens. Many want their food to be as free from chemicals as possible, and buying from local farmers opens a dialogue about growing methods. “A relationship develops between the farmer and the customer,” says Mike Fennemore, whose family owns Fifer Orchards, based in Camden-Wyoming. Environmentally aware consumers may also want to reduce their “carbon footprint”—the amount of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases released as the result of consumer choices. Buying strawberries only when they’re in season from Filasky’s Produce and Farm Market in Middletown, for instance, has a far smaller carbon footprint than buying fruit shipped from South America in winter. Commercially sold produce is often harvested before it’s ripe to reduce the risk of damage during shipping. By the time it reaches the grocery store, it’s ripe or nearly ripe. But the process can affect the flavor.
“You can taste the difference between fresh food and food that’s traveled 3,000 miles,” says Ruth Linton, whose family has owned Highland Orchards in Brandywine Hundred since 1832. Currently, three generations work the farm. Karen Miller of Wilmington, who was loading up on produce at Highland Orchards recently, can vouch for that. “Everything was so darn fresh and crisp,” she says. “I came home and made a kitchen sink salad—what I call raiding the larder and using everything but.” The next morning, she combined sliced tomato, basil, spinach, watercress and mesclun, and topped it with a fried egg. (Highland has chickens on site.) Snap peas went into risotto primavera. “I’m having so much fun experimenting with my veggies,” Miller says. She’s not alone. Members of Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) pay a fee to receive a “share” of the harvest. They often have no idea what their box or bag will contain, adding a “Chopped” element of surprise. “We love the mystery each week,” says Barb Bullock of Wilmington. “I am looking at new recipes each week to use up nearly everything.” As a CSA member at Highland Orchards, Watson Bish sampled produce she might otherwise have ignored in the supermarket. “What is kohlrabi and what the heck do I do with it?” she remembers thinking. “I learned to like beets again. I’d liked them canned but never had them fresh.”
A few CSAs, including Highland Orchards, run all year. Others operate only during the growing season. Fifer Orchards’ CSA, for instance, is open for 18 weeks. Don’t wait until spring to sign up, though. Most CSAs will open registration for 2015 this fall. When shares are gone, registration is closed. “Knowing how many customers I will have helps me prepare a sound business plan,” explains Pam Stengall-Roberts, owner of Calvert Farm in Rising Sun, Md., which has an active CSA. “I have to buy boxes, twist ties, rubber bands—everything that affects the bottom line. I have to know how much space I need on the truck.” Your choice may depend on the drop-off or pick-up spot. Calvert Farm has drop-off locations from North Wilmington to inside the Baltimore Beltway. Offices, which join together to get CSA shares delivered, are popular drop-off points for both Calvert Farm and Highland Orchards. Calvert Farm also drops off at Harvest Market Natural Foods in Hockessin and, when it’s open for the season, Marini’s Produce in Brandywine Hundred. Harvest Market is a drop-off location for six CSAs, including Lancaster Farm Fresh, which also sells wholesale to the market. Other farmers, including SIW in Chadds Ford, only have pick-ups at the farm stand. Even so, SIW members get 10 percent off anything they buy at the stand.
Keep in mind that not all the items in a CSA may come from the sponsoring farm. Calvert Farm is a cooperative, meaning it incorporates products from other farmers, particularly those who grow produce like sweet corn, which requires acres to grow, or specialty products, such as mixed baby greens. That’s also true at Highland Orchards. “We try to keep it within 30 miles,” Linton says of the produce. CSAs differ in other respects. Some include mostly vegetables. Fifer Orchards is a fruit grower, so peaches, in particular, are well represented. Highland offers a fruit-only CSA and a meat-only CSA with products from Delaware-area farmers and 4-H clubs. Lancaster Farm Fresh has bread, egg and chicken options. A CSA is not for everyone, Fennemore acknowledges. Many members find that their share has more than they can use. (Some CSAs, including SIW, offer half shares.) Natural food stores like Harvest Market, however, also are known for organic produce, and going both organic and local can be an issue for locavores. Delaware is not hospitable to some organic products, namely fruit. “We live on the East Coast, which is humid and that means fungal diseases,” says Bob Kleszics, owner of Harvest Market Natural Foods in Hockessin. “It’s incredibly difficult to grow good-looking organic produce on a commercial scale.” But there are local farms that do. Calvert Farm is certified organic by the Maryland Department of Agriculture, and many of the farmers in its cooperative follow organic practices. That’s also true of the Lancaster Farm Fresh cooperative. Good Earth Market & Organic Farm in Ocean View, which has a Rehoboth Beach satellite store, is a certified organic farm and garden with free-range chickens. Because they wanted more organic foods—as well as increased flexibility—Francine and Matt Stone of North Wilmington elected to stop their CSA membership in favor of Door to Door Organics, which delivers seasonal organic and local produce to the house.
“You can modify, change and suspend your order,” says Francine Stone, who checked the “local” option to get as many area goods as possible. (The business pulls from local farms primarily in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.) Door to Door Organics isn’t the only business bringing goods to the home. Washington’s Green Grocer delivers to certain zip codes, including southern Delaware and into parts of Dover. Owned by Lisa and Zeke Zechiel of Lewes, Green Grocer lets members augment their basic box with beef, chicken, pork, fish and seasonal specialty items, such as ramps. “We try to do local and organic whenever possible,” Zeke Zechiel says. “But when we can’t, we buy from the rest of the country as do most other folks.” Some items simply aren’t going to be available on a local level. Consider lemons, oranges and the bananas on the Zechiels’ kitchen counter. Zechiel says his children would be disappointed if he banished these tropical goods from the house. “We walk the walk as much as possible,” Zechiel says, “but you have to strike a balance.”
For more information:
Door to Door Organics
Good Earth Market & Organic Farm
Harvest Market Natural Foods
Lancaster Farm Fresh Cooperative
Washington’s Green Grocer