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Saturday, July 26, 2008

Growing Local

Daily cooking tasks always seem more pleasant and interesting in the summer when fresh, local produce is arriving in great abundance. It is no surprise that my culinary creativity peaks from July through September. In addition to the herbs, fruits and vegetables growing in my own small garden, we have been reaping the edible benefits of our purchased share in a local CSA called Rabbit's Dance Farm, located just off the beaten path in Cumberland, RI, near the the Massachusetts border. This lovely pocket of farmland is tucked away on a small back road that is not far from the commercial shopping strip on Route 114 in Woonsocket, RI. One would never know that this unassuming rural gem existed so close to big box megamarts like Walmart and Lowes. In contrast to the oceans of pavement and energy-draining lights of the stores on the main road, Rabbit's Dance is a quiet oasis of trees and fields gently striped with rows of lush, green plants in various stages of bloom and growth.

I came upon a mention of Rabbit's Dance last year while perusing the listings of local farms at Farm Fresh Rhode Island, a comprehensive and informative site for budding localvores like me which provides links to area CSAs, farms, farmers markets, community gardens, and related events. I was delighted to find an organic CSA within a 15 minute drive of my home. Right away I contacted Rabbit's Dance manager, Kristin Lewis, to inquire about a share. I was just in time to sign up for a 2007 winter share, which offered delicious fresh fall produce such as mixed greens, squashes, potatoes, garlic, sweet potatoes, beets and carrots. This year I am splitting a full summer share with a friend. Though I have enlarged my gardening area at home, I know I cannot grow all my own produce. Buying supermarket chain fruits and vegetables is an option, but buying locally-grown food has many advantages both for my family's health and for the well-being of the environment. Obtaining additional produce from a CSA or farmers market nicely fills gaps in my home food production.

"CSA" stands for Community Supported Agriculture. A CSA is a partnership between a local farm and the community which is mutually beneficial: community members buy shares in the upcoming harvest in advance, which pays for farm expenses such as seeds, labor, land costs, and equipment maintenance, and in exchange, the shareholders receive a portion of the seasonal produce grown on the farm. Most CSAs expect their shareholders to spend a little time volunteering on the farm, either helping on share distribution days, in the fields, or in the greenhouse. Spending some time on the farm and interacting with farm owners or managers and other shareholders increases interactions between members of the community, builds a personal relationship between growers and consumers, keeps local farmland in food production and out of development, and allows people to develop closer connections to the origins of their food. For more information on Community Supported Agriculture and to find a CSA in your area, visit

Basil from Rabbit's Dance waits to become pesto!

Having tried my hand at growing food at home, I know how hard it is to be successful in the face of variable weather conditions, animal theft (oh those woodchucks and chipmunks are hungry!), insect invasions, and plant disease outbreaks. I have great respect for local farmers, especially owners of small farms, who persist despite all these natural barriers, and while being pressured to compete with "cheap" food that is sold at big chain stores. However, it is becoming more apparent each year that seemingly cheap food has hidden costs in terms of health dangers, increased shipping energy expenses, and loss of natural habitat that highlight how important it is to maintain support for our local food sources. No farmland and no farmers equals no food.

Beyond buying a CSA share, frequenting farmers markets and farm stands are two additional ways to buy local produce as well as to support local food production. Located not more than a few miles from Rabbit's Dance, is the farm stand at Cooks Valley Farm in Wrentham, MA. After having picked up my share at the CSA, it has become my pleasurable habit to drive a few minutes down the road to Cook's to purchase a few fruits and vegetables from the wonderful, large assortment of their own produce grown on site on this 300 year-old family farm. Though Cooks is not an organic farm, they do strive to grow with the least chemical input possible; for example, they use methods such as integrated pest management which is also used by organic growers. I am always amazed by the wide variety of produce that the Cook farm grows. The farm stand, located in the historic, white barn by the side of the road and adjacent to the family farmhouse, displays numerous baskets of lettuce, broccoli, radishes, peppers, squash, peaches, berries (in season), cucumbers, tomatoes, potatoes, onions, corn, amongst other vegetable delights. Right now bunches of garlic can be seen hanging from the barn rafters while curing for future storage. In the fall, the farm has pumpkins, winter squash, and a sizable number of apple varieties available for sale. The stand is open quite late in the year too: I bought bags of their apple seconds to make applesauce just before Christmas last year!

This year, Rabbit's Dance has teamed up with Cooks to offer summer fruit shares and a coupon program for purchasing additional vegetables at the farm stand. The two farms seem a natural blend considering their close proximity and mutual devotion to local food. Since my food shopping this week included the bounty from both farms, I decided to try to make an (almost) entirely local meal.

On the menu:
  • Crustless Broccoli, Baby Red Onion, and Cheese Quiche
  • Oven-roasted Mixed Summer Squash, Italian Style
  • Sliced Fresh Cucumbers
Ingredient origins:
  • baby red onions, sweet yellow pepper, cucumbers, summer squash - Rabbit's Dance Farm, Cumberland, RI
  • broccoli - Cook's Valley Farm, Wrentham, MA
  • garlic - my own garden
  • Atwell's Gold cheese - Narragansett Creamery, Providence, RI (sold at Rabbit's Dance)
  • eggs - Ferrucci Egg Farm (A. Ferrucci & Sons), Milford, MA
  • milk - Munroe Dairy, E. Providence, RI (delivered by Maple Farm Dairy, Mendon, MA)
  • butter - Kate's Homemade Butter, Old Orchard Beach, ME
  • salt and pepper, seasonings, olive oil (not local)
Why not try to make a locally-sourced meal, especially during the summer when produce is readily available? You'll be challenged to think creatively and to explore the food resources in your own area. It will also be an eye-opening experience that will make you look much more closely at the origins of what you are eating.

Bon appetit!

What is a "localvore?"

Where to find food grown near you

More about CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture)

Farm Fresh RI (CSA, farms and farmers markets)

Massachusetts CSA Programs

Massachusetts Farmers Markets

Massachusetts Department of Agriculture Consumer Resources

Rabbit's Dance Farm CSA, Cumberland, RI

Cooks Valley Farm, Wrentham, MA

Narragansett Creamery

Munroe Dairy

Maple Farm Dairy

Kate's Homemade Butter

Ferrucci Egg Farms
Milford, MA (sold in local stores and through Maple Farm Dairy)

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