by April McGreger first posted at Grist.org
April McGreger is the proprietor of Farmer’s Daughter, a farm-driven artisan food business in Carrboro, N.C. She is a leader in her local Slow Food chapter, where she is known to curate field pea tastings and write for the Slow Food Triangle blog. When not in the kitchen, she can usually be found at her local community garden or singing and playing the tenor banjo with her husband Phil.
One lovely evening a couple of weeks ago, I watched the documentary Food Fight in an outdoor theater in my downtown. The documentary focuses on how the 1960s counterculture—specifically the Berkeley crew of which Alice Waters was a member—led to the current sustainable agriculture boom. The documentary champions the sensual pleasures and health promotion of fresh, locally grown food, but I couldn’t help noticing one glaring omission.
In my personal experience the single most rewarding aspect of eating locally has been exploring my own region in depth. I think of it as seeking the wisdom of Wendell Berry who says repeatedly, “You’ve got to know where you are. You’ve got to consult the genius of the place.”
Before moving to North Carolina, I was living a few miles from where my family had settled six generations back. The loss that I felt in my new place was a disconnection to the past and to the land that I now lived on. I fell into a counterculture of my own—a community of multigenerational farmers and DIY punks who mostly grew and/or ate seasonal, locally grown and foraged food. There was an intentional effort within this community to live Berry’s idea of a good life, one that values sustainable agriculture, healthy rural communities, connection to place, the pleasures of good food, meaningful work, a functioning local economy, reverence for nature and the interconnectedness of life.
I experienced an ever increasing awareness that the food choices I made were governed by the competing considerations of identity, convenience, price, and responsibility. Through my choice to support small, local farmers by buying directly from them, I could help preserve agricultural land in an area that was experiencing rapid growth.
In the long term, however, what keeps me interested in locally grown food is discovering that self-imposed geographical limits on our foodshed support the minor agricultural products, for which there are increasingly fewer markets in our current boundless global food society. There is a deep and understated sort of satisfaction that comes from delving into long forsaken traditional foods, such as lard from pastured pigs as a cooking fat, sorghum molasses as a wholesome sweetener, and old varieties of Southern apples found here in the North Carolina Piedmont.
It was in this spirit of discovery that I first sampled a rustic, idiosyncratic apple that I found for sale at the Carrboro Farmer’s Market. That apple had a winey, complex taste that just doesn’t exist in modern apple varieties. I sought to learn more. It turns out that although they are virtually extinct on the commercial market, there are many, many varieties of delicious old timey apples with a rich, if disappearing, history behind them. And that is what fascinates me: not just a local apple, but an apple with a story, a history, and a sense of place, all of which contribute to the pleasure of every winey bite.