The last week of April is a special time for the culinary department at VITALIA Senior Residences® at Westlake Westlake, OH. In honor of Earth Month, we will be celebrating and embracing the Farm to Table concept. While the terminology is often overused, the idea is a basic one that stems from the days when the food you ate came from the farm you lived on or nearby. Practices may have changed but utilizing the produce and livestock from local farms and growers has many benefits. For example, did you know most produce loses nutrients within 24 hours of harvesting? Have you ever noticed how fresh meat is moister and more flavorful?
Farm to Table also helps strengthen the local economy by providing jobs and keeping money in the hands of businesses run by our neighbors and friends. It helps to build relationships between the farmer or rancher and the customer. Both sides benefit greatly from sourcing local items. If an item becomes scarce, or pricing becomes high, this valued relationship can be instrumental in helping us to continue to provide the exceptional food our residents have come to expect from us with minimal interruption.
I will be serving stuffed roasted pork loin, asparagus, soft polenta, and a wild mushroom jus. Also, a salad with wine poached apples, hydroponic lettuce, and local cheese will be offered. I will be offering locally sourced apples, cheese, lettuce, wild mushrooms, and pork. These ingredients were purchased from Sage’s Apples https://www.sagesapples.com/, Great Lakes Growers https://www.greatlakesgrowers.com/, New Creation Farm https://newcreationfarm.com/, and Yellow House Cheese http://www.yellowhousecheese.com/. My dish showcases my passion for developing relationships with local farmers and ranchers. I am always excited to show off their hard work.
I was very lucky as both my mother and father’s side of the family appreciated having home-grown food. As a child, I remember going to my great grandmother’s house and having salad from lettuce she grew herself, even in her tiny urban backyard in Euclid, Ohio. Visiting my grandparents’ house in the summer brings back memories of cleaning the stem end off of green beans on the back patio for dinner that evening. As a child I would watch my grandfather eat an apple from Sage’s or Patterson’s orchard every single day. I will never forget how he used his pocketknife to peel the apple, cut it and eat the fruit off the knife. It was truly an honor to experience holiday or winter meals at my grandmother’s house. Her brother Andy was an experienced mushroom picker and introduced me to the world of wild food when I was only a small child. Eating Grandma’s roasted pork and potatoes was always a treat. When Uncle Andy had a successful season of mushroom picking, he would bring over Hen of the Woods and other mushrooms he had dried in his oven to make mushroom gravy for the holidays, such a treat! These experiences shaped my parents and they have had a garden for over 35 years. Through this I was able to experience on a level most people can’t even dream of. My parents grew squashes, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, lettuces, herbs, flowers, plums, peaches, potatoes, and on and on. They have always had a compost pile and a rain barrel to promote sustainability. And we picked produce from local farms to preserve for the season including strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, peaches, and apples. I was also fortunate to grow up harvesting and eating wild fish and game. It was almost as if my parents unintentionally groomed me to be where I am today.
Sustainable farming impacts the greater Cleveland area economically and socially. Clevelanders spending their money buying products from small farms means this money stays in the local economy. These farmers are using these funds to grow their business and take care of their families. Farmers rarely get to go out of town or on vacation because their farm is their life. This means your hard-earned dollars are not taken to invest in an economy in a different city or state. This money is often spent with other local farms for food, bills, school, etc. This is powerful for keeping our local economy going.
The social aspect of supporting sustainable farms is unprecedented. Buying local is the new power move. Shipping products from Europe and around the globe have fallen out of fashion. People now value things that have been produced nearby their house with a strong sense of knowing the maker, produce, and grower. This creates a relationship between the two parties and forms a stronger bond to the food. The bond is not quite like growing food for yourself but is the next best thing for people with a brown thumb or generally disinterested in growing food.
Also, small farms are stewards of the land and promote conservation and help create healthy air, water, and soil for all to enjoy. Small farms with a diverse selection of plants and animals are much more beneficial for the land than the massive monocultures of our planet. Biodynamic farming promotes healthy water tables by reducing erosion and cutting back on fertilizers, pesticides, and insecticides. Family farms reduce waste by utilizing less packaging or reusable packaging of their products. Most farmers will bring your food in a plastic crate. This prevents mounds of cardboard boxes piling up in your dumpster and your landfill. They also reduce waste by composting excess biomatter from their property. Some farmers even use biodiesel trucks, utilizing spent oil from the restaurants they work with to fuel their deliveries.
For us, buy local isn’t just a bumper sticker. It should be embraced and promoted as much as possible. Even if you couldn’t be here to enjoy it with us, I hope you can enjoy the content included here and feel inspired to visit some of these local vendors!