Laughing, I pulled a chunk from the seeded demi baguette, watching as the crisp crust crackled, spilling crumbs and fennel and sesame seeds everywhere. I spread a layer of soft, runny cheese on it, probably too much but sometimes more is better, and, to prove it, drizzled local orange blossom honey over that, the golden syrup dripping over the crags and cream onto my thumbnail, which I sucked clean. Each bite was wondrous, a perfect combination of the chewy, slight sourness of the wild yeast risen bread, the tangy cheese melting, and the sweet perfume of the honey. I picked up the Cameo apple sitting next to me and attempted to slice it with a plastic knife. Hardly successful, but I was able to add that to the flavor combination–sweet and crisp. I sighed, leaned back and thought “this is what life is supposed to taste like.” And then a nearby man yelled, “put it in the garbage can! The garbage can! It’s right there!” My reverie was broken.
Nope, this was no picnic alongside a pristine river, it was a locally-sourced lunch spread bought from and consumed at the Reading Terminal Market, made possible with the help of the Fair Food Farmstand and Bee Natural.
The mission of the Fair Food Farmstand is offering only locally-sourced produce, dairy and sundry products. This past weekend, two local producers were on hand–shy goats, who hid against their keepers’ legs rather than lick my proffered hand. The cheesemaker, from Shellbark Hollow Farm in West Chester, PA, was friendlier, suggesting that we partake in samples of his various goat cheese wares.
Did you know that goat cheese can taste like brie? Or be sharp? I didn’t either. The ladies offering samples weren’t giving up any secrets either. What wasn’t secret was the deliciousness, and I happily purchased one of each type, along with a local Cameo apple and a (regular old cow-milk) yogurt.
I had one more vision in mind, though. To gild the lily, somewhat literally. Bee Natural sells only honey and bee products, like beautiful beeswax candles that reminded me of being in Fatima, Portugal. I chose two relatively local honeys, a wildflower and an orange blossom, that wouldn’t overwhelm the delicate cheeses. A final stop at Metropolitan Bakery for bread and I was ready to picnic in the midst of convention goers and tourist families.
The local food movement has gained popularity over the last several years. For the politically-minded, locavorism is a more humane method of food production, which keeps our communities closely connected with farmers, who are neither giant agri-businesses or located on the other side of the equator, and which, ideally, would recalibrate our quite clearly broken food system. The consistency of outbreaks of pathogens in our supposedly safe food supply and the difficulty in identifying their source is certainly one good reason. If you know where your food comes from, you’re likely to be able to regulate it reasonably well. And you won’t have to worry about the spread of illness throughout countries, as happened recently in Europe with bad bean sprouts.
The wonderful blog History at the Table addresses the question of whether locavorism is viable better than I can, so click away! But it seems to me that when people have better knowledge of how they get food, where it comes from, who makes it, what kind of labor goes into making it and what the real costs are, this can only be for our benefit. Like so many things about foodie movements, though, I’m concerned about the “classing up” of this trend, as with restaurants who list the pedigree of their rutabagas for premium prices.
That being said, eating local at the Reading Terminal Market is neither dear nor unpleasant. My ad hoc picnic oozed flavor and texture. The local yogurt was creamy perfection, as far removed from the insipid, watery nonfat sugar bombs in the supermarket as a shy little goat named Magic is from a chicken raised in a cage so small it can’t turn around. The cheeses were so extraordinary that by later that evening I was drooling for the salad I was preparing for lunch at the office the next day. Even my humble apple seemed crisper, tastier, more satisfying. While I’m not sure that the political and economic system we live within will really allow the local foods movement to grow the way it needs to in order to be revolutionary, it’s a worthy effort. I’m also not sure that American palates, so used to finding everything available all the time, will be able to get used to the considerably smaller range of seasonable items (check out this map and see what’s available in Pennsylvania in March for a sad, sad picture). Nonetheless, I smile every time I see a glass-strewn lot transformed with raised beds and when I have to wait on line at the farmer’s market. And even when the goats are shy, I’ve got to smile at them too. Since they’re the source, after all.
Recommended: buy local! Fair Food Farmstand and Bee Natural are your friends. And find and eat this goat cheese. It may change your life.