Happy New Year – Southeast #Local!

Oh, my, we southerners are a bit intense about our New Year’s Day traditional meal! And since I’m getting more and more driven to identify and support ‘local’ growers, or at least farmers I know, I wanted my New Year’s tradition to include as much ‘local’ as possible.

From Southern Living to Garden and Gun to newspaper columnists to bloggers, paper pages and digital pages are filled with recipes for traditional New Year dishes like Hoppin’ John with rice, cornbread, black-eyed peas straight-up and black-eyed peas in salads and dips, and greens – always the greens (with vinegar, please!)

Are other parts of the country as crazy about a New Year’s Day tradition such as this?  (Tell me, please! What New Year traditions do you have?)

Anyhow, while I eat most foods produced in the US knowing we have the safest food supply in the world, of late I am getting more and more curious about where the farms are from which that food comes.  I often ask myself “Am I supporting a neighbor?” when I make a purchase.

I guess you could call me a proud, ‘consciously local’ consumer!

Most farmers in agriculture sell products on the ‘commodity’ market, and by so doing, it is very easy for the farmers’ faces to get lost, and a consumer has no idea which farms in which areas of the country they are supporting.

Because my family has farmed for at least three generations, and because I work on a daily basis with farmers who produce all sorts of products (milk, crops, beef, pork, chicken, lamb, farmers market produce & flowers, etc.), I am increasingly drawn to the question “How are we all going to be able to continue farming for another generation?”  “Can we financially be able to do that?”

While there are many factors that play into answering those questions, one of the main factors that enable a farm to stay in business is that sales of the products they are able to grow must have a viable market.  That ‘market’ must be of a volume large enough to sell a significant quantity of product to justify the expense of growing a crop.

I also am a great believer in viable farm neighborhoods local to me, or in some cases, which support a group of like-minded farmers I know. Those farms are sometimes 50 miles, most often 250-300 miles, and sometimes 500 miles or more from my East Tennessee stomping grounds.

So, I decided to play a ‘local’ game with my New Year’s Day meal – or as much as I could on a less-than-24 hour thought.   I shopped at 5 different food retailers in my small East Tennessee town, which included 2 mid-size grocery chains, 2 small grocery chains, and 1 dollar store. With a few more days thought (and more cooking time), I probably could have added a few more products, but time just ran out.

Here’s what I came up with (a combination of cooked from scratch and mixes of things out of a very convenient can), plus using milk and cornmeal that were already on hand :

3441_a_local_new_years_supper_f Breaking it down:

From Tennessee:  Buttermilk from Mayfield Dairy Farm, which buys milk from most East Tennessee dairy farms (likely 75% or more of the milk produced in East TN).  Since our farm grows corn which goes to a feed mill which in turn sells feed to those herds, this brand (and private labels which come from plants 47-131 and 13-230, as well as Weigel’s) is often in my fridge.  The cornmeal mix for the cornbread had a White Lily brand, but no East Tn wheat or corn would have been in that bag. [It would have approximately 20 years ago, before they closed their Knoxville mill.]

My pork (a smoked shoulder butt) was smoked by some ‘local’ friends who live in the same town I do, and purchased from a local food ‘bulk-sales’ retailer, but I have no idea where the hog houses are in which that pork (delicious) was finished!

From Louisiana: I tried a Brown Long Grain rice from Louisiana (approximately 700 miles or an 11 hour drive away).  Rice is not grown in Tennessee, and likely can’t very easily, so this was as close as I could get.  It was also my first time -ever – cooking rice the old-fashioned, long-time way on top of a stove!  (That also fit a  2017 resolution – new dishes, and new methods to cook.).  I was really pleased when I went to the Supreme Rice website to meet the growers – I feel like we could have the same language about John Deeres and such!  But that LA accent? Well, that would take an in person visit to see if we could understand the spoken word!

From South Carolina: My Black-eyed Peas and Greens (Margaret Holmes brand) were of the conveniently canned variety.  Following a label reference to McCall Farms, I also met the southeast farmers who likely grew these New Year’s staples.  These growers live about 350 miles and 5 and half hours from my table, so I could drop by on my next trip to the SC coast!  (‘On the way” is another form of local, isn’t it?!?)

I may not wait for a holiday or special occasion to play my next ‘how local can I make it?” game.  Would you consider joining me, and making a game of it?

Happy “Local Eating” New Year!

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