Monday, August 9, 2010

A Local Food Economy?

Other than the heat, I really love this time of year. The prairie is transitioning into its suite of fall colors. Fish readily hit whatever you toss out into the water and the farmers markets are brimming with a variety of gorgeous produce. We've made it our practice to make our way to the local farmers market at least once a week (it's held three times a week here in Alexandria) to pick up whatever fresh veggies are ready for our table. We're also making it our practice to limit our meat consumption to that which has been grown and butchered locally. This can be somewhat of a challenge, but thanks to the growth in the local food movement, it is much easier than it was a year or two ago. We're fortunate to have two wonderful sources of such produce, one for beef and the other for chickens and other poultry. For beef, we've become huge fans of Stone Bridge Beef from Long Prairie. This is grass-fed beef and has a flavor that needs to experienced, I can't give it justice in writing. While we still aren't big steak eaters their burger is fantastic. We have found an excellent source of non-commercially grown chicken. Kadejan produces what are technically "free-range" chickens, but they aren't out roaming the prairie as the term implies. Rather they are given the option of venturing from the coop, something which few chicken do. However, they aren't force-fed, aren't manipulated with light, and are hand butchered and air-chilled. They are exceptional. Both of these growers produce a product that can be found in some of the best dining Establishments in the Twin Cities. For example, the other day we traveled to Minneapolis to celebrate a birthday with friends at the "The Sample Room", generally a highly rated establishment in Northeast Minneapolis. They featured beef from Stone Bridge, and I can attest that their meatloaf was exceptional! Kadejan chicken is featured on the menus of a number of equally well-known restaurants as well.
So, here's the irony. We had to travel to Minneapolis to dine on meat that had been grown and produced within 30 miles of our home. While there are a number of good dining establishments in and around Alexandria, not one of them offers its patrons locally grown grass-fed beef or "free-range" chickens. Not only are we not able to enjoy the occasional well prepared dinner of locally grown food, we're exporting our best products!
This is not unique to meat either. Our wonderful farmers market basically has 7 vendors that show up on a regular basis. For a city of this size, that's pretty small. Again, the irony is that we basically live in an area that produces food for the rest of the state, country, world but we're unable to readily obtain locally grown meats and vegetables whereas someone living in St. Paul or Minneapolis can. I think this just demonstrates how broken our food system really is right now. Farmers in this area are basically forced to grow corn and soy beans on an industrialized scale to make a living, albeit a highly subsidized living. Those who are willing to be environmentally and socially responsible by growing a variety of vegetables and meats are forced to sell their products in larger markets and to higher-end restaurants to make ends meet. These folks don't get the subsidies that their "bigger n better" neighbors do either. We need to rediscover our local economies, particularly when it comes to food. Not only does it make sense environmentally and socially, it just tastes better!