Eating locally. It seems a little daunting in the first place and next to impossible living in a city, which is one reason why the Brooklyn Botanic Garden held a recent class entitled “Eating Local in the Big Apple.”
“Local,” even though it sounds like it means in and around a city neighborhood, can actually span hundreds of miles and the amount varies depending on who you talk to.
“There is no standard definition of ‘local’ when it comes to food, but the longest distance I have seen used is 500 miles,” said Leda Meredith, a Park Slope resident and instructor of the course. “So I’d say zero-500 miles is the current loose definition of what local means when it comes to food.”
Meredith based the class at the garden on her book, Botany, Ballet, and Dinner from Scratch, which “included the story of my 250-mile year-long eating challenge,” she said. In this challenge, almost all the food she ate was grown or raised within 250 miles of her Brooklyn neighborhood, making her a “locavore,” or someone who eats food grown locally.
“I chose 250 miles because that is approximately the distance an average farm truck can get on one tank of gas,” she said.
“I believe strongly that eating locally produced food is one of the important pieces of the jigsaw puzzle as far as reducing our carbon footprints, supporting the local economy, and reintroducing ourselves to a lifestyle that is grounded in community and in synch with the seasons,” explained Meredith. “My motivation for teaching the course was to share the ways I've found to incorporate local foods into my diet without spending a fortune and while living a full-time, busy city life.”
Katherine Lemcke, director of continuing education at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, said that the class’ 13 students were mostly women, with some men. There was a wide age range, she noted, with students in their 20s, 30s and even 60s.
The students had little or no previous knowledge about eating locally, Meredith said. “Most of the students were aware of some of the reasons for eating locally and had a desire to do more, but hadn’t really done much yet. There was one CSA member, and a few who'd shopped occasionally at greenmarkets, but that was about it.”
In the class, Meredith covered reasons for eating locally, how to make it affordable and also ways to cook. She then conducted a cooking demonstration.
“We made sauerkraut and agro dolce [sweet and sour] winter squash, both recipes from my book. The squash is cooked stovetop until it is starting to brown, then tossed with some cider vinegar and honey,” she said. “It’s delicious!”
As for the advice Meredith gave her students about eating locally, she told them to “always walk through the entire farmers' market before buying. Often the same item will have radically different prices from stall to stall.” She also gave students information on discounted CSA memberships.
A CSA, which stands for Community Supported Agriculture, is a way for people to support a farm by paying a fee and receiving a basket of produce every week. Park Slope has its own CSA.
Meredith hopes that her students will benefit from the class. “I think they will change at least some of their eating habits as a result... One encouraging fact that I shared with them appeared in the current issue of Eating Well magazine: ‘Buying 25 percent of your groceries from local farmers for a year lowers your carbon footprint by 225 pounds — even more than recycling glass, plastic and cans.’”
She said she would definitely teach the class again, and Lemcke assured that the Brooklyn Botanic Garden plans to offer it again. They also have other courses that address different subjects related to sustainable eating.
Coming up in March, the garden will have a “Gardening for Wildlife” course. In April, Meredith will be teaching two classes: “Herbs for Shady Gardens” and “Growing Food in the Shade.” Also in April will be a class called “Edibles in Small Spaces: Growing on Roof, Windowsill or Stoop” for people who want to eat the most local food they can get: food grown in their own homes.
For more information on upcoming courses and registration, click here.
Photo courtesy of Leda Meredith
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