Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Sustainable Food = Local Food

Sustainable Food March 2009
Local is Sustainable
Katherine Rossmoore

The first thing I think of when I ask myself the question of “What is sustainable food?” is that sustainable equals local. To me, “sustainable” means giving back to the Earth as much as we are taking out. Local food saves an enormous amount of carbon use by eliminating all of the transportation, storage and cooling costs. In most cases, local products are unprocessed or not heavily processed so that the energy and carbon production that goes into processing foods is saved.

As a society, we have gotten used to being able to go into any supermarket and buying foods from all over the world without even thinking about the fuel and production costs to get them here. My mother, who grew up in the Great Depression, thinks it’s wonderful that we can get things like guavas and pineapples and kiwis year-round. Nowadays, if we have a recipe, we go out and get the items on the ingredient list whereas the “old world” method, (and one used by many top chefs nowadays) involves finding what is fresh and local at the market, and then planning your menu from there. On the top of my “I’m guilty” list are bananas, avocadoes and lemons, and I’m sure there is much more I regularly purchase that is neither local nor sustainable. I believe that the first step is at least thinking about and acknowledging the costs of these habits, so that we can begin to offset the habits we are unable or unwilling to change.

So, where do we find locally grown and produced food on the South Shore of New England? The most obvious source is the ocean and its bountiful supply of seafood. As a child, my Mother and I would go out “oystering” in Wellfleet. We would wade out at low tide and collect those camouflaged delights in a bucket we were sure to keep filled with salty ocean water so the oysters would remain alive and plump. Even better, we would go to Longnook beach in North Truro and get these wonderful little clams (which, I believe, no longer exist). You could only spot them at low tide by their little bright green flags of seaweed. We would crack them open on the beach and eat them raw. They were sweet and buttery and salty all at once. We would also go down to the main fishing wharf in Provincetown and buy fish right off the boats when the fishermen came in with their catches. Back then, we didn’t think of eating this way to be “sustainable” or to reduce our carbon footprint. We did it because fresh and local tasted the best, and it still does.

Here in Marshfield, (as well as Scituate and Duxbury) we can still “go clamming” with the proper licenses. If we cannot catch the fish ourselves, (although we keep on trying) we can shop for fish and other seafood at local markets like the Brant Rock Market in Marshfield, Mullaney’s in Scituate and Cohasset, Snug Harbor in Duxbury and Hanover Lobster and Seafood and the Nautical Mile, both in Hanover. (I’m not sure whether one can go to Green Harbor and buy fish from the local fishermen? If anyone knows, please post a comment.) We can also go to one of the local supermarkets and make a point of buying what is locally caught and harvested. Start with the freshest fish, and create your recipe around that instead of looking for, let’s say, “Chilean Sea Bass” to create a recipe from Bon Apetit.

Another potential source of fresh local foods (including lobsters, but we hope they add local fresh fish this year!) is the Farmer’s Market. The local farmer’s markets generally run from mid to late June through the end of October. The Marshfield Farmer’s Market, located at the Marshfield fairgrounds, runs every Friday during the summer from 2 pm to 7 pm. There are two Farmer’s markets in Plymouth: Steven’s Field is Thursdays from 2:30 to 6:30 and Court Street is Saturday from 9:30 am to 1:30 pm. The Market in Hingham harbor (the bathing beach parking lot) runs Saturdays 10-2. The Cohasset farmer’s market, on Cohasset Common is open Thursdays, 2:30 to 6:30. The vendors at each market are partially listed on their websites, and we hope the Marshfield market will be growing!

Every year, I go blueberry picking and freeze some for the winter. Most of us have gone apple picking (or have taken our children apple picking) and I have to confess to giving myself a stomach ache from eating too many of those juicy crisp Macintoshes. The fresher they are, the better they taste. If you have room at your home for a small garden, you will be amazed at how much better things taste when they are picked right off the vine in the summer heat. And you don’t have to start with seeds, although the purist may want to try. My husband always grow tomatoes, basil and other herbs, but last year we added sweet peppers. Their taste was so much better than store bought that even my youngest son was picking them off the vine and telling his friends, “You have to try a bite of this. It’s so good!”

For people who would like to “grow their own” vegetables but don’t have the space, this year there will be a local community “victory garden” in Marshfield which I will provide more details on once I have them. There are a few “CSA” (Community Supported Agriculture) farms in the area that people can subscribe to. (INFO to Follow) They tend to fill up early since most of the farms in Eastern New England are small so their production is limited. The local farmer’s markets are a great source for local vegetables and fruits. You can also check your supermarkets for produce that is advertised as “locally grown”. Among my favorite sources are the roadside stands that pop up in the summer on Route 3A and elsewhere. I hope to post these locations as the season heats up!

There are also local sources for local fresh eggs and dairy. I invite anyone who has a name and phone number or address of places one can purchase fresh eggs to post that information on this blog so all can take advantage.

Next month I will be reviewing Barbara Kingsolver’s “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle”, a great story about one family’s choice to eat only local for a year. (Hint: they lived on a farm.)


  1. Great philosophical AND practical ideas, like starting with local foods and then building the recipe around them. This might take a bit more creativity, but the rewards are great, offering unexpected flavors and satisfaction for the mind. Thank you, Katherine. NT

  2. I'm so happy to hear that more and more people are taking a closer look at our food systems. Purchasing local food produced sustainably is good for you and the planet. The added tastes better!
    The Marshfield Farmer's Market will be held Fridays from 2 to 6 at the fairgrounds starting June 5. Come on down and support local farmers and artisans.
    We are still looking for Cheese, Grassfed meat, Fish and Dairy vendors.
    If you're looking for eggs, I sell mine at The Marshfield Hills General Store.
    Karen Biagini
    Manager, Marshfield Farmer's Market

  3. Great article Katherine!

    FYI: Locally oysters straight from Duxbury Bay are on the menu at several Marshfield restaurants including Hola. Or the can be bought right from the source at Island Creek Oysters on Parks St in Duxbury (behind Bennet's Garage on 3a).

  4. Great information! I didn't know that one could purchase the Island Creek Oysters directly in Duxbury. That's wonderful!


    Donna Green's Magical Moon Farm and Art Gallery on Summer Street in Marshfield Hills (just look for the Teepee) has an abundant supply of organic free range eggs (they're delicious). There is also a wonderful seasonal farm stand.