Cultivating Community – Why Should You Care?

Cultivating Community

While I love the idea of purchasing only organic and sourcing all of our food from local farmers or venues, it simply never seemed like a realistic option for our large family of 6 either in terms of practicality or finances. But it doesn’t require an outpouring from your pocketbook to become appreciative of local and seasonal food. Sometimes, it’s as easy as casting a few seeds into the dirt.

When we planted our first vegetable garden and I tasted my inaugural Brandywine tomato, I was completely hooked. Holding a warm tomato fresh off the vine that tasted like some sort of ambrosia of the gods was life changing. That summer, I ate my way through plates of Brandywine, Costoluto Genovese, and Black Krim tomatoes. I grew ronde de nice and adorable pattypan squashes and learned a million different ways to serve squash. I discovered the amazing varieties of eggplants and made ratatouille with our abundance. I fell in love with the amazing variety of seeds and plants offered by such suppliers as The Seeds of Change, The Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, and The Cooks Garden.

As our family situation changed (new babies, demanding schedules), some years we didn’t even have a garden. When we lived in a Fredericksburg suburb, we frequented farmers’ markets on Saturday and featured whatever we purchased in that evening’s supper. We bought a share in the Fredericksburg CSA and enjoyed our weekly supply of vegetables and fruits produced by local farmers. On weekends, we would head out to various farms to pick strawberries or blackberries, and then come home to make jam. We did our best to honor the seasons by fully enjoying each one’s special offerings.

Now that we live on a small farm, I am looking out again at the empty raised beds and marking the stack of seed catalogs on my bedside table each evening. The season ahead beckons with the possibility of an amazing bounty.

If you too would like to be part of the sustainable food movement, check out Cultivating Community, the library’s new program to “share information in the Fredericksburg region about farm-to-table and sustainable food communities.” If phrases like “sustainable agriculture,” “locavore,” and “farm-to-table” are new to you – or remind you of some sort of hippie commune movement – read on for a reality check about why you may care about this program. What all of these terms have in common is the simple assertion that we should care about what we put in our mouths in terms of flavor, authenticity, and origins.

Sustainable agriculture          
Sustainable agriculture is an investment in both the land and the people who will be eating from it. Miller Farms Market, in Locust Grove, eloquently states the importance of sustainable practices: “Remember, we are eating our own produce and feeding it to our own families. We are the second, third and fourth generations to farm this land. We are passionate about farming and want to sustain our land for future generations. Farmers are the original environmentalists. Without our land we would not be able to continue to support ourselves, our community, and our future.”

Sustainable agriculture doesn’t wear the ground out because farmers rotate crops, companion plant, minimize herbicides, and use organic methods of pest control when possible. Unlike mechanized, factory farming, with sustainable farming animals graze freely and aren’t treated with antibiotics.

Many restaurants purchase ingredients en masse from a large supplier who delivers packaged vegetables, fruits, and meat from a truck. The menus are consumer-driven (we want what we want and we want it now) and so restaurants source from these large suppliers who offer consistent availability of everything all the time. 

A farm-to-table restaurant chooses instead to develop relationships with local farmers and source ingredients directly from them, respecting the season and availability and working within those confines. Often the dishes provided by these restaurants focus on the freshness of the ingredients with minimal preparation – after all, why would you need heavy sauces when your main ingredients can shine on their own? Bistro Bethem and Foode are both representative restaurants in the area; Old Towne Butchers offers some local grass-fed beef options.

Other area suppliers, like Harvest Market in Spotsylvania and Virginia Green Grocer in Warrenton, make it easy to bring the farm back to your kitchen table, with help from trips to the farmers’ markets.

Part of the Cultivating Community program includes a Big Read, where many people read and discuss the same book. The book selected this year is Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, the story of her family’s move to a farm in the southern Appalachian region of Virginia and their subsequent commitment to only eat things for a year that were harvested locally -- and in season. Kingsolver speaks quite frankly about the challenges of being a new locavore – no more fresh fruit in February, too much of everything in August, and the realization that for them, there would no more of things like bananas, ever. Although few of us will have the commitment that Kingsolver had during her experiment, we can all adapt a little locavorism and try to eat the bounty that is harvested close to us, at the right time.

Things you can do to join in

-Participate in one or more of the library's free programs -- every branch has something going on.

-Read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and come to the Big Read Discussion on October 8.

-Check out local farms in your area with Visit on a sunny day and bring home something that looks delicious.

-Check out Flavor magazine, dedicated to sustainable food movement in Virginia.

-Get this week’s veggies and fruits from the local farmer’s market. Challenge yourself to make something new or try a new veggie.

-Plant a garden – in a tilled field, raised beds, square-foot, or containers.

-Check out our boards on Pinterest for beautiful garden inspiration, tips, and more.

-To ensure a fresh supply of veggies, join a CSA (Community-Supported Agriculture) and enjoy fresh harvests all summer long and into the fall. (See Fredericksburg CSA for more info.)