I grew up in the city and wouldn’t recognize a farmer if one drove a tractor down Main Street wearing overalls and a big straw hat. Farmers grew vegetables and raised chickens somewhere out in the country. Early to bed, early to rise. That sort of thing.
Fast forward a few years and I’m baking my way through high school, training with European master chefs & expanding my worldview through the lens of the hospitality industry. That same city boy who wouldn’t know the business end of a pitchfork was beginning to appreciate our food system in new ways. Dedicated and true artists practiced their craft, farming, raising, brewing and distilling the flavors and textures I learned to appreciate as my palette expanded! Like a caterpillar in the chrysalis my views were slowly changing.
Here in the Northeast we’ve just celebrated harvest season after a warm & wet summer. I’ve had time to reflect on where my food comes from once again. I spent a recent afternoon with Whitey Freeman, a local one-woman farmer, discussing the past growing season & her approach to sustainable/organic food production. We talked at length about her prized Romney sheep and the commercial realities of a farm that raises only a few dozen free range chickens each year. These types of encounters ignite my passion. William Blake said it best, “tolls are made and born are hands”. People like Whitney are farmers, not a mechanics.
Whitney studied at Cambridge then Oxford and practiced animal husbandry before I could find the definition of the term in Webster’s. She represents the importance of small-scale production in my view. Her ewes graze on grass & clover. Her birds take twice as long to bring to market while gaining only half the weight of a commodity, factory farmed bird. Next time you consider the value of one food product vs. another on cost alone, stop and think about quality & flavor for just a moment.
I started appreciating authentic flavors & techniques after falling in love with Bordeaux, then Stilton. I then learned about terroir, or how the conditions in which a product is grown or produced gives it unique characteristics. My professional journey granted opportunities to meet with producers like Whitney and better understand how time, technique and attention to detail equate to quality & flavor.
Although my journey of appreciation is still a work in progress, I’ve become more comfortable with the idea of paying extra for a quality product brought to market by an artist like Whitney. Pick a favorite product. Trace it back to the source and meet the people who brought it to market. Rinse & repeat.
For more on Whitney see: http://www.hennypennyfarmct.com/find