Published: Jul 29, 2008 08:20 PM
Modified: Jul 29, 2008 08:35 PM
Local food creates community
The Creative Corner
CARRBORO -- Before supermarkets and restaurants brought us foods from around the world, people produced and consumed food locally. The Carrboro Farmers' Market and a network of family farms provide the foundation for a simpler and more sustainable community.Andrea Reusing, chef-owner of Lantern restaurant in Chapel Hill, has long recognized that local farmers provide the most flavorful and freshest ingredients. It's only in recent years, however, that Reusing says the local food system has evolved to where she and others can count on it to provide the amount and variety of ingredients they regularly need.Carrboro market manager Sarah Blacklin is quick to credit the farmers and craft vendors. "Our member-elected board understands that the number one priority is to build relationships with our customers," she said. "The second is to educate people about food and farming."Alex Hitt of Peregrine Farms, who has sold at the market for almost 30 years, says sales at the market rose dramatically after 9/11. "People were freaking out about food scares and wanted to know where their food comes from," he said. "They also want to connect to the land again through contact with farmers."The Triangle's climate supports a diversity of crops, while UNC, Duke and Research Triangle Park provides a steady customer base. Unlike some markets, all food and crafts sold at the Carrboro market must be produced locally: within 50 miles of the Town Commons.Hitt, the vice president of the market board, says the market goes one step further in requiring the person who produced the food to be on hand to answer questions about it. "Our farmers are very progressive," Blacklin agreed. "They are always innovating -- especially in trying to offer shoppers what they want. Our food system is based on cooperation; shared skills are increasing all the time." Reusing says she also appreciates that local farmers have been willing to try to grow new ingredients. "Our interest in serving local ingredients means that we have to stay flexible in our recipes and the dishes we can serve at a particular time of year," she said. Innovation has been critical to the market's success."The chefs have always shopped at the market," Hitt said. "They visit our farms. We even travel around the world together looking for new recipes and ingredients. Customers come back from Italy and ask for specific produce they tried there. We will plant it for them." In addition to building relationships between farmers and restaurants, the market provides a community social center -- a pleasant place for people to get together. "Kids who grew up coming with their parents are now regular shoppers," said Hitt. "Many people only see each other at the market." He said family farms also provide a touchstone of authenticity, a word some have used to distinguish locally grown food from other products in natural food stores and even organic sections of mainstream supermarkets.Reusing, who is a leader in the slow food movement, says food has the power to change society."I am very excited to see how interested and involved people have become about their food choices," she said. "Food becomes a means of political expression. Our buying choices influence what types of farms our area can support."And, as consumers demand more local food, it should become more affordable. "The rising costs of fuel actually will be a big advantage for local food systems and shoppers," Hitt said. "As fuel and fertilizer costs rise our sustainable systems become competitive."
Write to Tom Hoban at firstname.lastname@example.org
2008 The Chapel Hill News