Educate yourself on what you are eating


Lynn Stromberg

I'm frequently asked, “You must slow down in the winter, right?” My reply, “Actually, no. People eat multiple times a day, every day. We don't die in the winter. There is more local food available in February than in early May.” I am not surprised by the reaction, because most consumers know very little about the seasons of local food. It's even more shocking, however, when the same disconnect happens in the kitchens of local restaurants, schools and institutions, especially if their marketing says, “local farms/food” or “farm to table.”

Kitchens have caught on to changing menus with the seasons, but be weary, food may not always come from local farms. The spring equinox arrives March 20, but the peas, asparagus, fiddleheads and ramps associated with a spring menu don't arrive for at least another four to 12 weeks. If a restaurant rolls out that type of menu in March or April, they most certainly did not source from local farms.

Sometimes, we as consumers don't care either way. We want strawberries in December, because we love putting them in holiday dishes. We want corn on the cob for the Fourth of July, because that is the official start to summer. That corn is coming from the South, but if you want local corn, you must wait until mid to late July. Truth be told, I don't want to give up citrus or avocados, but I recognize that choice positively impact the local agricultural economy. There are 7,000 farms in Central Mass., so buying local isn't hard, you simply must want it and know where to look. Be creative and be prepared to be blown away with quality and flavor, not to mention the health benefits.

A place exists for both cheap outsourced food and locally grown food. Kitchens buying and serving cheap food are catering to consumers who don't care where or how their food is raised; but if you do care, it is important to know the difference. The restaurant business runs lateral dilemmas with profit and labor just like the farming community.

I am thrilled some kitchens in the Greater Worcester area are buying a few pounds of local food every so often. They have other options for food, especially cheap outsourced food. More has happened with the integration of local food in Worcester in the last five years than it has in the last 50. When I first launched Lettuce Be Local and a chef bought a few ingredients for a special menu, I was ecstatic! Chefs were biting off on local food; I knew they would love it because the quality and flavor were irresistible. Today we have far to go and I wonder if Worcester is truly submerged in farm-to-table or just riding the wave?

Chefs are genuinely excited for new ingredients and seasonal changes, but it's their new relationships with local farmers and knowing the ingredients were raised specifically for them that has created a humbling experience. As a farm connector, I curate relationships to build the farming community, a process starting to take shape after decades of being forgotten. Our next step is keep educating ourselves about why we should care more about what we eat.

Lynn Stromberg is the chief lettuce officer of Sterling local food distributor Lettuce Be Local.