Living and Eating in a West Coast Bubble

Self Serve Produce StandYesterday in Grand Forks, ND, I found another health food store. They’re becoming less than a few hundred miles apart now, a good sign that we are getting closer to larger populations where healthy food & environmental consciousness matter. The stores we’ve encountered are reminiscent of what health food stores were like on the West Coast many years ago; small and hippie-ish, with a focus on supplements and little, if any groceries and produce. This one in Grand Forks did have some local produce, but no lettuce or greens.

I noticed a sign-in sheet for a local CSA Farm on the counter. The farm was about 50 miles from Grand Forks, and it turns out, is the nearest local vegetable farm for the area, but they only produce for CSA members. For anyone else who wants organic produce, they can take a gamble and go to the nearest supermarket, but chances are that the produce came from hundreds of miles away. Huh? No local produce in stores during summer? Barbara Kingsolver would be appalled.

I wanted to know how where the closest local organic produce came from in the wintertime, so I asked the clerk.

“Well, we’re lucky if we get local hothouse tomatoes until October, and if we get local onions until December, we’re lucky. Between December and May, the produce situation is pretty dire around here,” she said.

Dire. She said dire. I thought to myself, “what, are we in Russia?”

“Is anyone doing hydroponic lettuce or greens?” I asked.

“Nope, just tomatoes until October. We get squash and potatoes from local sources during winter, but everything else gets trucked in from places like California,” she said.

The sky fell in on me. No local lettuce in January? Not even from the same state? No truly fresh snap peas? A life without locally grown winter chard? What kind of life is that? I felt so naive, and just dumb, for taking fresh California produce for granted my entire life. As someone who’s always eaten salads for dinner about 3 or 4 times a week, it was inconceivable to me that anyone could live all winter long on old, wilty produce that got trucked in from so many states away.

The episode was fitting, because right now we are listening to the great new Barbara Kingsolver book, “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life” as we travel across the Midwest.

Hang on for the ride: With characteristic poetry and pluck, Barbara Kingsolver and her family sweep readers along on their journey away from the industrial-food pipeline to a rural life in which they vow to buy only food raised in their own neighborhood, grow it themselves, or learn to live without it. Their good-humored search yields surprising discoveries about turkey sex life and overly zealous zucchini plants, en route to a food culture that’s better for the neighborhood and also better on the table. Part memoir, part journalistic investigation, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle makes a passionate case for putting the kitchen back at the center of family life and diversified farms at the center of the American diet.

This is truly an incredible book, I highly recommend it.

The conversation with the clerk was a huge, earth shattering awakening for me. Upon leaving the store I proclaimed to Jim that living in the Midwest was out of the question. I couldn’t live on old produce, even for just one season a year.

“Thank god,” he said, “I was hoping you’d say that.” For him, the Midwest is just too hot in summer, too cold in winter, and too flat all the time. The lack of fresh wintertime produce sealed the deal for me. Onward we go to the East.

10 Responses to “Living and Eating in a West Coast Bubble”

  1. Fantastic article! I enjoyed your insight on hydroponics. It is a fun hobby. I personally own a hydroponic grow box system by Homegrown Hydroponics and I am able to grow plants year round, completely automated. We live in a cold climate here in British Columbia, and now we don’t have to wait for the right time of year to grow fresh flowers!

  2. Rene – We found a very enterprising organic farm very near to us. Here is a link to check out: http://www.somertontanksfarm.org
    We will take you there when you visit.

  3. I was surprised and glad to get at least one question answered once we started listening to Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. Just the day prior I had seen a billboard prompting farmers to “keep their gold local” by getting their soy beans crushed at a regional facility. “Crushed?” I thought. I was beginning to wonder why there was such a huge market for the soy beans we’d been seeing for miles, and miles, and miles… (check out our videos page to see the movie). People couldn’t be eating that much edamame, I thought. So I presumed they were grinding it up for soy protein. I was partially correct.

    The truth that I discovered is that a huge portion of this nation’s farmland is dedicated to the production of corn and soy beans that are crushed and shipped off to laboratories producing lecithin, maltodextrin, hydrogenated oils, and other additives fueling America’s addiction to processed foods. Read the book.

  4. The average life expectancy in North Dakota is 78.3 years. In California, it’s 78.2 years and most attribute the high average in California to the large numbers of Asian Americans living there. Minnesota, Iowa, New Hampshire, North Dakota and five other states have longer average life spans than California. Apparently the key to long life is not the availablity of organic or locally grown produce.

    Or, perhaps life just SEEMS longer in North Dakota.

  5. here you go Rene.
    https://fresh.amazon.com
    Fresh Selection
    Highest-quality fresh fruits and vegetables
    Full range of fresh, frozen, and non-perishable grocery items
    Leading assortment of natural, organic, and specialty brands

    oh wait it’s just in Seattle for now.
    remember webvan???

    //A

  6. We just found a co-op in Bemidji, and bought some romaine lettuce and salad greens. Guess where they were from? California!

    Yes, read the Kingsolver book, it is very eye opening.

    And as for your Brain, I’m looking forward to grazing in your garden! Didn’t know you were a farmer now. Cool! Guess you can take the guy out of Penngrove but you can’t take the Penngrove out of the guy?

  7. Poor Rene! You will be happy to know that when you get to New Jersey, we have plenty of fresh vegetables for you. A vast abundance and wide variety of vegetables of all types and colors! This is after all “The Garden State”! Farmers Markets and produce stands are a dime a dozen! I personally have been growing corn, lettuce and lemon cucumbers in my back yard. We are looking forward to your visit here, and I swear to have a smorgasbord of greens for you to dine on. Oh, and some bloody meat for James! And we won’t forget about Jerry either. Good luck in your search for fresh produce!

  8. Ahhhhh. Grand Forks. My old stomping grounds πŸ™‚ I have been into that store just a few times…as I wasn’t into eating organic/healthy so much when I was in college there. It’s a cute little store with amazing soups. Bummer on the produce. And yes…finding local greens in the winter in North Dakota. Ha! πŸ™‚ You were definitely spoiled in CA! πŸ˜‰ I’ve been wanting to check out that book…thanks for the reminder!

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