Spotlight on Local Food

I sat down with Pamela Hathaway and Hilary Boynton the other night to discuss a favorite topic: local food.  Pamela and Hilary are not only Mom’s with children in elementary school who are concerned with what their kids eat, but they have also started a Nutrition Coalition at the schools so that more local foods will be served to students from local area farms.

Pamela Hathaway, Hilary Boynton

We understand you are both very conscious about your food choices and shop locally most days of the week. We wondered if you could tell us a bit about why local food is important?

H: Shopping locally is very important. First of all it's fresh, straight from the source, and the most nutrient dense. Supporting local businesses is a big plus when you shop locally. In addition, my kids are involved as they are getting to know the merchants at the fish market, The Natural Gourmet, and many farm stands. They now know the people selling them their food. It seems that kids are more disconnected when they’re in a grocery store, they don't know where their food is coming from. I feel, the more you can shop locally the better. It’s also so important to support local farmers.  We get raw milk in Western Massachusetts but they are getting pressure from big dairy business. If you like a merchant’s service, I feel it’s important to make your voice heard and let people know that you support them.

P: I feel it is important to keep our food supply as diversified as possible. I like to shop for foods as close to organic as possible, as this is very sustainable environmentally. We have a whole eco system in Concord based on agriculture. It is fairly stable at this point and it is a good system that is moving toward sustainability. This [Concord] is a 350 year old agriculturally-based town – it’s  very valuable that we hold onto that. It’s also very important that we show the next generation that we value what farmers are doing. Farmers are aging, and we want this to be a viable business to get into. Unfortunately, it is very expensive to have land and live here. We need new models to support local farms, to have viable livelihood, to make its sustainable, or else it falls apart.

Do you grow any food around your house and do you have any suggestions for our readers on how to start doing that?

H: We do grow food around our house and have a vegetable garden in our back yard. We grow mesclin, spinach, carrots, and tomatoes. We’ve tried growing all sorts of things -  peppers, hot peppers, rhubarb. We just throw it in, it usually comes up. My kids were only 1 when we started growing vegetables.  A good way to start a garden is with a window box and fill it with herbs. My kids have tried freshly grown oregano, parsley, thyme, sage. I just send the kids out with a pair of scissors and a salad spinner. There is nothing better than plucking off fresh cherry tomatoes from the vine. My kids love to cook, and I'm teaching them to cook with our freshly grown produce. We just get the ingredients right from the back yard.

P: Yes, we grow several kinds of berries in our backyard - raspberries and blueberries, as well as peaches. The peaches  were incredible, delicious. You just have to be diligent about keeping away the bugs. We’ve also grown strawberries. I’d suggest just experimenting. It’s not expensive to buy seedlings and it's worth it. It's a great project for kids. Not only do they learn about the soil and how to prepare it but also about how to plant and grow things. It’s easiest if you grow things in raised beds. Also, when you grow things yourself, there can be many teaching moments. For example, we bought some compost made from shrimp and my son asked me how shrimp was good for the garden.  He also was curious why potting soil had worms and how plants grow. Lastly, I also explained how some plants re-seed themselves, and keep coming  back.  He really enjoyed learning about how things grow.

Where are the places you'd recommend to readers to go for local foods?

P & H: Farm stands first off, open from now through the summer. Hutchins Farm opens June 1st. Drumlin Farm – they have fresh bags of lettuce starting at the end of March.  Applefield Farm – they have asparagus as well as many other things, now. Deborah’s Natural Gourmet – they buy locally grown produce such as Fiddleheads  which are starting to come out now.  Strawberries will be available at Verrill Farm and other farms - mid-to-end of June.  Join a fish CSA – I know of one that delivers to Lincoln once a week. Raw milk – there is one in Westerns Mass. which delivers  to W. Concord once a week. There is also a new raw milk farm, see here: in Framingham.  Pete and Jens' backyard birds – they have eggs, lamb, chicken, pork, lard.  Join a vegetable CSA - a lot of people are joining one and they’re becoming more popular.  Join a community garden – there are several in Concord. So many people are interested in growing food, and it’s great for experimenting with both vegetable seedlings and seeds.

Do either of you have a particular favorite cookbook when preparing meals that you could recommend?

Here are a few: “Nourishing Traditions”, by Sally Fallon,  “The Art of Simple Food” by Alice Waters - few ingredients, simple . “Gaining Ground Cookbook”, all of Molly Katzen's Vegetarian cookbooks, fun and easy.

Can you recommend any websites that are particularly good for local food resources or recipes?

H:  Dinners with Jeanette, – she offers monthly meal plans, and follows the book, “Nourishing Traditions”. She also has a shopping list feature. You get to try new things which is great. 

The Food Network, – I sometime go here.  You can always go to a search engine and type in the ingredients you have on hand and see what comes back.  

Kelly the kitchen Kop - - there are many people on the site who comment and have their own blogs, as well. It’s a really interesting site and if you sign up they will send you a daily link. She is really on top of what's going on.

Real food media - is another great site.  

Food Inc. - has a bunch of links that are really worth checking out.  

Michael Pollan -,  depends on your angle towards food. -, this is the nutrition coalition site which is just now up and running, . We designed it for a way for people to get resources.  It also lists what’s up and coming of what's going on in town.  There are a lot of people dedicated to working on the food situation.

We understand you're heading up an initiative at the elementary schools to do with local foods, can you explain to us what it is and what your goals are?

H & P: Well, here’s the mission of the Nutrition Coalition – it’s a 3 pronged mission:

1. Remove all bad stuff from foods, for example: msg, high fructose corn syrup, and remove unhealthy additives.

2. Establish a robust farm to school program.

3. Establish school gardens and farm and food related curricula.

We are trying to figure out ways to develop a much better system within the budget. There has been a lot of creative thinking outside the box. The problem is that it's hard to beat free commodity food from the govt. as it fulfills nutritional requirements from the state. However, it has low nutritional value.  We want the requirements to be more quantitative not qualitative.  Parent and community education has developed which is  to educate the schools and push them to keep the ball rolling. There has got to be a change, and many people are putting in their effort and time to get support. We are looking at other models at other schools and using their example to work it out here in our schools. There is still a lot of hard work to be done and there isn’t a simple solution.

What is a typical lunch meal like at the elementary schools and what would you like it to look like?

H & P: It used to be 5 days a week of fast food - chicken nuggets, pizza, hot dogs, canned beans or corn,  PBJ – there is nothing wrong with that, but the quality is the lowest. The kids just want something to eat quick as they are focused on getting outside for recess. Unfortunately, there aren’t any teachers sitting with the kids during lunch. There is the PAL program – where adults chat with the kids during lunch and encourage them to eat lunches. However, kids are still not eating properly.  In first grade they can gets dessert every day. There are snacks oftentimes in classrooms such as rainbow goldfish. These have no nutritional value and the kids are running on empty.  Food should be a big focus, so that they’re filled up with healthy foods which promote learning.  We don't do the most basic things – and the kids don't know how to eat. They also don't know where their food comes from.  There is a statistic that says that this is the first generation that may not outlive their parents. This generation doesn't have expectations for healthy foods – life is so fast paced. Bit by bit, we’re trying to spread the word and show the importance of this. 

What do you hope to accomplish with this initiative at the schools?

H & P:  To change the food culture. The fundamental nature of food, aesthetics, the way of eating, giving food it's due.  We hope the schools will buy food that's healthy – and that they feel it’s worth it to pay more when you get something that tastes better, looks better. If you feed kids properly, then they won't need snacky things, and in the long run it’s cheaper to buy healthy foods vs. things like Cheeze-Its that are full of bad fats. We're hoping the meals will eventually be cooked from scratch from healthy ingredients.

Lastly, are you always this good about your diet or do you  stray? If so, what do you eat  and where do you go to indulge?

H: Yes, I eat chocolate and ice cream. But in general, I want to make sure it's worth it. It has to be really good quality. I go to Nashoba Bakery which has rev-de-chocolate. I also buy the gelatto ice cream at Deborah's – it’s delicious.  

P: I like to think like Chef Paul from Harvard, food has to be fun.  But, you have to have a balance.  I really like ice cream, and I know when it's in the house.  I also love a piece of chocolate and I will indulge.  I just try not to do it all the time.   I’d suggest seeing the movie “Food Inc.”  which is all about big agribusiness.  

H: It's hard to make a change but fresh food tastes so much better. Sadly, babies are getting vitamin D drops now. Soils are depleted, so they have to heal the whole system. Nobody is focusing on nutrition and we think it’s time.


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