Local produce serves health with authenticity

By Emily Hoover | ehoover@flagler.edu
Photos by Robert Heinrich

Sometimes I think I’m really paranoid. Sometimes I get the fear when I walk into a grocery store, such a deep fear from within, that I want to run back to my car, as if someone is chasing me with a blunt object.

It’s not about the sensory overload I experience when my eyes finally adjust to all the artificial lights and I observe consumers scrambling through the aisles, looking for sales, just waiting for the exchange of currency for nutrients. It’s not about budgeting, since I now live with my boyfriend and our combined income makes good food easier to afford.

The fact is: I can’t buy bagels without staring intently at the back of the package, looking for chemicals and preservatives. I can always locate xantham gum and high fructose corn syrup—oftentimes a combination of both—especially in food marked “All Natural” and “No Preservatives.” So I find myself putting products back on the crammed shelves, hunting for something not just certifiably organic, but really organic.

I have always believed that the wealthy can afford to be healthy. They can afford to eat grass-fed beef and organic kale from Whole Foods. Meanwhile, those of us who are lower or middle class, well, we’re stuck eating out of a package. We may choose to eat baked Cheetos instead of regular Cheetos, but who really thinks they’re made from real cheese, anyway?

But it’s really fatalistic to give up on being nutrient-rich, just because our wages can’t compete with the raising prices. There are plenty of healthy alternatives to crap food out there, especially in a community like St. Augustine. We have two farmer’s markets held weekly on St. Augustine Beach—one on Wednesday and one on Saturday—as well as one in Lincolnville, held on Sundays. Lincolnville is also the home to the CitySprout community garden and Anastasia Island harbors Stewart’s Market and Diane’s Natural Food.

If you’re like me and you work all the time—I work on Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday and I’m in class on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday until 7:30 p.m.—then you’ve definitely braved the grocery store, weighing and fondling produce from Mexico or California. Maybe you’ve wondered about chemicals. Maybe you’ve wondered how the food is still fresh, after its long journey from South America to your shopping cart. Maybe you’ve even asked yourself: is this food really healthy? I know I have.

That is, until I stumbled upon Local Fare Farm Bag. Local Fare is a new business in St. Augustine that functions primarily online. Their goal is to provide seasonal, locally grown food to their patrons and promote area farmers, according to their mission statement. The prices range from $25 to $45 per bag and can feed up to eight people. I subscribe to the bi-weekly $25 program, but the company offers weekly and monthly programs as well. They deliver a bag of fruits and veggies to my house every other Tuesday, complete with a loaf of fresh bread.

The best part about this company is the newsletter, which includes two-to-three written recipes and a link to a video recipe. I’ve always had kitchen anxiety, even though I’ve been a vegetarian for three years. So I’ve eaten my fair share of black beans and rice, avocado and sprout sandwiches and garlic sautéed zucchini and squash because that was about all I knew how to do.

Because of Local Fare, I’ve learned I can make a stir-fry with baby bok choy, a roast with kohlrabi and watermelon radish and brown-sugar glazed roasted beets with fresh-squeezed tangerine juice. Before, I would have never tried kohlrabi—or learned to pronounce it—and beets gave me the heebie jeebies. I had forgotten how good spinach and carrots taste when they’re not coming out of a bag. I didn’t even know cauliflower could be purple.

I went to the grocery store last night to buy organic sweet potatoes for my beet roast. I figured sweet potatoes would go well with brown sugar and tangerine juice. My boyfriend and I were planning to combine the roast with a salad of baby spinach, leaf lettuce, and organic green onions.

As we entered the produce section, we learned that we could buy most of the ingredients we needed for our meal at the store. Some of the ingredients were pretty cheap, like a buy-one-get-one-free deal on green onions that looked like they were wilting. A head of mass-produced lettuce costs $1.49. A box of organic baby spinach, which may or may not really be organic, costs $5.99. But I couldn’t even find fresh beets. I would have had to settle for canned beets for $1.69, the grocer told me.

I know I paid $25 for all that food and could have saved some money at the store, but if I had shopped there I would have had to stomach beets that taste like a can. If I had bought that spinach I would have been asking myself: am I eating artificial coloring and who knows what else, despite the word “organic” being scribbled onto the package in bright green cursive? I would have been using my paper money to pay for plastic packaging and the illusion of freshness and authenticity.

Something about that notion gave me the fear again as I preheated my oven. Good thing I only have to wait until Tuesday for my next delivery, I thought.

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