Small, Good Things: Food for Thought

By Joe Dizney

On Sunday, April 19, the Highlands Country Club hosted the Fifth Annual Hudson Highlands Land Trust Sustainability Forum. The theme of this year’s forum was “Food for Thought: Shopping Cooking and Eating Sustainably.”

Following welcoming comments by HHLT Director Andy Chmar, a keynote panel led and moderated by Zanne Stewart, former executive food editor of Gourmet magazine (and member of the Paper family) addressed both the macro and micro concerns of sustainable food.

food for thought logo

Panel participants included Garrison resident Jocelyn Apicello, co-owner/operator of Longhaul Farms and organic “micro-farm” and public health professional; and Barry Estabrook, Vermont-based, James Beard award–winning journalist and New York Times bestselling author whose upcoming book, Pig Tales: An Omnivore’s Quest for Sustainable Meat, will be published next month.

Also participating in the keynote panel were Garrison resident Mike Finnegan, an environmental lawyer/entrepreneur and co-founder of Continental Organics, the New Windsor–based sustainable agriculture company that produces (over 50 varieties of) organic vegetables and fish (Coho salmon and St. Peters fish/tilapia) in a “closed loop, zero waste” aquaponic/aquaculture system (a combination of hydroponic vegetable cultivation and recirculating aquaculture fish husbandry) serving a local (100-mile radius) Hudson Valley market; and Lisa Hall, former public school educator and recent Philipstown transplant whose Marbled Meat Shop aspires to be a source for locally and sustainably produced meats and eventually to become a “whole animal butcher shop.”

The proceedings got off to a good-natured if slightly polemical start with chairperson Stewart’s comments that many of our food choices are “based on ignorance,” a comment that was echoed throughout the day — it was reinforced repeatedly that the grounds for making smart choices for ourselves, our families and the environment usually come down to becoming actively informed consumers, both economically and nutritionally.

Estabrook, commenting on industrial versus local sustainable pork husbandry, made the point that “depending upon how it is raised [pork] can be either the worst possible or the best possible meat you can eat.”

Apicello, a small-scale producer of vegetables and livestock, agreed, citing the honesty and transparency inherent in “knowing the producer and being able to ask questions” as well as the fact that locally raised produce will more likely be “harvested for maximum nutrition,” a hidden cost-factor analysis in comparing the human and environmental health benefits of local-sustainable-organic practices versus industrial-synthetic production.

All agreed that the terminology could be confounding: the USDA “organic” label allows for up to 256 nonorganic additions to the production process. Apicello shared an anecdote about buying a Granny Smith apple, taking a bite out of it and posting on Instagram to chart its failure to discolor — over the course of multiple weeks — due to so-called “advanced” cultivation methods.

Estabrook commented that on a global scale (and echoing the focus of the Garrison Institute’s recent Earth Day dinner), “‘ecological agriculture’ is the only way to feed 9 billion people,” but that “demands education and knowledge and is a continuing dialog between ‘what the science says’ and ‘what the people want and demand.’”

On a commercial market level, Stewart cited a figure that “60 percent of our calories come from California.” Finnegan quoted “an average 1,500-mile food-to-market journey.” As consumers, neither of these comments absolves us from making better choices or our local supermarket produce managers from failing to provide us with answers to questions about less-than-optimal goods.

Stewart steered the discussion toward family choices in the kitchen where it really counts, proposing that dinner can be either “good, fast or easy — pick two,” and she noted the impact that preteen and teenage eaters can have on the menu, although she did allow that if we involve the younger generations in the process, their tastes are not as etched-in-stone as we like to think: “If they grow those lima beans, they will eat those lima beans.”

The education of our adult palates is also on the table, and Hall pointed out her job as both a retailer and educator in discussing substitutions with her customers — “A real, whole pig, unlike its supermarket counterpart, has a limited number of tenderloins — when they’re gone, they’re gone. But there are other things to eat and we try to offer options and even recipes.”

Ava Bynum

Ava Bynum

The forum broke at noon for lunch and follow-up panels in the afternoon, with Katherine Whiteside and myself moderating a panel on Home Economics for the New Age. (Take home: We all need larger freezers.) Stewart and former food columnist Celia Barbour discussed “maximizing your food dollar,” and Apicello was joined by Ava Bynum to moderate “It’s a Family Affair: Involving Kids and Friends in Growing and Cooking.”

Bynum, executive director of Hudson Valley Seed, a Beacon-based nonprofit focused on nutrition and wellness education through gardening, particularly seemed to me to communicate the intent and focus of the forum: She spent the day worrying over a container full of herb and vegetable seedlings sprouted by first-graders from the various schools in Hudson Valley Seed’s purview. She promised to return them unharmed.

Poached Eggs in Sorrel Cream Sauce

I couldn’t let this week go by without at least one quick recipe to celebrate the changing season, and this salute to spring sorrel (from Madura Farms in the Cold Spring Farmers’ Market) is just the thing. Be sure to get some good crusty bread to mop up the sauce. Serves two.

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 large shallot, minced

1 large bunch sorrel, stems discarded, leaves chopped roughly

¼ cup heavy cream

Salt and pepper

4 large yard eggs

Buttered toast for serving

Melt butter in a small skillet (with lid) over medium heat. Add shallots; sauté until translucent. Add sorrel leaves and cook, stirring, until it wilts and starts to turn olive-green in color (about 3 minutes). Stir in cream and simmer to thicken for a minute or so. Add salt and pepper to taste and lower heat to medium-low.

Crack eggs into skillet in a single layer. Cover pan and cook about 2 minutes. Turn off heat and let rest (about 30 seconds for runny yolks, longer if desired).

Serve eggs and sauce in bowls; don’t forget the toast.

Photo by J. Dizney

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