Checking the Box on Local Food

By Eileen Weber

Michelle McCabe, event organizer and Chair of the Fairfield PTA Council Fuel for Learning Partnership
Michelle McCabe, event organizer and Chair of the Fairfield PTA Council Fuel for Learning Partnership

The Food for Thought Expo took place at Fairfield Warde High School this Saturday. A good buzz of people attended the fair to hear lectures and experience what local vendors had to share. From locally made breads and honey to fresh milk and organic gourmet take-out, this showcase had it all.

As part of a series of lectures included in the event, Analiese Paik, this site’s founder, spoke for close to an hour about getting the message out about local, organically grown food. “It’s there for the taking. It’s out there,” she said.

Beekeepers are farmers too and they provide a critical service by ensuring that our bee populations thrive. Without them, we'd have to hand pollinate.
Red Bee Honey's Marina Marchese points out that beekeepers are farmers too and they provide a critical service by ensuring that our bee populations thrive. Without them, we'd have to hand pollinate.

Paik went on to describe the opportunities consumers have at their fingertips. From CSAs to farmers’ markets to retail chains selling whole foods, there is something for everyone. The biggest joy for her, she said, is connecting the farmer to the consumer. It’s making that connection that is key to fresh food’s survival in our society.

Analiese Paik, flanked by the ladies of The Farmer's Cow, a cooperative of family-owned dairies providing fresh milk to CT consumers.
Analiese Paik, flanked by the ladies of The Farmer's Cow, a cooperative of family-owned dairies providing fresh milk to CT consumers.

“We need to check the box on local food. Check the box on the local economy. Check the box on farmland preservation,” she said. Paik’s point was that local, organic food should be a way of life and not something we do once in a while. With obesity and juvenile diabetes rampant in this country, the very thing that makes a difference with those two epidemics is the kind of food we put in our mouths.

Master Gardener and organic gardening and composting expert Nick Mancini, was a guest speaker and here demonstrates vermiculture (container composting with worms).
Nick Mancini is a Master Gardener and organic gardening and composting expert. He was a guest speaker at Food for Thought and here demonstrates vermiculture (container composting with worms).

In a recent press release about the event, Michelle McCabe, Chairperson for Fuel for Learning Partnership (FFLP), the expo’s organizer and sponsor, said the event was meant to remind us of what foods to avoid. “It seems almost daily that we hear or read stories about the foods we eat, many of them with bad news,” she said. “…the main goal is to help us better feed our families. With the help of cooking instructors, educators, and local businesses, visitors to the Food for Thought Expo will be introduced to the vast range of resources available to help us all attain that goal of healthful eating.”

Annelise McCay is a long-time advocate of better school food and founded the Sherman School's organic edible schoolyard garden.
Annelise McCay is a long-time advocate of better school food and founded Sherman School's organic edible schoolyard garden.

The FFLP sponsored the event as part of an on-going effort to help educate the general public about the best ways to approach nutrition, and how we can overcome the health challenges Paik mentioned in her lecture. “We’re all on a journey toward changing the way we eat,” said McCabe. “That comes with a learning curve, and our focus is to help people take ownership of their health, and the health of their children.”

Paik sees consumer interest in natural foods growing exponentially. She sees her role as providing a way for people to get to the food they should be eating. It’s also a way to keep our precious farmland preserved. “There are a thousand points of light out there and we’re connecting them,” she said. “There is hope.”

Michael Mordecai and Elizabeth Keyser serve tastings of The Flaxette, a delicious, hand-crafted baguette featuring organic ground flaxseed.
Michael Mordecai and Elizabeth Keyser serve tastings of The Flaxette, a delicious, hand-crafted baguette featuring organic ground flaxseed.

But it’s not just the farms. It’s everything that relies on the farm that provides fresh food to families. Maybe you go to food stores like Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods Market. Or maybe you decide on take-out from Fairfield area hot spots like Health in a Hurry, Catch a Healthy Habit, and Green Gourmet To Go. Fairfield County’s latest farm-to-table restaurant comes in the form of a mobile brick oven caterer and Cheff Jeff had it stationed outside to serve pizza made with fresh, local toppings to the more than 600 guests that attended the event.

Glen Colello from Fairfield's organic cafe, Catch a Healthy Habit, espouses the benefits of raw food.
Glen Colello from Fairfield's organic cafe, Catch a Healthy Habit, espouses the benefits of raw food.

But there are some people who are a little apprehensive about buying shares in CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture). Frequently, farms provide an abundance of produce at some point during the season that the average consumer can’t use up in a week. To that, Paik said there are easy ways to avoid that problem. Blanching the excess and freezing it makes it easier for you to use the vegetables any time you choose. And if that doesn’t work for you, try Veggie Trader. They link people with excess produce to those who are looking for it. And if you can’t make it to a farmers’ market and don’t belong to a CSA, use CT Farm Fresh Express to get farm-fresh food to your table in one quick delivery. Of matching a farmer’s produce with the consumer, Paik said, “That’s a match made in heaven.”

John Turenne, Founder of Sustainable Food Systems, was the surprise guest of the day and stopped to visit with Cheff Jeff and his mobile, wood-fired brick oven.
John Turenne, Founder of Sustainable Food Systems, was the surprise guest of the day and stopped to visit with Cheff Jeff and his mobile, wood-fired brick oven.

While real estate is location, location, location, food has a similar concept: local, local, local. “CSAs are selling out,” said Paik. “We’ve stopped losing farmland. Smart people are running farms with a good business plan.” She said that farms are the hub, providing the raw material for the consumer, government, institutions like New Milford Hospital and their Plow to Plate initiative, retail chains, chefs, and school lunches. “It’s a jigsaw puzzle,” she said “and we are all finding ways to work together to be part of the solution.”

Paik feels we’ve reached our tipping point with the organic food movement. “We’re not waiting for our government to fix the food system. We’re doing it for them.”

2 thoughts on “Checking the Box on Local Food”

  1. I want to thank everyone who participated, spoke, educated, volunteered, and attended the Food For Thought Expo. It was great! What a positive fun vibe! Great job everyone!!

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