Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Outstanding In Their Field & Fork

This past February 23, 2009, food history was made, Western New York food history that is. The first annual Field & Fork Network’s Farmer-Chef conference took place at the Byrncliff Resort and Conference Center in Varysburg, NY. Farmers, chefs, food artisans, food industry professionals and everyday consumers gathered for a day of networking, workshops and a tasting of local food. People from all walks of life connected by one common link, their love of food.

They care about how our food is planted, the kind of soil that is used and that it be free of chemicals and pesticides. They are concerned with the respect and quality of life that is offered to farm animals, what they are fed, the conditions in which they live and that they are humanely slaughtered. They are working to supply Western New York with fresh, healthy, local food.

Founded in 2008, the Field & Fork Network is a non-profit organization dedicated to providing our region the building blocks needed to create a local food system in Western New York. Their goal is to stimulate our local economy, ensure the survival of our small family farms and provide our region with access to fresh, healthy food. They hope to achieve this through education and outreach including a dynamic online community and an annual local food sourcing guide for chefs and consumers.

One of the highlights from the conference included keynote speaker Eric Hahn, President and owner of Cherry Capital Foods, a local foods distribution company located in Traverse City, Michigan. Having 30 years experience in the food industry, Eric Hahn’s inspiring lecture was the first step toward creating the communication link between our farmers and chefs. He stressed the importance of farmers and chefs working together to overcome any obstacles that may exist in doing business with one another and in turn, making a positive impact on economic growth for our region.

But what does this mean for the regular consumer? How do we fit into this chain? We can reap the benefits of fresh local food by being educated and letting our dollars do the talking by choosing local food above all else. By shopping at local farmers markets and building relationships with the farmers who grow and raise our food. By shopping at grocery markets which offer foods from local farms. We can take a farm tour to see first hand the hard work and determination these dedicated farmers put into the foods they grow and raise. We can consider buying a share in a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) farm or splitting a share with a friend or neighbor. We can reserve a portion of our gardens for planting tomatoes, lettuces or herbs. And we can choose to dine in restaurants that purchase foods from local farms. Fresh, healthy, local food always tastes best.

When I was young my grandfather owned a poultry market. I made friends with the little chicks and, well, could not consider them a meal. I have since come to terms with the food chain and believe, as did my beloved grandfather, that respecting the animal in life and death is what matters. Waste no part of the animal and to be grateful it surrendered its life.

We need to understand and respect the long hours of hard work and dedication farmers put into the foods they grow and raise. The same holds true for the chefs who buy and prepare that food in our favorite restaurants. The heat is the same on both ends of the food chain. As consumers we are in the middle, but we can help both the farmers and chefs by respecting their efforts and by choosing to buy local foods to serve our families and to patronize restaurants that respect the food they offer on their menus.