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Michael Pollan and Allandale Farms

April 27, 2007


I recently had a life-changing experience. Well, it wasn’t so much AN experience as several of them, in quick succession. And they were experiences as much as sitting on a couch reading can really be an experience. But I feel that my head has been turned around, and something that was only minimally important to me before has become a serious kitchen priority. And that something is organic.

I guess you could say all of this started in late January, when Michael Pollan published an article in the New York Times. “Unhappy Meals” made the rounds pretty quickly and inspired much conversation. Of course, I read it and instantly forwarded it to Crystal. It was one of those articles that made me think, “Everyone needs to read this!” But I long ago learned that I can’t make people read anything, no matter how important I think it is. I stopped harping on people about it, and it was mostly forgotten.

A few weeks ago, I read Don’t Eat This Book, Morgan Spurlock’s elaboration on Super Size Me. Nothing particularly revelatory in there. After all, I did read Fast Food Nation. Twice. But it had the effect of focusing my attention, like a magnifying glass catching the sun and setting things on fire. I could feel it. I was going to become obsessed.

I immediately read The Omnivore’s Dilemma, and my mind was effectively blown. Nothing had ever made the case for local organic more compellingly before, and I read A LOT. I even lived with an obsessive organic-only vegetarian and was more annoyed than convinced. But Michael Pollan and his stories about corn farming and fertilizers and wild pigs and killing chickens–that was what finally pushed me over the edge. I talked to everyone about this book. I think I started to annoy Mr. X a little bit. I went out and bought a book on organic gardening, with a glint in my eye (and a dream of someday actually having a place I could garden).

And I realized, now that I started actually paying attention, how difficult it can be to buy organic, still, and even in a big city like Boston. I’m lucky (did I ever think I’d say this?) to live across the street from the hippy mart, no matter how crappy it is. At least I know half their produce is organic, and local as often as possible. And I’m even more convinced now that I have to move back to California. There is no where else on earth where that abundance and variety of local organic produce can be found for that much of the year.

Yes, I was forced to come face-to-face with the limits of my local produce desires when Mr. X and I took a trip to Allandale Farm.

Another view of a greenhouse

Allandale Farm is the oldest working farm in Boston (well, technically, in Brookline, but less than 10 minutes away from my house and decidedly in the city). I heard that their farm store opened again in early April and I knew they had greenhouses and my non-agriculturally-knowledgeable mind thought, “Yay! Local veggies!”

Yeah, not so much. Not even a greenhouse can make up for the fact that early April in Boston is still winter. The farm store was lovely, and the endless greenhouses of seedlings and flowers were warm and summer smelling. The shop was full of sunlight and felt clean and wholesome and wonderful. They sell tons of local breads and pies and cheeses, as well as garden implements and soil and other necessaries for organic gardening. But I felt a little shocked when I picked up a red pepper with a Product of Mexico sticker on it. Mr. X laughed a little. “They can’t even grow good red peppers here in the peak of the season!” he scoffed. I immediately claimed that I would be the first, though that’s a seriously laughable thought.

I don’t know why I expected that Allandale Farm would be able to thwart nature and give me produce in the cold and endless Boston winter, but a girl can dream, right? And despite the Mexican pepper, I was pretty impressed with everything else they had. Baby lettuces in pots that tempted me to buy them, though in all likelihood they would end up dead before I could eat them. Rows of baquettes from the bakery in JP that produces the best croissants in town. Cases full of local cheese that made me smash my face up against the glass and start drooling (sorry about that, farm stand people).

Pretty Vermont butter

I’m pretty excited to go back, once it becomes possible to actually grow things in Boston again. But beyond that, I’m excited to be thinking so much more deeply about my food. I’m excited at the prospect of growing my own, someday. In fact, my cilantro plants are already sprouting like crazy, though the mint is very likely not going to be do anything, yet again. It feels good to know that I’m eating food that isn’t part of a destructive and unsustainable system. And as every new story comes through, about the toothlessness of the FDA, or contaminated food imports from China, or more infected cow shit in my spinach, the more certain I am that organic is absolutely necessary.

Of course, it’s still not that easy to make that choice, as I’m becoming more and more aware. Big market Whole Foods Earthbound Farms organic should only be a back up option, but sadly it’s often the only option. And in tons of places there isn’t even that. I feel a bit that it might be worth my time and energy to become one of those people, an activist for better food systems. A freaking hippy at the hippy mart. But I hope that some day in my life, organic, local produce is the only produce option.

Blue Frog baquettes

So I might have just doubled the size of my grocery bill, and required myself to spend too much time looking at labels (and consequently feeling frightened by the kinds of things human beings put into their bodies). But I hope that everytime I vote with my fork, I can be part of the push away from factory farms, and back to sustainable, healthy, real food. And I hope that in some small, and hopefully not obnoxious, patronizing, and holier-than-thou way, I can convince other people that it’s important, too.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Crimson permalink
    April 28, 2007 7:00 pm

    Trevor and I have been thinking the same things about our food for quite some time. We realized that so much of what we eat here cannot be made outside of a factory (and contains enough chemicals to start a pharmaceutical company). This was the major reason I started cooking in the first place. Now I don’t want to eat anything i couldn’t make on my own (no doritos or stouffers). We are trying to transition to organic, but the prices can be prohibiting. And yes, hippies are annoying (and think of unusual, obnoxious names for their children, like words for colors).

  2. Jermaine permalink
    August 21, 2010 2:41 pm

    I really enjoyed this article–very refreshing and honest. I wonder if greenhouses can’t use electricity for white light to grow just about anything in winter, kind-of the way marijuana cultivators somehow manage to do?

    I’m guessing there is no economic incentive to pay for something nature gives freely (energy in the form of sunlight). Never mind the massive amounts of fossil fuel expended in fertilizer production, water pumping, and food transportation long distances for starters.

    Scientists say we are in the middle of a global mass extinction of species, the 6th of its kind on the planet the last one having occurred some 60 millions years ago. Owing to their innate survival instinct I don’t believe so many creatures are committing mass suicide, and that modern man is the agent of this calamity. I believe climate change is no pipe-dream, it is the here and now!

    I heard it said that more than 100 years ago when first introduced the car was originally designed to run on peanut oil. We now know that things like peanuts enrich the soil by adding nitrogen to it (something the Indians understood long before western science caught-on).

    These days biodiesel is all the rave because it sets the world down the path to a carbon neutral economy. Alas, it was better for somebody’s bottom-line to pump oil than plant peanuts.

    It should come as no surprise that if we as a species keep cutting corners and doing everything on the cheap we stand to pay a huge price. It’s like running up a tab at the bar and having to pay it all at one time, but you can’t because your broke from spending all your money having a good time.

    Quite frankly, its bigger that the way we eat. Yes what we put in our bodies is a major concern, but look what we are putting into the environment. It is said the ocean is the worlds biggest public toilet. I mean, animals are dying from ingesting what Californians and many others dump into the Pacific–mainly plastics.

    All I’m trying to say is people ought to try to think more about the ecosystem and how we are changing things. At present we have the luxury (atleast while there is still oil in the ground somewhere/anywhere) of looking out for our own fulfillment to the detriment of everything and everyone else. But how long can such things last? Not very long.

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