Twelve clean white eggs appeared in my refrigerator. Each was such an exact replica of the next that they looked machine-made. “Where did these come from?” I said, accusingly. “You know I get eggs every Friday from Dale.” “We ran out,” said my husband, “so I got some at the grocery.” I stiffened, irritated. I’ve become a local foods foodie, as judgemental about buying non-local foods as anyone who’s recently been converted to a new way of doing things.
Dale Kriesche is our egg supplier. His hens roam freely outdoors during the day in an enclosure of orange fencing that’s electric and can be moved to new ground when they’ve eaten everything they like that‘s within reach. They’re pretty hens that cluck contentedly and stare near-sightedly at the ground, scratching for whatever’s there and producing brown eggs of varying sizes with yolks so bright orange they look like small suns in a frying pan.
Members of our buying club alternate driving more than 60 miles round trip to get Dale’s eggs unless he’s doing his bi-weekly grocery shopping in Sault Ste. Marie, in which case he delivers them to the local Pak N’ Ship. The helpful staff keep them in a cooler until picked up by those of us who’ve put in an order that week.
On the same day that we pick up eggs, we get greens from Mark Blackwood’s hoophouse. Mark and Dale both live in Rudyard so we combine our purchases into one trip. The greens are spicy and full-flavored, grown without chemicals and harvested the morning we pick them up. On the days that I go, I look for snowy owls that often perch on the telephone poles and fence posts or let my dogs run free on one of the deserted rural roads.
I go to great lengths to buy local foods. Finding whole wheat flour in Desbarats, Ontario, was a triumph. Paul Martin is a Mennonite farmer who seemed to be the personification of a grower the slow food movement supports – and the kind of grower who’s being forced out of business by readily available flour in grocery stores. He doesn’t have a telephone or email so arrangements must be made via snail mail or by driving directly to the farm and hoping to find him at home and flour available. Since it’s an 85 mile road trip, buying flour must be done intentionally. It’s not something you can pick up on your way home from the library. I bought a supply that’s lasted a year. To get to his farm I followed directions that took me onto increasingly narrow roads. Eventually I followed the horse and wagon tracks in the dirt … past a flock of sandhill cranes gathering to migrate south … through a forest … and up a driveway with a hand-made sign advertising flour and maple syrup. Paul covers the sign with a burlap bag if he’s not open for business.
Making the purchase flour involved a discussion about how to store it (in the freezer because it contains no preservatives), how it was grown (without chemicals), how it was harvested (with horse-pulled machinery) and how it was ground (with equipment that appeared to be antique, covered with flour dust). His small serious sons watched the transaction. I hope that when they’re adults they’ll need the lessons they were storing away that morning.
On the return trip I stopped at a farm stand at the side of the road. Long sheets of plywood on saw horses were covered with a huge assortment of squash. Nobody was about. A sign instructed customers to help themselves and to leave as much money as we thought was fair.
Buying food this way is inconvenient. But I like the reality of finding a scrap of sawdust sticking to the shell of my eggs and being able to ask a grower whether herbicides were applied to my salad greens. And I certainly would rather hand money directly to a bearded farmer in exchange for the wheat he grew on the beautiful land surrounding us than shove a plastic card into a machine in a neon-lit grocery store as the last unpleasant errand of the day.