Vicki Robin, who some of you may know as the co-author of "Your Money Or Your Life," announced publication of her new book last week titled "Blessing the Hands That Feed Us: What Eating Closer to Home Can Teach Us About Food, Community and Our Place on Earth." I couldn't wait to purchase a copy!
I met Vicki briefly years ago at a workshop in Seattle. She is a dynamic and highly entertaining speaker and I've long appreciated her creative approach to life and her engaging writing style.
At the time, she was living in Seattle and making frequent public appearances all over the world, but since then she was diagnosed with cancer. In the process of healing, she relocated to a quieter life on Whidbey Island.
In the summer of 2010, a friend suggested an experiment. The friend had a half-acre garden, and wanted to see if a person could live for a month eating only the produce from the garden. Vicki is an omnivore and wasn't willing to give up meat, so they changed the rules to include any food produced within 10 miles of where Vicki lived. That included farmers who raised beef, lambs and chickens.
Vicki's new book is the story of her 30-day, 10-mile locavore experiment and what she learned about herself and the role of food in our lives. Some of her insights I recognized from my own experiences. However, Vicki, as a career visionary, also extrapolates what she learned into specific steps people can take to help create more sustainable local food systems.
Vicki's quickly began to learn about the difficulties faced by small farm operators. For example, she found herself engaged in illegal activities in her attempt to get raw goat's milk and goat cheese. It is against the law for a farmer to sell raw milk without a license, expensive annual inspections and detailed record keeping. Since her goat farmer could not afford the licensing expense, Vicki could keep the milk if she milked the goat herself, but could not if someone else milked the goat for her.
Her research into why local range-fed chickens cost $5 per pound led her into the world of tax-based factory farm subsidies which hide the actual costs of foods we eat. "[I]ndustrial agriculture is like the Red Queen and locally produced food is like Alice. The rules change often and immediately to favor the imperious monarch," she says.
She also describes how eating local food enhanced her feelings of belonging in the community and deepened her sense of place. "Making some small commitment to eating within a radius of where you live," she states, "is an act of reconnection. It is an act of honoring the hands and lands that feed you." She offers plenty of stories about how she came to that conclusion.
Robin even talks about her personal relationship with food and how she reconnected with her senses. After years of trying many kinds of diets, "I didn't know what I was in for with the 10-mile-diet," she writes. "I never expected to develop a new relationship with food that had nothing - but nothing - to do with my size... I, the lone eater, would become I, the blessed, with food, farmers, farms, fields and forests that fed me. I would receive the love right from the food, rather than turning to food as a substitute for love. This kind of diet sticks because it transforms the eater."
Along the same lines she waxes eloquent about the sensory experience of eating. She describes how she relearned to cook based on flavors rather than recipes. "Food and our tongues are made for each other! There is little in life as intimate as food entering our bodies and becoming us, yet how often do we marvel at this marriage of tongue and nose and sight ..."
Robin doesn't gloss over the difficulties of eating locally, either. It's not for wimps, she says, and she knows change happens incrementally. She doesn't ask readers to drop their current eating habits and go locavore overnight - or even ever.
Statistical health changes after her month of local eating included weight loss and improved cholesterol levels. But she focuses primarily on changes in how she feels about the place she lives, her community and her awareness of the eating experience. She had spent years traveling, considering herself a citizen of the world. "Now, thanks to the diet, I had settled in. Rather than feeling trapped, I felt held." Also, "I never want to lose this newly awakened intimacy with food, this transforming relationship with food. Flavors and fragrances are now triggers for awe and gratitude ..."
Robin's book is thought provoking and personal. I think you'll find her reflections on locavore eating honest, illuminating, and memorable.
LAVENDER HONEY SHORTBREAD
1 cup butter (homemade with cream from Silver Springs Creamery, Lynden)
1/2 cup honey (Backyard Bees, Bellingham)
1/2 cup chopped hazelnuts (Holmquist Hazelnut Orchards, Lynden)
1 teaspoon lavender flowers (Red Barn Lavender, Ferndale)
21/2 cups flour (Fairhaven Organic Flour Mills, Burlington)
Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.
Butter should be at room temperature. With a mixer or fork, mix the butter and honey until getting a creamy texture. Add the ground hazelnuts and lavender flowers and mix again.
Add flour one cup at a time. Dough will begin to form a ball when it is done. Don't over mix.
Press the dough into the bottom of an ungreased pan. You can use a cast iron skillet, pie pans, or other baking dishes with sides. Dough should be about 1/4 to 3/8 inch thick, evenly spread.
Using a small knife, lightly score the surface where you will want to cut the shortbread after it is baked. Then, using a fork, perforate along those scored lines, poking holes to the bottom of the dough.
Bake for about 30-50 minutes, depending on how thick you spread the dough. The shortbread is done when the edges have browned and the middle springs back like a cake when gently pressed.
Makes 2 dozen pieces (at least).
You'll find Whatcom County foods at these stores and farms. Many outlets have seasonal hours. We recommend you call or check websites for current hours.
Acme Farms + Kitchen, 1313 N State Street, Bellingham
Appel Farms Cheese Shoppe, 6605 Northwest Road, Ferndale; 360-384-4996
Artisan Wine Gallery, 2072 Granger Way, Lummi Island; 360-758-2959
BelleWood Acres, 6140 Guide Meridian, Lynden; 360-318-7720
Bellingham Country Gardens (u-pick vegetables), 2838 East Kelly Road, Bellingham
Bellingham Farmers Market, Railroad at Chestnut; 360-647-2060
Boxx Berry Farm Store and u-pick, 6211 Northwest Road, Ferndale; 360-380-2699
Cloud Mountain Farm Nursery, 6906 Goodwin Road, Everson; 360-966-5859
Community Food Cooperative, 1220 N. Forest St. and 315 Westerly Road, Bellingham; 360-734-8158
Five Loaves Farm, 514 Liberty St., Lynden
Ferndale Public Market, Centennial Riverwalk, Ferndale; 360-410-7747
Grace Harbor Farms, 2347 Birch Bay Lynden Road, Custer; 360-366-4151
The Green Barn, 211 Birch Bay-Lynden Road, Lynden; 360-318-8869
Hopewell Farm, 3072 Massey Road, Everson; 360-927-8433
The Islander, 2106 S. Nugent Road, Lummi Island; 360-758-2190
Joe's Garden, 3110 Taylor Avenue, Bellingham, 360-671-7639
Lynden Farmers Market, Fourth and Front streets, Lynden
The Markets LLC, 1030 Lakeway, Bellingham; 8135 Birch Bay Square St., Blaine; 360-714-9797
Pleasant Valley Dairy, 6804 Kickerville Road, Ferndale; 360-366-5398
Small's Gardens, 6451 Northwest Road, Ferndale; 360-384-4637
Terra Organica, 1530 Cornwall Ave., Bellingham; 360-715-8020
Reach Whatcom Locavore columnist Nancy Ging at 360-758-2529 or firstname.lastname@example.org. To follow her day- to-day locavore activities, go to Whatcom Locavore on Facebook or @whatcomlocavore on Twitter. For locavore menus, recipes and more resources, go to whatcomlocavore.com.