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Supporting Local Food in the Age of Automation

local food

When you get acquainted with your local food vendors, you get closer to your food. Our communities are enriched by the diversity of choices, the craftspeople and growers who have a specialized knowledge of the items they are producing and the close-knit ties between producers and consumers.

But, as we all well know, modern consumerism is all about convenience and speed. With the press of an icon on a phone application, you can have almost any item you desire shipped directly to your doorstep within days. Whole industries have had to transform to meet the changing technological advancements and the desires for convenience – to have things now.

Even the grocery business is seeing its share of new automation as Amazon rolls outs Amazon Fresh stores in the Northeast, offering a contactless option where patrons can skip the checkout lane and get in and out faster than ever before.

We often lose out on quality when our only options are mass produced in industrial quantities. When it comes to food, this can mean sacrificing all-natural ingredients for fillers, additives and preservatives. And while large grocery stores have always been about one-stop convenience, stocking items regardless of where they are produced or if they are currently in season, the venture into automated grocery shopping could feel even more disconnecting.

Taking the time to learn how your food was grown and produced allows you to make choices that match your ethics and your health requirements. Your neighborhood butcher, baker, fishmonger or farmer, can provide that knowledge, expertise and passion.

local food
The Meat Hook shows their weekly sausage lineup. (Kimberly Plafke, @steak_gyllenhaal)

Meat and Poultry

A whole-animal butcher shop in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, N.Y., The Meat Hook sources meat and grocery items from small, family-run farms in New York. Their beef is 100% grass fed and finished, and their pork, poultry and lamb come from pasture-raised animals. They also have specialty meats like rabbits, geese and Cornish hens.

The Meat Hook’s products showcase a quality unmatched by what you’ll find in your average large grocery store. The beef is a rich, red color when unwrapped from its butcher paper – a far cry from sad grocery store cuts graying under plastic packaging.

But there are two items that will have you completely sold on The Meat Hook. The first is their weekly lineup of handmade sausages, which often includes beautiful, vibrant flavors like green Chorizo, currywurst, and lamb tzatziki. The second is the pate en croute. The ingredients can vary, but this loaf-shaped amalgamation of delicious flavors has, at times, included, pork, chicken, duck, pistachio, whiskey-soaked prunes, tomatoes aspic and butter/schmaltz crust. While certainly not new or even entirely unique, pate en croute represents the butchers’ desire to feed shoppers the good stuff and to push them out of their culinary comfort zones.

It may not be saving any lives, but if we could swap out a pate en croute for the mystery meat in a child’s Lunchables in every school cafeteria, it may just make for a better world.

If you are interested in the art of butchery, The Meat Hook also offers regular classes. For most of us used to purchasing beef already shrink wrapped and labeled, learning these skills is a way to become less detached from the process of obtaining meat.

local food
Baguette with jamon, cheese, and butter from La Bicyclette Bakery. (Tim Vetter)

Bread and Baked Goods

There are certain places, once visited, from which there is no turning back.

Take one step into La Bicyclette Bakery in Brooklyn, and you will be transformed. From your first step into the bake shop, the aroma of baked treats is intoxicating. Fresh baguettes baked daily will make you question how you ever bought bread off a supermarket shelf.

Grab a coffee and a fresh, flaky ham and cheese croissant, walk down to nearby Domino Park adjacent to the East River, and all will be right in the universe. At least for a little while.

Fruits and Vegetables

Whenever possible, support your local farmers and consider joining a Community Supported Agriculture program. CSA offers consumers the chance to become a member through a pledge, much like a subscription service, for the year’s harvest. If you don’t live close enough to a farm to join a CSA, look for local greenmarket options or support groceries that are sourced from the closest available farms.

Local farms offer us the ability to speak with growers to learn about issues like genetically modified organisms and pesticides, and to make the choices we feel most comfortable with.

Holcomb Farm in West Granby, Conn., has a CSA program as well as a local farm store selling their own produce and products from local businesses and producers.

Amber Waves Farm in Amagansett, N.Y., offers a CSA as well as a fantastic cafe and market. This is a beautiful farm to visit on your way out to the East End.

Blue Moon Acres in Pennington, N.J., believes in sustainability and soil health. Unlike many other local farms, it grows rice using Korean farming techniques.

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Every summer, throngs of party-going city dwellers flock to the East End of Long Island, N.Y., to swim, tan and dance until the early morning hours in the local watering holes in Montauk and the Hamptons. For a more relaxed vibe, come after Labor Day when the crowds have died down.

Any time you’re this close to the ocean, is easy to start dreaming of fresh seafood, oysters floating in their own delicious brine and the sweet flesh burrowed deep into the pockets of a lobster claw. And you’ll be happy to find all that at Montauk Seafood Company.

Owners Wesley Peterson and Douglas Davidson grew up in the waters off the East End. Their decades of fishing and relationships with other local fishermen give them a keen knowledge of the best of the Atlantic Ocean’s offerings. Ask them what’s fresh on the day you arrive, and you may just be fortunate enough to come across a beautiful rarity like pumpkin swordfish.

Before leaving town, make sure you stop at the seaside food truck Ditch Witch, that has been feeding locals and surfers for years.

Independent/International Grocery:

There are many independent, specialty groceries in our communities that offer regional ingredients and products that serve immigrants and expats. They serve a vital role in providing these communities with a connection to home. For Americans born in the U.S., they offer a taste of new flavors and an education into the culinary culture of countries around the world.

Tong Dee Asian Market in Woonsocket, R.I., has a wonderful variety of sauces from Southeast Asia, packaged noodles, coffees and teas, even fresh bahn mi sandwiches. It carries many items used in Lao cooking, which deserves its place in popular food culture.

Russell’s General is in the small, upstate New York town of Bovina. There are very few businesses in Bovina, and Russell’s is a must visit, stocking goods like fish sauce and pho mix. Stop by Russell’s and make sure you have dinner at Brushland Eating House before leaving Bovina.

Pinoy Republic and Sons is a Filipino grocery in Worcester, Mass. Even if you have limited knowledge of Filipino cuisine, or especially if you do, you need to shop here for the beautiful ingredients and flavors of the Philippines. Go on a hot summer day and order halo halo, the classic Filipino desert of ube (purple yam) ice cream, evaporated milk, red beans, flan, shaved ice, tapioca and whatever other sugary sweet items the proprietor wants to add to this magical concoction.

Local food businesses are an endangered species. In exchange for speed and convenience, get to know your food and support your community when you can.

Tell us about your favorite local food businesses in the comments below.

Featured image: The first course at Brushland Eating House: dried meats and eggs. (Tim Vetter)


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8 Thoughts on “Supporting Local Food in the Age of Automation

  1. Good Health in Hanover and Quincy MA is a great place. All their produce is organic, the prices are good, and they have just about everything any health conscious person could possibly want. A must try if you are in the area.

    1. Sorry but I can’t support any farm that uses rabbits for food. Rabbits are pets, just as cats and dogs are.

      I’m no vegetarian but rabbits are house pets.

  2. I recommend Augustines Farm in Greenwich at the NY/CT border near Westchester County Airport. A local family owned business has great produce and specialty products year round – 1332 King St, Greenwich, CT 06831 – less than 1 hour from Midtown Manhattan.

    Also The Pleasantville Farmers Market is open Saturdays all – year round, indoors in winter. Huge selection of meat, fish, poultry and produce from local farms – https://www.pleasantvillefarmersmarket.org/ – less than 1 hour from midtown Manhattan

    Also Gilberties Organics in Westport, CT – a local family farm that offers Herbs, Microgreens and wholesale produce. https://www.gilbertiesorganics.com/ In the winter they host the indoor Westport Farmers Market

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