Lifestyle

ISLAND BIRDING: Making local food decisions isn’t for the birds

After many conversations about making food-buying decisions to benefit birds and the natural environment, my husband Bill and I decided we needed to get serious and put our money where our mouths were.

We selected July and the challenge of 93 meals to see how far we could wean ourselves from the global agri-business.

We committed to buying directly from local sources that use pesticide-free and other sustainable practices. We would become aware of the provenance of our food and wring most of the petroleum out of its production and transportation to our table. It became obvious that our dependence on the supermarket and Costco had to cease.

As we approached our start date, I began to feel resistance from Bill. He’s our dinner chef and enjoys creating gourmet meals. He felt his options decreasing to a boring trio of garden stir-fry, omelets and foraged nettles.

We both agreed that this shouldn’t be an Outward Bound experience where we deprived ourselves of all our favorite dishes and simply gutted it out to the end of the month. Instead, we could eat at the same gourmet level, but make more informed decisions as to where our food comes from.

That meant planning ahead, and foregoing packaged foods and last-minute stops at the grocery.

In my search for local dairy products, I found it wasn’t as easy as just reading the label to see where the milk was bottled.

I wanted to know where the cows chewed their cuds and slept at night. And especially what they were fed.

I finally settled on Golden Glen Creamery located just north of Whidbey Island in Bow. Their milk is available locally and comes in returnable glass bottles; no more dealing with plastic jugs or paper cartons.

Although wheat and grains were formerly grown in vast amounts here in Western Washington, I had to go east to the Methow Valley to find a local producer who would sell directly to me. The Internet connected me to Bluebird Grains Farm.

I now regularly order flour, grains, cereals and pancake mix from them.

While chatting with the owner on the phone, I asked her why their farm was called Bluebird Grains Farm, and she told me this story. She and her husband had spent some time considering a name, when they discovered that the bluebirds arrive in the Methow in the spring just as the farmers begin readying the fields for planting. The birds stay all summer and leave as the crops are harvested.

The farm owners saw their work following the natural cycle of the birds. And the sublime reality is that bluebirds eat insects — not grains — so the birds actually help rather than interfere with the grain production.

When the month began, we were ready with veggies in our garden, eggs from our chickens, local dairy products in our refrigerator and grains in our pantry. We set the crab pot. We dug clams from the beach and new potatoes from our garden. We spread local honey on our homemade toast.

We liked to think that our garden birds were cheering us on.

The ultimate test came when we faced hosting a picnic for 50 people. Months before our July challenge we’d offered, as a church auction item, a picnic featuring Bill’s specialty of traditional Oaxacan molés.

We stewed over the menu for days. Finally, we decided that even though molé didn’t begin with “C,” we’d fudge our rules, call it a condiment and make the rest of the meal follow the policy

Here’s what we served: Pulled chicken and pork tenderloin with three traditional molés. The chicken came from the Skagit Valley, the pork from Thundering Hooves, a sustainable farm in Walla Walla (available at the Bayview Farmers’ market.) The molé bases were tomatoes and tomatillos preserved from our last year’s garden.

We offered a fresh local garden salad augmented with veggies from the farmers’ market. Emmer farro, a delicious nutty grain from Bluebird Grains Farm became our rice substitute. For dessert we served local strawberries with shortcake, the flour from Bluebird Grains Farm and the whipped cream from Golden Glen Creamery. The wine came from Whidbey Island, the beer from Everett and the water from our own well.

Somewhere along the way we also decided to keep the party green with no paper or plastic products. The guests had been invited to bring their own drinking containers. I rounded up real tableware, table cloths and fabric napkins.

At the end of the party, we fed the leftover salad to our chickens and recycled the beer and wine bottles. No trash went into a landfill.

Before the month ended we’d added a few more compromises to our list — not all beginning with “C.”

Bill came away a happy guy with some new recipes.

We declared that we’d eaten better than we could ever remember.

I’d lost a couple pounds.

And we’d made new friends buying directly.

We can’t quantify our results with data. I can’t tell you how much petroleum we saved or how many birds we protected.

But I’m completely convinced that making 93 choices in favor of a healthy, sustainable environment does make a difference. And I’m quite sure that my garden birds agree.

Frances Wood can be reached at wood@whidbey.com. She is author of “Brushed by Feathers: A Year of Birdwatching in the West”

(Fulcrum Publishing, Golden, CO) available at local bookstores.

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