For about two years now, I’ve been trying to eat as much locally produced food as possible. I support a CSA, shop at the farmer’s market every week, and belong to a foodie book club (past selections include The Omnivore’s Dilemma and Animal, Vegetable, Miracle). Heck, I even helped a friend raise and slaughter two pigs. Michael Pollan is basically my hero.
But even though central Alabama grows lots of food, it’s nearly impossible to eat nothing but local foods here in Birmingham. The farmer’s market with local produce is only open once a week, and it doesn’t sell any milk or meat (there are, thankfully, local eggs, flour, and goat cheese available). Still, things are looking up. I got to see what Alabama food can do at a Slow Food Birmingham event last Sunday. It was like being a kid in a candy store. Well, more like a kid in a fruit orchard. Whatever.
About 70 people came out to Petals from the Past, a plant nursery/orchard/U-pick/education center in Jemison, Ala., to meet and greet, drink some local beer, and enjoy nature’s bounty. There were samples of four kinds of figs. One local farmer handed out nectarines and Saturn peaches.
Petals from the Past is dedicated to propagating heirloom and otherwise hard-to-find varieties of fruit and flowers, and its rows and rows of trees, bushes, and vines are decidedly Eden-like. Seven different varieties of blueberries grow here. I’d never even seen a blueberry labeled with a variety name before. It was eye-opening.
We were each handed a quart box and let loose to "lighten the load on the plants." I ate about as many as I picked, and learned that, yes, blueberry variety does make a difference. Tifblues, for example, are medium-sized with less sweetness than their enormous cousins, Climaxes. In the end, my container had everything mixed up together, but I love blueberries anyway and these were certainly the freshest I could possibly get. They were wonderful, and gone in about two days.
Dinner after this included heirloom tomato salad, homemade pickles, potato salad, and Boutwell Farms organic, grass-fed beef burgers (with homemade ketchup to boot). After the meal, each of the people responsible for the food we had just shared stood up, introduced themselves, and said hello. In In Defense of Food, one of Michael Pollan’s pieces of advice is to "shake the hand that feeds you." I think this is what he meant. And it was delicious.