Local Food: A Taste-Bud Addiction

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Heirloom melons grown by the author in her garden
Barbara Mock and Kamala Gamble were winners of the Local Food Chef's Challenge in 2011
Community members digging in for winter gardening at Commonwealth Urban Farms near Paseo in OKC
Chef/Co-Owner Russ Johnson of local "farm to fork" concept restaurant Ludivine with a house specialty: bone marrow

Local Food: A Taste-bud Addiction

By Christine Patton

Be warned: experiencing the taste of fresh, local food may have unexpected side effects. Some people find themselves shunning grocery store tomatoes, others begin to seek out restaurants that use local ingredients, and still others find themselves embarking on a lifetime of food adventures.

Freelance writer and editor Shauna Struby tried local tomatoes in 2001 and says, “The flavor brought back all my childhood memories from my Dad’s garden. I was totally hooked…I’ve never looked back.” Adam Price, an Oklahoma Food Cooperative manager, learned to cook and bake – from scratch – with fresh ingredients once he discovered the difference in taste. He says, “I even grind my own flour from wheat berries for baking.”

Changes can be drastic. One former vegetarian is now a cattle rancher on a forty-acre farm in Jones, Oklahoma. Vicki Rose of Rose Ranch Jones reports, “Local food inspired us to raise animals humanely, rather than avoiding meat entirely. We feel good that our cows get fresh air, green grass, and are free to roam our ranch up to their last day.”

Like these Oklahomans, you too could become addicted to fresh flavor and the satisfaction of knowing your food dollars support local, organic, and sustainable farmers. Luckily, avenues for finding food locally from farmers, ranchers, dairies, and orchards have expanded in the last decade. So don’t worry – there are more ways than ever to get a local food fix.

Farmer’s Markets

Several area Farmer’s Markets carry an array of produce, meat, cheese and yogurt, nuts, and baked goods. The OSU-OKC Farmer’s Market is open year-round on Saturdays at 400 N. Portland in the Horticulture Pavilion and allows only Oklahoma-grown and made food and products. Other markets are open during the summer season; check out the Mid-Del Market, the Edmond Market and the OSU-OKC Wednesday market.

Oklahoma Food Cooperative

The Oklahoma Food Coop connects farmers, producers and consumers through a convenient online ordering system. Members pay a one-time fee of $51.75 to join; orders are delivered once a month to 40+ pick-up sites around the state. Find a wide variety of locally grown, raised and made foods and items online at Oklahomafood.coop.

Local Food Stores

Matt Burch of the Urban Agrarian and April Harrington of Earth Elements have teamed up to offer a local food store open year-round from 10:00 a.m to 6:00 p.m., Wednesday to Sunday. Located at 1235 SW 2nd St., in the old Farmer’s Market area southwest of downtown, the convenient hours are enhanced by the charming character of the store and the friendly service.

Native Roots Market, located at 132 W. Main St. in Norman, offers local food, fair-trade chocolate and gourmet delicacies, a “Spice Bar,” and deli menu. The store will open a new location in the Deep Deuce area in spring 2012, bringing a much needed grocery presence to the downtown Oklahoma City area.

Local Farmers

Want to cut out the middle man? Get your food straight from the source! Several area farmers offer weekly baskets of produce to their subscribers through an arrangement called “community supported agriculture.” Check with Commonwealth Urban Farms (elia@eliawoods.com), Rhonda’s Specialty Foods (rhondasfoods.com), and Guilford Gardens, a long-running and perennially popular CSA, (kamskookery.com) for availability of their freshly-picked weekly produce shares.

Another way to obtain local food directly is to purchase a half or whole animal from a local rancher. Buying meat in bulk, directly from the farmer, can sometimes significantly cut the cost per-pound, and your sizzling bacon and grilled burgers will taste better when you know your pig was treated well and your cow grazed happily on green pasture. Many people also believe there are health benefits from eating animals raised without antibiotics, grains, or hormones.

Don’t forget the U-Pick, where customers are free to roam orchards and fields gathering berries, peaches, and pumpkins. Crestview Farms and Peach Crest Farms are a few options; check the Oklahoma Agritourism site for more ideas. Bring the kids and show them how food really grows!

Restaurants & Catering

Locally-owned restaurants feature a variety of items sourced in Oklahoma. Irma’s offers the No-name burger, the Wedge uses many Oklahoma-grown toppings, and The Coach House, Metro Wine Bar and Cool Greens provide local selections too.

The opening of Ludivine in 2010 propelled local fine dining to new heights. Seasonal menus designed exclusively around local meats and vegetables, often called “farm-to-fork,” inspired Food and Wine magazine to nominate Ludivine chefs Jonathan Stranger and Russ Johnson as Best New Chefs in the Southwest.

If you are catering a special event –a party, fundraiser or wedding – consider a menu from Kam’s Kookery or the Prairie Gypsies. These professionals create savory delights sourced from local farmers for your guests to enjoy. Kam’s Kookery chef Barbara Mock proved her food savoir-faire in 2011 by winning the Local Food Chef’s Challenge People’s Choice Award.

Beverages

Is a local meal complete without your favorite local beverage? The Oklahoma City area craft beer scene has expanded in recent years with the addition of COOP Ale works and Redbud Brewing Company. COOP and Redbud craft beers are available at many local restaurants and bars, while Belle Isle Brewery and Bricktown Brewery sell beer brewed on-site. Or visit a winery! The Oklahoma Agritourism site lists over forty wineries in our state, many of which offer tours and tastings.

Gardening

Ten feet is about as local as you can get, so don’t be shy about trying your hand at gardening. Heat-loving peppers, okra, and watermelons thrive in our scorching summers, while cold crops like lettuce, kale, chard, and carrots can live right through winter. Or get started with easy herbs like parsley, rosemary, oregano, basil and thyme for many months of fresh seasonings.

Ready to get hooked?

As more Oklahomans become aware of the advantages of going local, they are discovering that food is more than a chore or a calorie. Food can be an adventure, a delight and a way to connect with family and friends. As writer Shuana Struby says, “Local food is an affordable luxury – it’s a luxury experience.”

 

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