A Vow to Stay Hungry

This project has beckoned me into nut butter production lines, guided me through the vast expanse of meat freezers and introduced me to the warmth of fresh cider on biting winter days. It’s welcomed me to corners of my community that would have otherwise gone undiscovered, and for that I’m forever grateful.

In the age of industrial agriculture, it is so refreshing to find small operations that have found unparalleled success. I’m hopeful for the future of these producers, and see capacity-building organizations like the Durham Co-Op becoming more common. Judging off my Fullsteam gallery, there certainly exists a strong demand for them among the conscientious consumer.

I had embarked on my independent study in the hopes of learning more about what goes into local, sustainable food. What I found is that, as harrowingly cliché as it is, the stories behind this food are just as important as its ingredients. The eight producers I got to know were guided by extremely pure and admirable motivations and their journeys made me appreciate the narratives that are weaved into each bite of food I take.

Moving forward, I vow to stay hungry for these stories and think deeper about my food and the incredible people who spend their lives crafting it.

Gugelhupf and Big Spoon and Parlour, oh my!

The Co-Op is ready for business! Check out my blog Indy Week and take a look at some photos from opening day!

http://www.indyweek.com/food/archives/2015/03/19/six-years-in-the-making-the-durham-co-op-isdrum-roll-pleaseopen

Local Vendor Feature: Honeygirl Meadery

Diane Currier of Honeygirl Meadery

Diane Currier of Honeygirl Meadery

Mead(n): an alcoholic drink of fermented honey and water

On first glance, it’s an unassuming beige building on Hood Street. But take a look inside door number six and you’ll be ushered into the whimsical world of Honeygirl Meadery.

An office, factory and showroom all in one, the dynamic space speaks to all sides of Diane Currier – the mead maker, seller and aficionado. Coming from a background in PR and advertising, Diane launched Honeygirl in October of 2014 and Durham’s been abuzz with the stuff ever since.

First introduced to mead during a trip to Alaska, Diane was intrigued by the beverage’s intimate connection to nature. When you consume mead, you’re essentially drinking the field, for its flavor is shaped by the routine of the bees that help create it. One of Honeygirl’s signatures, Orange Blossom, gets its fruity kick because its bees had citrus oils left on them from days in the orange groves.

“What does this community taste like? Where do its bees go? I love that aspect of it,” says Diane.

Diane adds some complexity to her lineup of eight meads by incorporating locally sourced fruits and plants. The strawberries in her strawberry batch come from McAdams Farm in Efland; her blueberry mead uses blueberries fresh from Rougemont. Though it’s proven difficult to find local beekeepers with enough honey to support her sizable batches, Diane has tried to do so wherever possible. Some of her darker honeys come from a Fayetteville beekeeper who manages upwards of sixty hives.  In an age of intense colony collapse, Honeygirl seeks to assuage the plight of the bees.

Diane’s commitment to creating a local, sustainable product extends beyond the mead itself. The fanciful logo featured on all of Honeygirl’s bottles, T-shirts, cups and pamphlets was fashioned by a student at the Arts Institute in Durham. When it comes time to bottle her mead, Diane calls upon the locals once again. A few volunteers gather to turn out dozens of cases in a few hours and they leave Hood Street with their own bottle of fresh mead to show for it.  

The first meadery in Durham and the third in the state of North Carolina, Honeygirl is looking to expand. But don’t expect it to happen overnight. The fermenting process takes nine months to a year and arrivals of new batches hinge on the availability of seasonal ingredients. In the meantime, Diane hopes to further integrate her flavors into Durham’s food scene by coordinating mead dinner nights at local restaurants.

“We have so much talent in this area and so many restaurants here want to express the local products so mead that’s made in this manner works really well,” she says.

Mead’s strong flavor profiles pairs well with a variety of meats, cheeses and grains. Given the opportunity to sample some myself, I was struck by its authentic, rich fruitiness. Diane said it best in her assertion that, “eating strawberries is great – drinking them is even better.”

Curious about trying some local mead for yourself? Stop by at one of Honeygirl’s weekly tasting sessions held on Saturdays and stay tuned to see the product on the shelves of Durham’s co-op.

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The Story Behind the Label: A Look at Organics

It’s 2pm in Whole Foods. Organic D’anjou pears from Washington beckon you into the produce section where a variable bounty awaits. Organic white onions sit unblemished despite their recent journey from the California croplands; whole trade Mexican bell peppers bask in their vibrant hues; hefty slices of New York strip steak gather around a “no cages, no crates, no crowding” label.  

But what does it all mean?

More people are opting to go green than ever before and grocery stores are shifting to meet demand – nearly three quarters of US supermarkets are now stocked with organic products. With humble beginnings rooted in the environmental movement of the 1970s, the organic market has expanded to conjure images of green pastures and smiling cows in the minds of shoppers nationwide. However, this imagined ideal does is not always pan out.

The organic market is policed by the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB); an advisory committee composed of farmers, conservationists, consumer reps, processors, scientists and retailers. While some of the fifteen constituent members are small-scale organic farmers by trade, others represent more industrialized interests. Carmela Beck, a NOSB farmer, is a program manager at Discolls. Tom Chapman, a handler, earns his living sourcing ingredients for Clif Bar. These members illustrate the notion that the organic market, like the conventional agriculture market, is ultimately a business. It has increased its supply in order to meet the demand of a booming market – taking on some characteristics more inherent to large-scale farming in the process.

Every five years, the NOSB revisits its list of synthetic substances that may be used in organic production and handling. These ingredients often serve to increase shelf life or product yield. The current list includes some chemical compounds – your ethanols, isporopanols and sodium hyplochlorates, in addition to some more baffling additives – liquid fish products and humic acids to name a few. I set out to Whole Foods (the very chain where, coincidentally, a previous NOSB member works as a quality standards coordinator) to look a little closer at its labels.

Over the course of my search, I came across organic trail mix that featured Silicon Dioxide, Cirtric Acids and Maltodextrin. Try saying that five times fast. The canned goods aisle brought me to organic soup made up of sodium citrate and a dash of “cheese flavor” for good measure. The organic cereal I picked up was made with vegetable glycerin – a common additive in cosmetics and soaps because of its cooling effect on the skin. Green pastures and smiling cows be dammed.

The labels on these organic products are often as varied as their ingredient lists. The label that carries the most weight as far as organics go is the one that reads “USDA Certified 100% Organic.” Foods that bear this label are made up of only organic ingredients and those synthetics that the standards board deems safe. The next step down is the “Certified Organic” label, which requires that at least 95% of a product’s ingredients are organic. This is followed by the “Made with Organic Ingredients” seal, which says that at least 70% of a food’s components are organic. Pair these markers with the nineteen other third-party organic labels that exist outside of the USDA system and you end up with grocery shelves overflowing with sustainable claims. Many of the packages I saw in Whole Foods also advertised “all natural”, “premium quality” and “sustainably sourced” ingredients next to their various organic seals. Though the USDA has a regulatory team to monitor national product packaging, its scope is limited and most of these promises go unchecked and unsubstantiated.

 You don’t need to look beyond your local grocery’s shelves to realize that the organic food market is defined in its complexities. I’ll definitely be asking the local producers I visit to weigh in on this massive and convoluted green system.

 

 

 

some whats and whys

I'm a (mostly) vegetarian.

I enjoy the occasional farmers' market.

I'm familiar with the acronym GMO.

I don't buy eggs for less than $4/ dozen.

I’m going to preface this novice entrée into the blogging sphere in saying that I am by no means a food expert. In fact, I was your average food fright until recently. My appetite didn’t venture beyond the ordinary – pasta with red sauce, grilled chicken, sugary sweets of all forms, maybe a vegetable or two. Upon entering college, I figured it was finally time to liven up my proverbial dinner plate and there began a modest culinary edification. I became a vegetarian (though I still indulge in a hamburger here and there), bought some cookbooks and hushed previous preconceptions long enough to realize that I actually really enjoy most foods.

My palate has expanded alongside my community’s. Over the past few decades, Durham’s transformed from a dwindling tobacco powerhouse into a foodie haven boasting nearly 200 restaurants and a handful of culinary brand names. Bull City has the accolades to prove it – fondly dubbed the South’s Tastiest Town by Southern Living. With this project, I seek to explore the ingredients and people that have shaped the edible culture of Durham. I will visit with producers who are working to supply the community co-op and use their stories as means of exploring the intricacies of locally sourced food. I will read up on what it means to be a sustainable eater and tune into the ongoing debates concerning product labels, organics, GMOs, factory farms, pasteurized milk, the works. Check in every week for new photos and writings!

Let’s go take a bite out of Durham (ya’ll).