by James Simpkins
James Simpkins will be a contributor on this site every Wednesday. A former chef and Le Cordon Bleu culinary instructor, he is a PhD student at UCONN putting his culinary know-how to work studying American food culture. He will be writing about anything and everything related to food in the Farmington River Valley. Having grown up in Ohio, he has been living for the past two years in the Canton area.
I thought I should start my first article by defining “green”. The official definition is a: relating to or being an environmentalist political movement b: concerned with or supporting environmentalism c: tending to preserve environmental quality (as by being recyclable, biodegradable, or nonpolluting.
Pretty much what I thought, but I was excited to learn that there was a more than a touch of grey to the whole concept (note “c” above). In other words, there’s not just one definition of what’s “green” or not. This is what really gets me excited about food and food culture--especially here in the Farmington River Valley--is that there are so many variations of it. So it’s this many-flavored point of view that I bring to this blog and my own take on what’s “green” in my neck of the Connecticut woods.
Consider what I know of off the top of my head: There are no fewer than five fantastic farms (some to be discussed in future posts) within 10 miles from my place, not to mention a ferocious Farmers’ Market culture from Norfolk to Southbury that has just kicked off the summer season. Add in countless community events, restaurants, and my neighbors’ gardens…well, suffice it to say there is no shortage of gustatory glam to share with you. Weirdly enough, however, I found my first inspiration of the season in my P.O. Box: A bright pink postcard announcing the 58th Annual Strawberry Festival at the North Canton Community United Methodist Church. Since I love strawberries (eating some right now, as a matter of fact) and they mentioned homemade biscuits, I decided to check it out.
Along with the strawberries and biscuits being sold, the event touted a silent auction of items donated by individual artists, craftsmen and local businesses, a plant and flower sale from a local nursery, and a tag sale in the basement—a virtual all-in-one locals’ market! Asking the ladies at the door who I could speak to about the event they asked me to sit down and enjoy my strawberries and they would send Pastor Chuck right over. Having a plate full of biscuits, strawberries, and whipped cream they didn’t have to ask me again.
Pastor Chuck Naugle joined me, freely giving me a history of the event. The Strawberry Festival started before WWI (Yes…I know that’s more than fifty-eight years ago), the event was suspended during the first and second world wars, but has continued every year since 1951 when things returned to something resembling normal (see?). While originally only a fundraiser for the church, the event has grown to include other entities to absorb the overflow of interest. While the pastor told me no one keeps track of attendance, it would certainly be well over 1000 people if the 700 lbs. of strawberries are any indicator.
While the strawberries are not all local, Pastor Chuck mentioned at one time they were. But with the great variation in Connecticut harvests this time of year (and the number of farms the church would have to coordinate with) it made sense to supplement imports from California to insure the mountain of strawberries required to make the event happen. But don’t think this means this event isn’t Green!
Think of the economic power of giving to a community pillar like a local congregation. You help them pay their bills and they assist others in promoting local products, businesses, crafts and savoir faire. My wife and I bid at the silent auction (go late for an advantage in getting what you want!) and walked out with a great deal on tickets to Theater Works in Hartford and a box of hand-tied flies for use on the Farmington, as well as a couple of vintage cookbooks and a set of real crystal custard dishes from the tag sale. Since it was Father’s Day weekend, I reluctantly put the flies in the mail to my dad in Ohio—but knowing all the while that he’ll be out to fish with me this fall.
At the end of the day as I left the 58th Annual Strawberry Festival, I felt great! It is this feeling that always lets me know I’ve done something worthwhile; something Green. It’s the hidden rule of helping others—it makes you feel good too.
The definition that I began with gives us lots of room to understand how Green can be understood. Sure, some will be more apparent than others, but any event that supports locals (and is supported by them) like the Annual Strawberry Festival at the North Canton Community Methodist Church is a sure bet.
Bring spending cash, your appetite and your appreciation for local (read: green) flare. You won’t be disappointed.