I hate to be the spoiler in this locavore lovefest, but for all the great aliments to be had in our high-desert home, there’s a whole mess to be desired. That is, if you’re like me and can’t part with your time-honored favorites.
I like my lox Nova Scotian, my chocolates Belgian, my nori Japanese and my deep-sea squid, well, from the deep sea. In fact, the only thing I like more than these far-off delicacies is combining a bunch of them together—like the World’s Fair or New York City.
But, to my surprise, the ingenuity of local farmers has yielded quite a cornucopia of comestibles. In addition to the New Mexico staples—beef, dairy, chile—a whole host of food is produced in our fair area. There’s asparagus to sauté in spring, gourd to hollow in the winter, duck to glaze in fall, sweet corn to roast in summer and mustard greens to contend with all year long—and that’s just the frost at the tip of the iceberg (or mâche, if you prefer).
The bounty is due in part to what Kate Manchester, editor and publisher of Edible Santa Fe and regretful devotee of French cheese and wine, calls “the tenacity of the farmers and the creativity of the people that are growing things.”
“Growing things” this high up in the desert requires an astute knowledge of the place.
Le- Adams is not a locavore but, as Farm to Table’s co-director and director of the organization’s Farm to School Program, she is thoroughly acquainted with New Mexico’s diverse microclimates.
“In the higher elevations, the root crops grow very well. In Albuquerque and a little south of there, they can grow kiwis, more hearty kiwis, almost tropical types of food,” Adams says. As a way to stave off the harshness and brevity of our growing season, Adams refers to a Siberian variety of tomatoes that has proved a “good adaptation here because of our higher elevation.”
In fact, according to Tim Vos, executive director of Santa Fe Farmers Market and fan of wild Pacific salmon on the rare occasion he eats fish, “You can grow almost everything here.” That is, if you’re creative.
Manchester is surprised how well grapes and Jerusalem artichokes—normally grown in the northern part of the country—have fared here. La Montañita Co-op’s produce buyer, Richelle Elder, couldn’t live without tropical fruit but takes solace that Shiraz Vineyards, near Alamogordo, has managed to grow pomegranates and persimmons.
For Vos, local melons are quite an unexpected delicacy considering they “require a pretty warm, long growing season and here the growing season is short.” He’s also amazed at the availability of local greens since “they prefer the cooler weather coasts of California, Oregon and Washington.” He attributes the leafy treats’ relative abundance to the skill and ambition of “younger farmers coming up.”
The diversity in crops is also due, in part, to a broadened definition of local. Long gone are the days of the 100 mile locavore radius: That ideal has yielded, for many, to nuances like foodsheds and bioregions, practicality and people’s sometimes-inexorable desire to satisfy cravings.
Vos, who as an organic farmer was accustomed to eating most of his food straight from his fields, says, “It’s not realistic to talk about [being a locavore] in terms of 100 miles when we think about everything like the grains we eat.” For example, he says wheat in New Mexico is “not grown in enough quantities to feed the population.”
La Montañita has been integral in expanding the definition of locavore to include New Mexico’s foodshed, which extends 300 miles and includes southern Colorado, according to La Montañita General Manager Terry Bowling, who couldn’t live without bananas. In place of stringent boundaries, a more comprehensive approach has come into vogue.
Though she doesn’t restrict herself to a local diet, it’s part of Adams’ mission at Farm to Table to “teach kids where their food comes from and why they want to buy local,” as well as “to assist farmers to sell to school districts and other institutions.”
Exclusivity has yielded to inclusivity: Words like “all” have lost ground to “more.” According to Manchester, the point is to “keep more of the foods that are grown and raised in New Mexico in New Mexico, [to get] more of those foods back into people’s diets.”
Creativity on the part of growers and open-mindedness on the part of eaters assure that most could not only survive as locavores, but live very well. It comes down to a matter of how much one’s willing to adjust because, for all there is to be had at 7,000 feet, there are some things that are better had from 7,000 miles away.
Shall I brave the streams of northern New Mexico for the lonesome trout when I can revel in the cool flesh of salmon plucked from the warmth-starved Arctic? Will I really try my luck with homegrown figs when I can luxuriate in the flesh of those fat from the Mediterranean sun? Probably not. But I must give credit where credit is due.
Whenever the hankering strikes me for a breakfast burrito, and it does all too often these days, I’ll have it—fire-red eggs from Romero Farms' chile-fed chickens, Grandma’s tortillas, potatoes grown flaky by Farmers Market vendors and cheese from whatever nearby dairy strikes my fancy—smothered and Christmas, right here in Santa Fe.
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