A Locally Grown Diet With Fuss but No Muss
Eating locally raised food is a growing trend. But who has time to get to the farmer’s market, let alone plant a garden?
That is where Trevor Paque comes in. For a fee, Mr. Paque, who lives in San Francisco, will build an organic garden in your backyard, weed it weekly and even harvest the bounty, gently placing a box of vegetables on the back porch when he leaves.
Call them the lazy locavores — city dwellers who insist on eating food grown close to home but have no inclination to get their hands dirty. Mr. Paque is typical of a new breed of business owner serving their needs.
Even couples planning a wedding at the Plaza Hotel in New York City can jump on the local food train. For as little as $72 a person, they can offer guests a “100-mile menu” of food from the caterer’s farm and neighboring fields in upstate New York.
“The highest form of luxury is now growing it yourself or paying other people to grow it for you,” said Corby Kummer, the food columnist and book author. “This has become fashion.”
Locally grown food, even fully cooked meals, can be delivered to your door. A share in a cow raised in a nearby field can be brought to you, ready for the freezer — a phenomenon dubbed cow pooling. There is pork pooling as well. At Sugar Mountain Farm in Vermont, the demand for a half or whole rare-breed pig is so great that people will not be seeing pork until the late fall.
Although a completely local diet is out of reach for even the most dedicated, the shift toward it is being driven by the increasingly popular view that fast food is the enemy and that local food tastes better. Depending on the season, local produce can cost an additional $1 a pound or more. But long-distance food, with its attendant petroleum consumption and cheap wages, is harming the planet and does nothing to help build communities, locavores believe.
As a result of interest in local food and rising grocery bills, backyard gardens have been enjoying a renaissance across the country, but what might be called the remote-control backyard garden — no planting, no weeding, no dirt under the fingernails — is a twist. “They want to have a garden, they don’t want to garden,” said the cookbook author Deborah Madison, who lives in Santa Fe, N.M.
Her neighbor Chase Ault, a business consultant, recently had a vegetable garden installed with a customized set of plants and a regular service agreement. “I am working 24-7 these days, but I wanted to have something growing in front of me,” Ms. Ault said.
Like organic food, which corporate manufacturers embraced in the 1990s, before it, local food is quickly moving into the mainstream. Last year, the New Oxford American Dictionary picked locavore as its word of the year. A National Restaurant Association survey this year of more than 1,200 chefs, many of whom work for chain restaurants or large food companies, found locally grown produce to be the second-hottest American food trend, just behind bite-size desserts.
For a growing number of diners, a food’s provenance is more important than its brand name, said Michelle Barry, who studies American eating patterns for the Hartman Group, a research firm in Bellevue, Wash. As a result, grocery stores are looking to repackage products like milk and cheese to play up any local angle.
That will be a boon to people who find that shortcuts are necessary if they wish to eat locally. “If you live on East 80th 14 floors up and all you have is a potted plant, it’s tough,” said Lynne Rossetto Kasper, the host of the radio show “The Splendid Table,” who recruited 15 listeners for a study on the subject. Researchers will record their struggles to make 80 percent of their meals from organic or local sources. Spices are the only exemption.
Lazy locavores would never go to such extremes. Rather, they might simply sign up with the FruitGuys. The company, which has offices in San Francisco and Philadelphia, will deliver boxes of local, sustainably raised or organic fruit right to the cubicle.
In the mood for a meal that reeks of community but does not necessitate a communal activity? Three Stone Hearth in Berkeley, Calif., which describes itself as a community supported kitchen, offers its customers the opportunity to make friends while making food from local, sustainable farms, but the worker-owned company also offers online shopping for people who do not have the time to pick up orders or participate in educational activities.
Customers 20 miles away in the affluent community of Mill Valley, for example, can pay $15 to have jars filled with Andalusian stew, made with pasture-raised pork, delivered to their door. The jars, of course, are returnable.
“It’s a very savvy crowd that understands how all the pieces of sustainable farming and nutrition fit together,” said Larry Wisch, one of five worker-owners at Three Stone Hearth. “But they don’t want the headaches of getting here.”
Or you could just have your private chef handle all your local food needs. At their Hamptons summer house, John and Lorna Brett Howard want to eat almost exclusively local, which means that in place of one trip to the grocery store, their chef, Michael Welch, makes several trips to farm stands and the fishmonger.
“What I’m seeing with my clients is not the trendiness or the politics,” Mr. Welch said. “They are looking only at taste.”
Mrs. Howard said she ate local vegetables growing up in northern Michigan and Chicago. But her husband, a private equity fund manager, ate a lot of expensive imported food with little thought about where it came from. But all that has changed.
“It’s like the first time you start drinking good red wine and you realize what you were drinking was so bad you can’t go back to it,” Mrs. Howard said. “It’s that same way with vegetables.”
The author Barbara Kingsolver, whose book “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle” was a best seller last year, did not have the lazy locavore in mind when she wrote about the implications of making her family spend a year eating local. But she celebrates the trend.
“As a person of rural origin who has lived much of my life in rural places,” she said, “I can’t tell you how joyful it makes me to hear that it’s trendy for people in Manhattan to own a part of a cow.”