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Tips for Eating Local in Southern Alberta…Yummy! July 6, 2010

Posted by gfsa in The How To's.

Above all else, I am a food enthusiast. I love to pick ingredients, cook, eat, sample, and entertain. It is my love of flavors that first brought me to the local and sustainable food movement, because fresh, natural, and local ingredients just taste better.  My commitment to eating locally elevated the kind of food I could produce when I shared meals in my home with  friends and family but it also helped me to recognize the economic and social importance of purchasing food from local producers. This is now something that it is intrinsically meaningful to me, and has sparked many a rant to anyone who will listen. As much as I like to talk about food security, I really love to inspire others to examine their food systems, too, and am constantly looking for ways to arouse interest.
Well, few things are as “arousing” as a great meal. Cooking with amazing produce and natural proteins yields amazing finished food, with each element tasting as it is supposed to (i.e. a tomato that tastes like a rich, deep, acidic tomato, instead of mushy and bland). It is because of this fact that cooking with local ingredients creates an opportunity to grow food security allies. People generally like to eat delicious cuisine, and this tangible outcome can create buy-in from even the most skeptic food consumers.
Building on this knowledge, I recently set out to host a dinner party for some dear friends that would consist of almost entirely local ingredients, and would hopefully convince them of the benefits of purchasing local. Most of the elements were sourced from the Medicine Hat Area, with a few other additions from other Southern Alberta producers. As a regular shopper at our community’s weekly Farmer’s Market, I knew that I would be able to find local tomatoes, herbs, legumes, bread, rhubarb, honey and meats, and planned to purchase those items the morning of my party. In the days leading up to the meal, I also connected with local bean, wine and dairy producers, and was overjoyed at the enthusiasm shown to me by these producers when I explained my cause.
My partner and I invited over two couples and we shared a meal of croustini with basil pesto and goat cheese, pulled pork with homemade honey- habañero BBQ sauce, beef short ribs with sweet spiced red wine reduction, tri-color tomato salad with honey-basil vinaigrette and croutons, garlic mashed potatoes with fresh scallions, BBQ baked beans, stewed rhubarb and local cherry and rhubarb wine. Yum! It was certainly one of my finer efforts and allowed for my house to be filled with aromas, laughter and friendship. The tomato salad was especially a hit! (See recipe below)
Over the course of what was a fabulous memory-making evening (including one very funny habañero incident) and the days preceding, I was able to connect myself deeper to my own food community, and determined that the following are my greatest lessons:
Things that grow together go together
This means that if you plan to host a local meal, you cannot pre-plan the menu or choose complicated recipes, and rather need to focus on seasonal and available elements. It is important to let the ingredients guide what you will be serving. In my case, the farmer’s market on the day of the party was filled with red, yellow, green and cherry tomatoes and big sacks of basil, which lead to a pesto appetizer and a mixed tomato salad. With this type of fresh flavor, it is easy to create simpler dishes that showcase the ingredients. This might mean serving veggies raw in a farm-fresh salad or simply grilling meats.
Shop like a chef
Anyone who is as devoted to food television as I am knows that chefs connect with producers to choose the best product the day that it will be served (i.e. going out to the fishing boats to pick that day’s best catch). The same principle can be applied to home entertaining. No one knows the product as good as the people who grow it, so ask them what they recommend. This is how I ended up with those succulent short ribs! Building a trusting relationship with your food producer can lead to access to great product and honors the expertise of the people who are most connected to the food. It’s also very cool to know the names of the people who wiped the dirt off your veggies.
Create Community with Food
Certainly one way culture is created and recreated is in food traditions. When you are intentional in purchasing food from local and sustainable sources, you make this part of your family, friend and community culture, and impact others to evaluate food security options. 
Allow for wiggle room
The idea of entertaining that features local cuisine is supposed to be fun and not meant to cause stress and panic in the host. Whether you use purist 100-mile boundaries and grow many of elements yourself or just make the choice to eat local when you can, and pick a few items up at the Farmer’s Market, the idea is to be intentional with your buying power. For me, this included some imported elements of olive oil, vinegars, and seasonings, and an intentional choice to feature great local ingredients whenever I could (see producer’s list).
Foster opportunities to create dialogue
If hosting a local meal, it can be really interesting to engage people in food dialogue: anywhere from talking about favorite food memories (often in the garden or a loved one’s kitchen) to addressing issues of food insecurity. This is a great way to get people talking.
Overall, I was pleased with the experience of connecting with producers, the quality of ingredients, the finished meal and the moment of creating community with friends over food. I’ve considered myself a food security ally and advocate for some time, but might be ready to upgrade to the title of “converter.”
Jessica Nixon, Medicine Hat, AB

Recipe: Basil Vinaigrette

2 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
1 1/2 tablespoons Dijon or grainy deli mustard
2 tablespoons honey
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
approximately 1 cup chopped fresh basil leaves
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons cracked pepper
½ cup – 1 cup olive oil, depending on taste
Combine all of the ingredients, except oil, in a food processor, chopper or magic bullet and blend. Slowly add olive oil in a slow, thin, stream, until creamy.
Season to taste and serve (great with tomatoes, goat cheese, lettuce, or as a dip for a fresh, crusty loaf of bread, or warmed over small roasted potatoes); or refrigerate up to 3 days.

Southern Alberta Producers (* are available at the Medicine Hat Farmer’s Market)
1. Country Grower’s Greenhouse*, 12518 Range Rd. 65, AB, (403)526-0019 – Tomatoes on the Vine
2. Cypress Hills Vineyard and Winery:Marty & Marie Bohnet, Maple Creek, SK (306)662-4100, www.cypresshilswinery.com – Rhubarb Wine, Sour Cherry Wine 
3. Fairwinds Farm Ltd., Ben & Anita Oudshoorn, Fort Macleod, AB (403)553-0127, fairwindsfarm@telus.net – Fresh Goat Cheese, Goat Feta
4. Golden Lane Honey, Calgary, AB, (403)287-7277, www.goldenlanehoney.com – Honey
5. MacPherson Meats, Scot & Rachel*, Big Stone, AB (403)779-2579 – Beef
6. Majestic Growers Ltd.*, Redcliff, AB (403)504-6796 – Cherry Tomatoes, Green and Yellow Tomatoes
7. Mayfield Colony, Jacob Stahl*, Etzikom, AB (403)928-1455 – Bread, Garlic (purchased last summer, roasted/frozen), Green Onions, Potatoes, Rhubarb
8. Prairie Farms Produce, AB., Calgary Farmer’s Market, www.Calgaryfarmersmarket.ca –  Beets, Onions
9. The Silk Road Spice Merchant, Calgary, AB, www.silkroadspices.ca – Black Pepper, Cinnamon, Cocoa, Sea Salt, Star Anise
10. Sunset Growers Ltd., Doyle Brandt*, Redcliff, AB (403)504-8864 – Fresh Basil, Fresh Thyme, Live Butter Lettuce, Habañero peppers
11. Sylvan Star Cheese, Red Deer, AB (403) 340-1560 www.sylvanstarcheesefarm.ca – Farm Butter, Parmesan Cheese
12. TLC Farms: Alastair and Lynn Olsen* Bow Island, AB (403)832-2541, www.tlcfarms.ca – Beef Ribs, Pork Butt Steaks
13. Vital Green Organic Dairy, Blush Lanes, Calgary Farmer’s Market, www.Calgaryfarmersmarket.ca – Organic heavy cream
14. Viterra Beans, Bow Island, AB, (403)545-2227 – Black Beans, Great Northern Beans
Pinto Beans, Small Red Beans



1. Stephanie Bennett - July 17, 2010

Way to speak up Jessica about the value of locally grown food. Not only a security issue but also and issue of lost agricultural land.
I couldn’t agree with you more. Can’t wait to try the recipe you’ve left us.

2. Sheila King - February 20, 2011

Thanks for the great article, Jessica. We moved from Stony Plain AB to Lethbridge in July 2010. My husband and I marvel at the amount of locally sourced food that is available in s. Alberta. I am interested in the 100 mile philosphy of trying to support local producers when possible, but realize that other provincial, Canadian and international producers also depend on our money for their livelihood. Did you know that Cheemo perogies are produced in Edmonton from Lethbridge flour, S. AB canola oil and locally grown potatoes? Another good example is fair trade coffee and tea producers, and I am not quite ready to live on local herbal teas as of yet! Right now I am busy compiling my local list for the Lethbridge area so your resources are a great help.

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