Tomato Travels, or Where’d You Get That Cow?

Tomatoes

A few weeks ago I read this New York Times article about major brands marketing their foods as local to the area where they are either grown or processed, and it got me thinking about what shopping and eating “local” means to me. If I shop at Target, which is headquartered here in Minneapolis, is this shopping local? Or do the goods AND the services have to be here? What about buying Mexican tomatoes at the local food coop? Is this more or less “local” than buying locally grown tomatoes at Whole Foods?

Ultimately, how we each define “local” is up to each of us. For me, I look for locally grown foods and have a preference for smaller farms that use sustainable practices. I prefer grass-fed beef from a local ranch, milk from local grass-fed cows, and organic fruits and veggies from local small farms. But if I can’t find what I’m looking for, or the local organics are out of season, then I have to start making choices. In the winter I choose locally grown hothouse tomatoes over the organic imported varieties. I also shop at Whole Foods over the local coops, and this works for me because I use less gas by driving to fewer locations (yes, I know I should ride my bike, and I’m going to work on that for trips with fewer items) and our Whole Foods stocks a lot of the locally grown meats and produce.

But what about the bigger brands? General Mills is headquartered just outside of Minneapolis. Do their products count as local? For me, I have to say no, and yes. From an ecological standpoint, no, because I know that they’re shipping in raw ingredients from all over the world; the food is not entirely locally grown and quite a large amount of fossil fuels are being used to get all those ingredients to MN. But from an economic standpoint, I know when I’m buying General Mills products I’m helping my neighbors to keep their jobs, and that’s important too.

If you’re a non-vegan in MN and haven’t tried Thousand Hills Cattle beef or Cedar Summit Farms milk, you should check them out. Grass-fed is the best!  We’ve also got great farmer’s markets for locally grown fruits and vegetables – my favorite is the Minneapolis Farmer’s Market under the freeway near the North Loop in Minneapolis.  It’s open every weekend day in the summer.

If you’re outside of Minnesota and would like to find local farmers and ranchers near you, check out Sustainable Table’s Eat Well Guide.

Loving the Rain

Drip Drop

When I was little I loved the rain. I loved how dark the sky would get during a thunderstorm, and the way lightning would cut across the evening sky. I loved the rumbling of thunder as I fell asleep at night. Even in college I loved the rain. We used to wear rain jackets with shorts and flip-flops and hang out in the rain, beers in hand. I loved the smell of rain, and the way it would fill the forest near my dormitory. And I loved the quiet after a good, hard rain, when the birds chirping would be the only sound in the woods.

But then I got a job and an apartment in the city, and had to take the subway to work. I would walk in my suit or dress pants and heels to the subway, umbrella in hand, and then wait on the sweltering platform with all the other wet riders on their way to work. We’d pack into a wet subway car, no one wanting to sit as umbrellas and rain jackets covered the seats with water. Then back out into the rain, the wind turning my umbrella inside out and soaking me head to toe. There was one day when I got to the subway entrance and found out that the tunnels had flooded and that I would have to walk to work, 89th street to Midtown, in a downpour. It wasn’t long before I started to hate the rain.

In the last few months, however, I’ve learned to love the rain again. Rain means springtime, the end of the long hard winters I’ve gotten used to here in Minnesota. It also means flowers, moss, and green leaves. Minneapolis has enough foliage that the after-rain smell that I loved when I was younger is back, along with the dark and varied skies I remember from childhood. Rain reminds me of the old adage, that the bad allows you to appreciate the good in life. Rain allows me to appreciate the sunny days, the warm days, the flowers and trees, a soft breeze on my face. It reminds me that dark days mean brighter days are on the horizon, and good things are on their way.

Green Minnesota

March Moss

One of my favorite things about Spring in Minnesota is how green everything becomes. After only one hard rain this Spring, the trees are covered in a soft layer of moss and have taken on a velvety texture. The grass is starting to turn green too, and as we move into April the moss and grass will thicken, creating the feeling of a soft green forest with a city inside it. Usually by May the moss is gone, and Minneapolis looks like any other Midwestern city, but for at least a few weeks it feels a little bit like the Pacific Northwest.

In Front of the Camera

Dance like no one's watching

I’m fairly comfortable with a camera in my hands, my eye to the viewfinder, the shutter under my finger. But put me in front of the camera and I’m quite a bit less comfortable. Put me in front of the camera AND in charge of the outcome of the image and I’m downright terrified. Or at least I was.

I was less than thrilled when I found out that I would be required to shoot self-portraits for my portrait photography class, but slightly relieved when I found out we were not allowed to show our faces. The face is the hardest part for me; this assignment would give me a chance to get comfortable in front of the camera without having to worry about facial expression. I put the assignment off for two weeks, but I knew the sooner I went to work on it the happier I’d be. I planned out my location (the Minneapolis Photo Coop) and what I would wear, and I planned a handful of shots to shoot. But still, I put off the actual shoot. Finally I went in and got to work, and the more I worked the more comfortable I felt. Each shot I took gave me a better idea of what I wanted, and I started to see how a photographer would direct a model to get the right shot, or would change the lighting or camera angle for the desired look. For the first time since I started shooting, the self-portrait concept started to come together.

I’m fairly happy with the final images; happier than I thought I would be. This assignment really taught me a lot, much more than I thought it would. This is definitely something I’ll do again on my own, and I’d recommend it for anyone looking to learn portrait photography. Sometimes the hardest part is just getting comfortable, and this is a great way to do just that.

Library 2.0

At the Library

In an effort to decrease my rampant spending at Barnes and Noble I stopped by the local branch of the Minneapolis Public Library on Friday to get a library card. This was the first time that I went to the public library since I was a child, and things sure have changed. The old system of applying for a library card and waiting for it to be made has been replaced by an instantly ready card that you can use immediately for self-checkout. Yes, I said self-checkout. I was able to scan my card and books at a scanner similar to those used at the supermarket to read prices. And it gave me a paper receipt letting me know when the books were due back – no more little cards sitting in a pocket in the front of the book to track the due date. The biggest change for me was the ability to track and control my account online. If I need to renew I don’t even need to leave my house, I can just log on to the computer and do my renewal right there. I can also check online to see if the library has the book I need, no need to rummage through the dressers full of index cards trying to find the right book. How, well, modern!

It may seem obvious to you that the library would change with the times and take advantage of the new technology out there, but for some reason I expected it to be a relic of my past, left exactly the same as I remembered it when I was checking out books on horses and fantasy novels for young adults. There was something quaint about the old way that I expected, and inexplicably missed. But the books still smell a bit musty, and many of them still have those plastic dust cover protectors that give the books that certain sound when you open them that just screams “library book.” There are some things that never change, and I like it that way.