In my position as head chef at Hayes Farm, located in North Fredericton, I enjoy feeding the hardworking staff and students. Every week I have to develop dishes using mostly what is available from local resources gathered from the wild and cultivated landscapes of the Wabanaki area.
When I cook food, I strive to feed our workers. The intention of my work is also to promote a better understanding of where our products come from and how we can reconnect with them.
From April to now, we have used harvested, grown, preserved and purchased ingredients. In doing so, we followed two principles: all dishes should be prepared from as many local products as possible, and all ingredients coming from afar should be purchased from local grocers.
Often the question of availability arises when preparing dishes at the beginning of the season. The snow has not melted for a long time. Spring sowing is underway.
At first glance, from our current vantage point, the landscape at the beginning of the season is rather sparse, although this is quite contrary to the ecological realities of our part of the Wabanaki territory. Looking closer, we may find that the earth is more than capable of producing large amounts of food when we least expect it.
Maybe it’s not the land itself. Rather, it is how we perceive accessibility.
Nowadays, when we are heavily dependent on imported products, the focus is on grocery stores. Most of the meals we prepare are on a shopping night when we plan our meals for the coming week. Breakfast, lunch and dinner fill our carts and we tend to eat the same thing every season. This is often accompanied by guilt as we are deeply aware of the waste and unethical processes our products go through to get into our shopping carts.
A grocery store is in close proximity, so naturally it has retained its place as our main food resource. As a result, this may have pushed us away from other viable options.
So, in the name of expanding our views, I would like to propose a new annual ritual: Overview of the food system in the middle of summer. The idea is to look back at previous months, right into the middle of winter. Remember the meals we ate and the ingredients they were made from: going to the market or the grocery store, and whether the foods we bought were from local or non-local sources. Such thinking can open up new ways to use our local food systems that can be beneficial to all of us.
I would like to take this opportunity to share some of the dishes that have come about as a result of such attention to our food system here in Wabanaki territory.
In early April at Hayes Farm, we served carrots harvested in November 2021. We also used shallots, potatoes, and garlic, and these foods only scratch the surface of what can be stored if you take the time when the foods are ready. fresh.
With the onset of spring and the blooming of flowers, we quickly prepared flower vinegar. It takes little effort to do. We used them all the time in our salad vinaigrettes we made this summer.
Dandelions have a variety of uses. All parts of the plant are edible, although they are often only recognized as weeds. We used dandelions as best we could: we made syrups, teas, and also pickled young buds like capers.
Because rhubarb grows so consistently when harvested and pruned properly, rhubarb has graced many of our early-season dishes. Since this and other ingredients grow in huge quantities, it was necessary to find several ways to prepare them, sometimes resorting to methods that are not usually considered.
Roasting, roasting, roasting, stewing, marinating, drying, dehydrating, all of these methods have been used to prepare individual ingredients to ensure that their full range of potential uses can be realized.
None of the dishes presented here are the product of my own understanding of food. Rather, they represent an amalgamation of several people coming together to share knowledge and create something together.
We collected nettles. We have collected fresh ingredients. Then, with some other ingredients stored in a colleague’s cellar, we made a creamy nettle stew with potatoes, fresh rhubarb and chard mignonette, roasted chili oil, and crunchy shallots.
It should also be noted that none of the above is truly new information. The cooking knowledge on which these recipes are based has existed for as long as there have been hungry mouths to feed. This is just an exercise to show how our food systems can be celebrated on a nutritious plate of food.
By looking again at familiar landscapes, we can learn how to properly gather, process and preserve food, drawing on a body of knowledge that is, in fact, common. The beauty of this knowledge is that it has been around for much longer than the industries we currently allow to control our food systems.
So, by understanding food systems, we could greatly improve our relationship with food and perhaps bring it closer to home.
As our main sources of fresh food become increasingly out of reach for those of us on lower or fixed incomes, we may need to weigh some other options for the future. In part, this may mean building stronger communities through our food systems. It may also mean that we will take several steps to increase the impact of our actions on the system itself.
So how do we improve our perception of our food systems?
Summer is in full swing and our gardens are thriving thanks to the hard work we put in this spring. Harvest is in full swing and we are looking forward to fresh vegetables and making potpourris and jams from what’s left, just like we did last year.
For us gardeners and farmers, we look forward to this season: harvest season.
Creating a garden is a definite step in the right direction. It provides an immediate insight into where your food comes from, strengthening the relationship with the food on our plate.
While this is a very rewarding experience, our current understanding of the harvest season is usually limited to a specific point in the year’s calendar, leaving us with a fragmented view of the food system.
The Midsummer Review is about practicality, seeking a broader understanding of what grows and when, rather than believing that all our food grows at a certain time and place, ready to be harvested and consumed immediately. Why not explore new foods, new ways to use them in the kitchen or outside of the present at other times of the year?
Often when we gardeners harvest at home, we tend to do so with the intention of eating the crop immediately, perhaps sharing the surplus with friends. There is nothing particularly wrong with this approach, but as we tend to rely more on what we grow as gardeners, knowing proper storage practices is a natural part of this progress. Using cellars, or at least establishing relationships with those who can offer space, can resolve some of the common misconceptions about access to food during the winter months.
I’m not suggesting that you dwell on the tomatoes you bought this winter or that they’re imported. But if we look beyond the grocery store and try to understand how our dependence on some parts of the food system can affect others, it could offer ways to improve our current situation, including our health and the health of the lands we live on.
There is so much to learn about the bounty that grows in every part of our landscape, stretching from garden to ditch to forest. In this light, the harvest season spans the entire year, regardless of the weather. At the very least, the Summer Solstice Review and its practical dimension can get you outside, and maybe you’ll learn a thing or two about the place you live and all the bounty it holds for those who take a second look.
Dallas Toma is an undergraduate student at UNB. He currently works at the RAVEN funded Human Environments Workshop. His focus is on issues of food sovereignty and security. He also writes about social justice and the rights of Indigenous peoples in Canada.