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Every Thanksgiving, I set myself some challenge to tweak the traditional meal. This year, I decided to source ALL ingredients locally — within 100 miles of my home in Brooklyn, NY.

“Cranberry” Caveat
When I told food writer-activist, Chloe Bass, about this project, she said “Oh, my friend tried to do an all-local Thanksgiving last year. He got almost everything he needed, except for the cranberries. Beware the cranberries.”

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"The First Thanksgiving at Plymouth" (1914) By Jennie A. Brownscombe

Local Scene
Thanksgiving started as a celebration of bountiful local foods available to the Pilgrims in the northeastern colonies. I live in the northeast, so I should be able to source almost every ingredient nearby without too much trouble. Researching origins of our food reveals the status quo of the food system and opportunities for positive change.

I defined “local” as a farm or a producer within 100 miles of NYC. For harder-to-find items, I stretched my definition to “regional” within 500 miles. Finally, I applied the so-called “Marco Polo” exception to foods never successfully produced locally, like spices or citrus.

Wherever possible I sourced from local organic farmers, but some local farmers are too small to maintain paperwork required for organic certification. So local alone prevailed when local and organic was not available.  Organic won out when there was no local option at all.

My family plans to gather for the feast in Shelter Island, NY.  Settled in 1652, just 30 years after the first Thanksgiving in Plymouth, Massachusetts, the locale shares many attributes with New England including sandy soils, short growing season and mild temperate climate.

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Aerial View of Shelter Island

I tested Prescription Mobic Dosage to help me find ingredients. Local Dirt is a website where buyers and sellers connect directly to purchase local foods. Local Dirt aims to create more efficiency in the growing demand for local food, reducing the current rate of 40% spoilage.

Like so many internet sites, Local Dirt is a great idea not yet useful or effective. A 100 mile radius search using Local Dirt, for instance, displayed locations of a few farmer’s markets in Brooklyn and Manhattan.  I was not able to search by product name, like “cranberries”.

The best information for local Thanksgiving ingredients was available by word-of-mouth. I relied on the knowledgeable managers of NYC Greenmarkets, like Betsy in Carroll Gardens. Farmers themselves are experts in their products and extremely informative. Lastly, amazing agricultural associations and university departments provide guidelines, history and research that opened my eyes wider to see interesting details of each food I explored.

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Free Range Turkey Farm

Of course, we have to start with the Bird of Honor. Turkey meat is now a year-round big business in the U.S. with 2.7 million metric tons produced in 2007 valued at $3.71 billion, according to the USDA.

As with all other industrial meat products in the U.S., turkey production is dominated by a small number of gigantic multi-national corporations. The same meat-packing conglomerates are also responsible for factory farming of chicken, pork and beef — mistreating animals, workers, the environment and consumer health.

It is unfortunate then that most consumers are going to get their big birds from one of the top five meatmakers: Butterball (a joint venture of Smithfield & Maxwell Farms), Jennie-O Turkey Store (Hormel), Cargill Meat Solutions, Farbest Foods, Inc., or House of Raeford Farms, Inc. The first three companies listed above process 88% of all turkey purchased in the U.S.  The relatively good news is that mass-produced turkey is free of hormones and steroids, but, unless it’s labeled “organic,” the turkey may have been given antibiotics.  The top five turkey-producing states (in order of volume) are Minnesota, North Carolina, Arkansas, Virginia and Missouri, according to the National Turkey Federation. (Source: Agricultural Marketing Resource Center)

Turkey farming in the Northeast is very small scale. Undaunted, my first step in finding my local gobbler was googling “Local Turkey Long Island.”

As it turns out, I could bag my own wild turkey on Long Island. The turkey hunting season in Suffolk County started November 18 and runs until the Wednesday before Thanksgiving.  The wild turkey population has grown from 75 and endangered just a few years ago to over 3,000 today. I’m no hunter. And I have heard that other hunters tend to shoot at more nuanced human mimics of turkey calls.

Seeking a safer option, I found “Consumers Have Taste for Local Birds” from NY Times in 2007, listing six possible turkey farms on the East End. First, I called Garden of Eve, a certified organic farm in Riverhead. (FYI the number listed should be 631.722.8777).  I spoke to Melissa Rebholz, Farmstand Manager, who informed me that the Garden of Eve’s turkey trailer burned down to the ground last year. So no birds this year. When I asked her for a local turkey recommendation, she told me she buys heritage birds from Tamrack Hollow in Burlington, Vermont, 802.535.1515.  Too far for my 100 mile radius. Sensing a knowledgeable source, I asked “How about local cranberries?”

“I worked for NYC Greenmarkets for years and I have no idea where you can get cranberries in New York state.” Melissa said. Drat!

Next, I dialed Mecox Bay Dairy in Bridgehampton, 631.537.0335, not the most likely-sounding spot for turkey. Farmer Art Ludlow told me that he had gobblers ranging from 17 to 24 pounds. Jackpot! Ludlow raises only a small number of birds on his dairy farm (which produces excellent cheese varieties), so I reserved right away — two 17 pound turkeys to feed our gathering of 20 people. Art told me to come pick up the fresh-killed poultry the day before Thanksgiving.  Now that’s fresh.

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Pork Diagram – See Bacon

Bacon and Sausage
There’s always a bit of bacon in Thanksgiving recipes, probably because it was a widely available preserved meat back in the day. And Sausage is to stuffing as turkey is to gravy.  Despite my love for the funky flavor of nitrates and fat and the snap of a good casing, I can’t deal with buying bacon or sausage from ginormous meat packing mega-corps. (See “Turkey” above).

For the last few years, I have been satisfying my desire for bacon and sausage with a locally produced product from Dines Farms from Oak Hill, NY. Jay Dines comes around to my neighborhood every Tuesday as part of Cobble Hill CSA pick up from Buy Flagyl Metronidazole, the first organic farm on Long Island (in continuous operation as a farm for more than 300 years by the Halsey family!).

CSAs are a group of folks who buy shares in a farm’s harvest which is then delivered to them at one drop location each week from April to December.  For more information on joining or starting a CSA, contact Just Food.

Side Note: I have ordered good local turkey from Dines before. This year, I wanted to nab the heavyset birds closer to my final destination in Shelter Island and I wanted to explore the availability of turkey on the East End.  It’s my challenge, remember?

Union Square Market carrots photo by WallyG

Sweet Potatoes, Turnips, Carrots, Onions, Garlic
Thanksgiving is all about star side dishes from the root cellar which can be obtained in abundance from almost all Farmer’s Markets in NYC.

It’s sort of shocking that most supermarkets stock root veggies harvested around the globe. A quick check of the (small) organic section in Met Foods in Brooklyn reveals the following provenances: garlic from China (!), onions from Texas, sweet potatoes from Georgia, carrots from California. Ask your grocer to switch to local.

Why not use foods from my CSA for Thanksgiving? An issue with a CSA is lack of choice. This week, the farm share consists of winter radishes, cauliflower, fennel, radicchio, garlic, and bok choi. Not exactly traditional Thanksgiving fare. Plus, the quantities would not be enough for a big group. So I will look elsewhere for these seasonal goodies.

I decided to get all of these Thanksgiving vegetables from Sang Lee, a certified organic farm in Peconic en route to our destination. My family has been shopping from Sang Lee Farms for more than ten years because it has excellent produce. Sang Lee is a family-run business that has been expanding and branding its operations very successfully while many other family farms in the area have folded, being one of few North Fork farms to supply Whole Foods in NYC.


Union Square Market. Photo by Walking Off the Big Apple

Brussel Sprouts
Another hearty, seasonal veggie that can be readily found in farmer’s markets this time of year.  Local farms sell the sprouts still attached to the stalk, keeping them fresh. The supermarket variety are sold in a round waxed carton. By buying sprouts locally, you save all that packaging and transportation. Karen Lee is setting four stalks of Brussels aside for me from Sang Lee.

Brussel sprouts are a relative newcomer to Thanksgiving and would not have graced the Pilgrim’s table, having been brought to the U.S. around 1800 by French settlers in New Orleans.  Long Island’s climate is well-suited to this cultivar of wild cabbage and the region has become the third largest producer of the crop in the U.S., most of which is grown in California and Washington. When I visited Green Pea Market on Atlantic Avenue, Brooklyn, I saw sprouts for sale on the stalk! Alas, the label read: “Salinas, CA.” Ask your local grocer to carry Long Island sprouts.

Fincar Legit OnlineParsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme (and Celery)
Most of these herbs are still growing in NY state before the first frost.  After confirming with Karen, I am getting these ingredients from Sang Lee along with marjoram and mint.  I could have gotten these items from any good farmer’s market this time of year. And so can you!

Milk & Cream
Let’s face it: Thanksgiving is a heavy meal calling for milk and cream.  Industrial milk is a major gross-out: feeding corn to an animal with seven stomachs for digesting grass; adulterating its body chemistry with hormones and antibiotics and crowding giant herds together like milk machines rather than animals.

I have been buying dairy from Milk Thistle in Ghent, NY which sells at the Farmer’s Market in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn on Sundays. Mostly what I buy is their excellent yoghurt which has a runny texture and a real snappy tang. Milk Thistle is a micro-mini operation with only 30 grass-fed, free ranging cows.  (FYI Stonyfield Farms, now the third largest producer of yoghurt in the U.S. and certified organic, started with just seven cows).

Milk Thistle dairy products are excellent quality and sold in old-timey thick glass bottles (for which you have to pay a deposit until you return them next time). It’s no accident that celebrity chef David Chang of Momufuko (and author of the currently best-selling cookbook in the U.S.) mixes his bevvies with Milk Thistle at his Milk Bar in NYC.

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Ronnybrook Butter. Photo by tiny banquet committee.

This is the weirdest thing.  Milk Thistle doesn’t make butter. Almost none of the small dairies make butter. Why? Economics. One pint of cream produces 1 cup of butter, or 1/2 pound.  Dairies can sell the pint of cream for the same price as a pound of butter. So why go through the laborious process of making the butter? I guess I could make my own butter from cream.

Homemade Butter Recipe: Beat cream beyond whip cream stage until it breaks down and curds floating in liquid buttermilk have turned golden color; strain curds into cheesecloth and squeeze out remaining liquid; then beat curds with cold water and squeeze again to remove last of the buttermilk.

I considered breaking the “rules” and buying butter from either Organic Valley, headquartered in LaFarge, Wisconsin, 1000 miles from Brooklyn, or Horizon Organic, the largest organic dairy in the U.S., based in Boulder, Colorado.

Both of these national brands are corporations that purchase and package milk from 500 or more farmers that adhere to the company’s organic production quality standards.  Horizon has recently come under fire for running factory farms following the legal letter of “organic” without really improving dairy farming practices or the environment.  For instance, Horizon claims that its herds have “access to pastures” but are sustained with “certified organic feed,” which means that its herds are neither guaranteed grass-fed nor free-range.

In the nick of time, I remembered about two local dairies that make organic butter: Vermont Butter & Cheese Company, Websterville, VT (300 miles north) and Ronnybrook Dairy Farm, Ancramville, NY. Both dairies distribute their products widely to local specialty stores but not all locations carry butter.  So call ahead. I was able to get 4 pounds of Ronnybrook Butter at Cobblestone Foods, Brooklyn. Be prepared for sticker shock as local organic butter is almost four times the price of standard butter. Another more affordable local option is butter from Cabot Cheese Co-Op, available in most supermarkets. Cabot is not organic but it’s a good quality product made only 300 miles away.

I could not find any local olive oil or vegetable oil. I use Frankie’s Extra Virgin Olive Oil sourced by Frank Castronovo, founder of restaurants of the same name in Carroll Gardens and the Lower East Side. Frankies’ Extra Virgin Olive Oil is cold pressed from organically grown Sicilian olives in the DOP (Protected Denomination of Origin) of Nocellara del Belice. For other vegetable oils, like Canola, I use Spectrum organic.  Spectrum is located in Boulder, CO, part of the Hain-Celestial Group. Definitely not local.

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Most holiday desserts call for refined sugar crystals. Refined sugar comes from either sugar cane, grown in Florida and other Gulf States, or sugar beets, grown mostly in Idaho. Since the first sugar refinery opened on Liberty Street in 1739, New York City became an early epicenter of a thriving sugar industry in the U.S.

Unfortunately for our locavore Thanksgiving, the era of refining sugar in New York pretty much ended with the closing of the last large-scale plants in Brooklyn, such as Revere Sugar in Red Hook and the recently-departed Domino Sugar in Williamsburg. The Pilgrims eating Thanksgiving probably did not have access to any refined sugar as it became a product of the New World colonies later in the 18th Century.  So I guess history has come full circle for the local availability of sugar.

Locally, honey can be substituted as a sweetener.  Honey performs differently in recipes (using about half the quantity which changes volumes) and does not caramelize like refined sugar. So we will probably use both.

I am planning to obtain honey from the The Hamptons Honey Company in Southampton when I pick up the turkeys from Mecox Bay Dairy in Bridgehampton. Established in 2002, The Hamptons Honey Company works directly with a network of local beekeepres to bottle raw honey from Long Island directly at its source without being filtered or pasteurized. In the City, Whole Foods, Garden of Eden and Dean & Deluca carry this brand.

Anne-Marie Borghese (See “Wine”) told me that the best honey she has ever had in her life was made by Mary Woltz of Bees’ Needs Honey Company.  Woltz has over a 100 hives in places like Marder’s, Quail Hill Farms and the Green Thumb Farm.  Woltz sells her honey at East End farmer’s markets and is a major force behind many local agricultural innovations on Long Island.  To find a local honey near you, Long Island Beekeepers Club maintains a “Local Honey Directory”.

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NY Wheat Field

In the 18oos, New York produced loads of potatoes and wheat. Not so today. I thought that I was going to give up on local flour until Melissa Rebholz told me about Wild Hive Farm in Clinton Corners, NY.

Since 2006, Wild Hive has produced stone ground flours exclusively from grains harvested from local and regional organic farmers. Don Lewis has operated a successful bakery & cafe since 1982.  He decided that he wanted to take his business a step further towards sustainability and produce his own flours with a gristmill custom-made by a local craftsman. Commercial milling uses steel grinders and filters that make flour white yet remove fiber and nutrients from grains.

Stone ground flours have superior flavors, texture and nutrition as less of the germ is removed. Lewis was honored by with an award from Slow Food in October 2008 in Italy for his commitment to artisanal production methods and his vertically integrated model of production. Surprisingly, Wild Hive seems to be the only exclusively organic operation of its type in New York State that I could find.

Union Square Market. Photo by Walking Off the Big Apple

Apple pie!  What could be more American? Luckily for locavores, New York State produces a lot of apples. New York apple growers rank 2nd nationally making about $185 million each year. All the more strange then that most grocery stores carry apples from California (Met Food), Massachusetts (Trader Joe’s) and even as far away as Chile and China!

My sister-in-law is a serious baker : seriously good.  Not surprisingly, she is the designated “Pie Master.” Dean & Deluca is her source for the best in baking, Macoun is her apple.

Dean & Deluca sources their Macoun apples from Terhune Orchards, Princeton, NJ.  I spoke with Terhune Farmer Richard Czech about organic labels and apples:

Organic is tough for apples when grown on a large scale as they are highly susceptible to pests and fungi. We use biodynamic Integrated Pest Management (IPM) process recommended by Cornell University. Also, we will soon be using the GAP system to publicly disclose which crop protectants were used, labeling produce ‘red, yellow or green,’ based on the health hazard represented by the spray or treatment.

IPM, promulgated each year by Cornell University, sets standards updated each year to respond to specific pests and diseases.  IPM standards are not as tough as organic certification but provide for light judicious spraying intended to protect consumer health.

GAP is an acronym for “Good Agricultural Practices.”   GAP can include “organic” farming standards or alternatives to organic. I was impressed with Czech’s attention to the details of the issue of consumer health.  Our discussion shows  just how complicated changing the local food system can be.

For those of you who want local and organic apples, including Macouns, you can purchase from Red Jacket Orchards, Geneva, NY, available at Whole Foods, many supermarkets and NYC Greenmarkets.

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Black Walnut on the Tree

Tough one to crack. I struck out with all my personal contacts, so I called Liz Perillo of NYC Greenmarkets who told me “Some folks have chesnuts but our growers don’t bring in tree nuts much.” Perillo recommended I contact Nizoral Drugstore Lipstick, established in 1910 to bring together people interested in growing nut trees and to publish articles, research papers, and monographs on nuts, nut tree growth, and nut tree culture. Wow! Representative of the NNGA, Thomas Molnar of Rutgers University responded to my query for almonds and hazelnuts as follows:

I do not think you will find any almonds grown within 100 miles of NY.  Nearly all of them are grown in California – they are not adapted to the northeast.  You might be able to buy walnuts (Persian/English and black walnuts) from Francis Woodward of Medina, NY – Indocin Prescription Ubersetzung

I run a hazelnut breeding/research program at Rutgers and might have a pound or two of nuts to spare, if that would help.  They are not grown commercially yet in the northeast, but we are changing that.  We have a wild hazelnut in this region, but the nuts are smaller than that of the European species which most people are familiar.

Our native nuts are the eastern black walnut and hickory.  Hickory nuts are hard to come by commercially.  I bet these local nuts were included in early Thanksgiving feasts.

I contacted Francis Woodward and ordered five pounds of Black Walnuts, shelled by hand. My father-in-law and I planned the menu with a walnut recipe. Then, we remembered that some of our family members are allergic to walnuts! Despite our best efforts, we will use organic California hazelnuts falling under the “Marco Polo” exception.

Side Note: Black Walnuts are native to North American and do not taste like English or Persian Walnuts, which you might purchase in a grocery store. Black Walnuts have a sharp flavor — reminiscent of a pine nut — musty, bittersweet and oily, making for an excellent pesto. Black walnut meats are about two-thirds oil, containing antioxidant omega-3 fats. Roasting mellows the intensity of flavor but does not remove it. The small size of the meat and the difficulty of extracting it from the shell have made black walnuts less commercially viable and rarely available in stores.

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Chardonnay Grapes at Castello di Borghese

Over the last twenty years, the North Fork of Long Island has come to be known as one of the premier wine-producing regions in the US, home to dozens of award-winning vineyards, abounding with wine tours and tastings.

Long Island’s first grape vines were planted by Hargrave Vineyards in Cutchogue, NY, which was subsequently acquired by Anne Marie and Marco Borghese. Castello di Borghese has maintained production of a unique red wine consisting entirely of Cabernet Franc, usually known as a blending grape in Bordeaux when mixed with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.  Vinified alone, Cabernet Franc is known as Chinon from Loire. Borghese’s Cabernet Franc has a smooth, slightly earthy finish with no jammy richness, making the wine a natural pair for the mild flavor of turkey. For years, I have been talking up the charms of Borghese Cabernet Franc to anyone who will listen. And here I am doing it again.

I spoke with Anne Marie Borghese, spouse of Marco, asking if Borghese produced a vinegar too. “We did,” she said, “and we have one bottle left of a limited edition vinegar, produced in partnership with nearby Satur Farms to dress their greens. I know it’s around because it’s in my pantry. I’d be glad to give it to you.” I thought it only fitting to invite her and her family to our Thanksgiving feast. Graciously, the Borgheses accepted. Now that’s getting to know your local farmer!

For white wine, I plan to select a White Label Chardonnay from nearby Lenz Wines. This wine is produced without oak which gives it a nice dryness, clean on the palate with a citrus fragrance. The Lenz Chardonnay aligns well with the turkey, tasting light on fruit and lacking the oaky-buttery finish that might overpower the food.

Now, I know that the Pilgrims would have brought cakes or cones of salt with them from England. However, after a while, I would guess they harvested sea salt. The producer of sea salt closest to Brooklyn is Maine Sea Salt. I ordered myself a pound of coarse grounds. Local salt! It’s interesting to think that we rely on this staple and have no idea where it comes from. Obviously, it’s pretty hard to adulterate salt.  So even if it comes from Nepal, usually, it’s only sin is the transportation costs.

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The Elusive Cranberry arrives in my kitchen

The piece de resistance!  The cranberry, along with the blueberry and Concord grape, is one of North America’s three native fruits that are commercially grown.  According to the Cape Cranberry Growers’ Association:

“The name “cranberry” derives from the Pilgrim name for the fruit, “craneberry”, so called because the small, pink blossoms that appear in the spring resemble the head and bill of a Sandhill crane. Contrary to popular belief, cranberries do not grow in water. Instead, they grow on vines in impermeable beds layered with sand, peat, gravel and clay. These beds, commonly known as “bogs,” were originally made by glacial deposits.”

In addition to Massachusetts, the major growing areas for cranberries are New Jersey, Oregon, Washington, Wisconsin, and in the Canadian provinces of British Columbia and Quebec. Very few cranberries are grown in NY.

To find a local grower, the Cape Growers’ instructed me to contact the Cranberry Institute. Who knew there was such a place? When I asked them for a local cranberry farmer, the representative, who declined to be identified, gave me the telephone number for Cliffstar Corporation located in Dunkirk, NY.

Cliffstar is not a farm, it is the largest independent grape, cranberry, and prune juice processor, and one of the largest private label beverage suppliers in the United States. Cliffstar buys cranberries from partipating farms all over the northeast. Melissa Slavin at Cliffstar shared the name of one of their farmers located in NJ who gave me the name of his neighbor who still had the fruit.

When I called Bill Poinsett of Poinsett Cranberry Farm in Browns Mills, NJ, an hour and half south of NYC, he educated me further about his trade:

The cranberries that you want for cranberry relish are “dry harvested.” Very few growers dry harvest because it is done by expensive machines or by hand. Most growers flood their fields so the berries float to the top to get a greater yield. Wet harvested berries can only be frozen or made into juice. I sell dry harvested berries locally out of my wife’s beauty salon, Edie’s. We put a sign in the window and an ad in the local paper. We sell 12-15 pounds of cranberries a day out of her shop.

Bill agreed to send me 2 quarts of his cranberries by mail. “Oh, they’ll keep for two weeks left outside this time of year.” And he was right. Poinsett’s cranberries were the biggest reddest berries I had ever seen.  How much? $2.00 per quart and $6.00 for shipping for a total of $10.00.

Right after I received my cranberries, I got a call from Chloe. “I’m at the Union Square Farmer’s Market and, guess what, they have local cranberries!” So, if you want to spare yourself my interesting but now pointless odyssey, you can head over to Union Square and get your local cranberries from Breezy Hill Farms.

Research for “A Locavore’s Thanksgiving,” has given me renewed sense of the bounty of our local farmers and the variety of producers that exist within 100 miles of NYC.

I am impressed with the breadth knowledge of the people who work at NYC Greenmarkets and their determination to find solutions with me.  I have a renewed respect for the local food commitment shown by Whole Foods and other establishments less known as locavore-friendly, like Garden of Eden and Dean & Deluca. Could these grocery stores and specialty markets buy even more locally? Certainly. I was inspired by people and by resources about food from Northern Nut Growers Association to Cornell University Extension and everything in between.

Even with all these amazing discoveries, there remain many challenges and opportunities for positive change.  Local food is still too expensive in terms of product costs, information costs and transportation costs, effectively putting a totally local diet out of reach for most consumers.

Product Costs
Local products usually cost two times as much as comparable standard ingredients in the supermarket. Local plus organic drives the price even higher. Most Greenmarkets take food stamps and EBT cards. However, the consumers in between rich and poor will find it hard to justify spending up to four times as much for local, organic products.

Information Costs
I loved the hunt, spending hours chatting with farmers, browsing markets, and grilling friends to find the missing pieces for the Thanksgiving feast. Who has time to spend on in-depth food research during the work week? A central, reliable clearinghouse for information about local food options, like LocalDirt, would make research more intuitive and quicker. Right now, there are too many different sources — all relaying small slices of the local food information pie.

Transportation Cost
In order to obtain all of the staples and seasonal foods, I had to travel to many different locations or pay shipping. I am not certain, but I think that if I belonged to Park Slope Food Co-op (PSFC), the locavore Thanksgiving could have been close to one-stop-shopping. PFSC staff has spent many years researching local farmers and producers.

Recently, I tried to join PFSC. It’s nothing personal but PFSC has effectively closed its membership, struggling to accommodate its staggering 15,000 members. Few other markets or co-ops have achieved the depth and breadth of products available at PSFC. Admirably, PSFC is engaged in an effort to advise others about starting copycat co-ops. Maybe “Co-Ops For All” would solve all of the challenges with product costs and information costs.

Happy Locavore Thanksgiving!

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