So my good friend Matthew took a look at this blog and then emailed a few good questions for me. I got some local experts to answer, and here's what we have...
Q: How do you find out beforehand if restaurants use local meats, sustainable seafood, local and/or organic produce, etc? How do you locate these kinds of restaurants in an area? It doesn't seem to be something restaurants advertise.
A: From Alegria Holland Ohlinger, owner of Richwood Grill in Morgantown, WV..."The only way I know of finding out if a restaurant uses organic stuff is to look at their website and menu. In bigger cities, they're more likely to put it right out there. Here in Morgantown, not so much. We do, but people have mixed responses to it. One guy recently accused us of lying the other night because he said there's no such thing as organic...but that isn't the norm.
I think it's perfectly acceptable to ask the waitstaff where the meat/seafood or anything else comes from. People ask us that all the time. Although we do try to list it on the menu, that isn't the norm here and I think it sometimes confuses people."
Editorial comment from me: Matt, I hope that we can build a good list, and get feedback from folks in different cities. Here's a place that I found close to where you live: Prince on Delaware. The website isn't totally obvious, but it would be a good place to go and ask some questions. If you try it, let us know all about it! Also, check out your local co-op. Looks like Newark Natural Foods is close to you. Co-ops are both a great place to shop, and a great resource for more info on farmers, etc.
Q: What is your take on farmer's markets? If food is sold at the meat counter or the produce stand at a farmer's market, does that assure me that it's local, hormone-free, and drug-free and possibly organic regarding the produce, or is it best to ask?
A: From Kathy Evans, of USDA Certified Organic Evans Knob Farm..."Most grocery store chains get their meat from a distributor of their chain. It usually comes from a large feed lot that sells their animals to a meat packer, who butchers the meat and then sells it to the grocery store chain.
It is a rare thing to find a grocery store that carries local meat, but yes, you should ask. In most cases the meat is not drug/hormone free unless it is labeled as such.
If a product, meat or produce, is labeled with the USDA Certified Organic label that product has gone through rigorous inspections. However, you need to school yourself on the food terminology. Cage-free chicken for instance, is a bit misleading. Cage-free only means that the animals are not in a tiny cage. Cage-free probably does mean that the chickens were in a huge building with thousands of other birds. Free range means that the bird had access to the outside, but the actual required size of that space is ridiculously small. Pastured poultry, on the other hand, means that the bird was raised out in a field with lots of fresh air, sunshine and space.
Not all farmers at a farmers market are organic or even use sustainable growing practices. You need to develop a relationship with your farmers, ask questions about their growing practices. If the farmer is not willing to discuss his/her growing methods, or if the farmer seems to be uncomfortable or talking in circles, steer away.
Another way to figure out if your farmer is growing with methods you are comfortable with is to ask if you can come for a visit sometime. Most farmers are willing to allow access to their farms. If they avoid visits, beware, they have something to hide."
Another editorial comment by me: One time I connected with a farmer who I had not met in person, through my local co-op. She told me that I could come visit her farm before I committed to buying anything, as she had a drop-off point close to my home. I asked her if she fed the same food I was buying to her kids, and she said yes. I said "I'm in!"
Matthew, I hope this helps. Thanks, experts, for the info! And thanks to Matt for this link, www.purcellmountainfarms.com. He says the organic blue cornmeal makes great cornbread, and that the prices and shipping are very reasonable. Win!
I hope this will be an evolving discussion, and that my sis and her hubby and others will weigh in on their experiences.