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Harvest Time in Rhode Island

Fall in Rhode Island tastes as good as it looks.

I’m covering my summer highlights with lowlights, someone else is watching the kids, and the horse chestnut trees are brown.

It must be Fall.

Actually, the chestnut trees started turning brown in early August. There’s one outside my bedroom window and it’s usually the first thing I see when I open my eyes in the morning. I love it when it’s greening out in the spring, but in mid-late summer, honestly, I’d like to chop it down.  August mornings typically dawn warm and full of promise, with brilliant sunlight sparkling on the harbor.  Summer fully swinging. 

Except for that tree, loitering outside my window, turning brown prematurely. 

If there was a reality contest show for fall foliage, the sugar maple would come away with the $250,000 grand prize, and ink a deal to host its own show.  The horse chestnut would be that weird guy who has nothing to say at the reunion episode because he left before anyone got to know him.

Brown leaves in August are depressing – they are like that friend we all have who always manages to firehose your good mood by whining “It’s all over after…(insert milestone here) ie: the Fourth of July/ you turn 40/ you turn 50/ Christmas/ you turn 60.”

You know what?  It’s not over ‘til the fat lady sings, and this fat lady is happy to report that the vast majority of vegetation that matures from late summer into fall does not disappoint at all.  We are at peak season for locally-grown produce, the corn is too sweet to even consider polluting it with butter and salt, and the tomatoes are ripening so fast we almost can’t eat enough of them.  Almost

It’s really remarkable, when you think of it, that a state as urbanized, developed, and densely populated as Rhode Island has such a thriving community of small vegetable and meat growers and producers.  In recent years, farmers markets have cropped up from one end of the state to the other and small farms have taken to marketing directly to the public.  Produce stands ranging in scope from Sweet Berry Farm, a favorite with over-the-bridge polo posers, to the gentleman on Franklin Street in Bristol who sells me tomatoes by the bushel for my annual sauce-a-palooza, have made locally-grown produce available to all.

With the advent of Edible Rhody magazine, a free journal that has quickly and quietly become the first and last word on locally-sourced food in the state, RI foodies have a bible that is reborn quarterly. Farm Fresh Rhode Island, an incubator founded in 2004, connects Rhode Island growers with consumers, educators, chefs and producers, and is a one-stop resource – for everything from where to find a local farmer’s market, to culinary events, to where to compost your table scraps.

Trends tend to move east from the wrong coast to the right coast, so we know whom to thank for ear gauges, bird-feather hair extensions, and the Kardashians. But the local food movement – slow food, as some have called it – was, along with Apple and Andre, the best thing to come out of California in the last fifty years.

It’s pretty easy to pinpoint the birth of the locally-sourced, organic food movement in California – that would have to be 1971, when chef and “California Cuisine” pioneer Alice Waters opened Chez Panisse in Berkeley, still a global foodie Mecca after 40 years. Pinpointing when it hit Bristol is more of a challenge, but I’m going to go with circa 1979-1995, the former being the last time my mother busted out a canned tuna casserole, the latter being my first recollection of my father announcing for the first of many times that the ear of September corn he was eating was the “best corn of my life.”

I’ve probably already lost the hard-core carnivores, but eating locally doesn’t mean you have to lay off the meat. Ova the bridge, Aquidneck Farms is a great source of grass-fed meat, and I recently had the pleasure of meeting Pat Rossi of Rossi Farm on Prudence Island, at the .  Rossi Farm produces grass-fed beef, pork, and goat, and the brawl that ensued Sunday at my family breakfast table over the last slice of bacon is the first and last word you need on how wonderful it was.  Don’t look for Pat on Friday – she is low on stock but will be taking orders and delivering via the Prudence Island Ferry, hopefully sooner than later.

Granted, locally raised grass-fed meat is a little pricier than the factory-farmed variety, and can be a tougher sell when your belt is tight.  I mix things up a bit by skipping meat several nights and treating it as more of a “want” than a “need.”  For some of us, it’s also easier to disengage a bit from the source of our steak.  Or worse, laaaaamb.  Just the other day, my daughter asked me if meat came from trees.  I didn’t lie, but after I told the truth I changed the subject pretty quickly.  After all, as one of my all-time favorite bumper stickers says:

“If God did not want us to eat animals, why did he make them out of meat?”

Indeed.  Enjoy the season.

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