Blue Heron Local Cuisine

Cooking, Eating, and Drinking on the North Shore (and beyond)

Voting and other things you can do to improve the world November 3, 2008

Filed under: Agriculture — blueheronlocal @ 1:53 pm
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(photo from

(photo from

Nov 4: Election day.  Perhaps the one day every four years where most
(ok, many) American citizens actively engage in our political system.
Your participation matters: the President sets the agenda, picks the
advisors, and influences the funding, application and even creation of
laws and the rules that enforce them.  So, please VOTE.

But you can engage beyond voting.  I’m sure some of you have called or
written your Reps and Senators about a bill– check out the websites
for the House and the Senate if you haven’t.  The most underused
system is commenting on proposed rules.  So what’s a rule?  And why do
they matter?

A rule is the method by which agencies interpret laws for action–
whether it is creating a program, ending a program, enforcing a ban,
etc.  Most laws are pretty stretchy (politically easier to pass), so
the rules are where political agendas can be acted out relativley
unseen.  But wait, transparency does exist!  You just have to know the
system: rules are required to have a public comment period (posted on
this handy website: and agencies are required to
respond to each comment and take them into account as they write the
final rule.

Right now, there is a rule about pasture and organic dairy open to
comment.  Some of it is good, some of it is bad (awful, like, what were they



On Skills, Economics, and blogs that won’t let me comment October 2, 2008

(photo from Appalachian Farming Systems Research Center)

NPR* has this snazzy little radio show called The Splendid Table, hosted by the grand dame Lynne Rosetto Casper (with a voice like pork cooked with apples, topped by well-buttered biscuits).  About a year ago, she started a local food challenge blog,  which includes posts from people around the country.  I’ve been sporadically following a woman named Autumn, from my home state, West Virginia. 
On 9/11, Autumn posted a thoughtful rant about the economic past, present, and future and how that relates to food: growing, eating, preserving, buying, obesity, health, life, the universe, and everything.
In short: WV has economic and health problems, which grew out of a history of subsistence lifestyles that were rendered obsolete and not properly replaced with anything else (other than coal—a place I will not go today). This lead to a loss of skills and host of modern health issues, which can be summarized by saying that obesity is bad and prevalent. 
Her solution: Rebuild local economies based on meeting basic needs, like food, locally.  (more…)


Honeycrisp Apples and the Lost Cultivar September 24, 2008

Filed under: Agriculture,In Season — blueheronlocal @ 8:24 am
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If it weren’t for David Bedford, there would be no honeycrisp apples. The honeycrisp trees (then known as MN 1711) were tagged for removal at the University of Minnesota Agricultural Experiment Station’s Horticultural Research Center, when Bedford, head of the apple breeding program, noticed that these trees were in a terrible growing spot. He thought they would have promise in a better site, so he let them live. It was a good thing he did. The honeycrisp has become an exceedingly popular apple. It has the perfect apple texture and its flavor is subtle and sweet. The apple grows to large proportions and stores well. And the trees love the cold weather.


Creating new apple cultivars is a long process and many cultivars never make it to the stage where they get nice names like honeycrisp. It took the honeycrisp thirty years to be released as a cultivar after it was grown from a seedling at the U of M in 1961. There are many reasons for this: The trees need to grow big enough to produce significant fruit, they need to produce fruit consistently from year to year, they have to survive the harsh Minnesota winter [Ed. note: Take it from me, North Shore natives, the Minnesota winter is intense. The snow never melts and when the wind blows you can feel aching sinus cavities you weren’t even aware of.], and for this particular cultivar, the U of M was treading lightly. In the late 1970s they had three cultivars metaphorically crash and burn. The regent and honey gold didn’t survive the winter (see above) and the red baron mysteriously turned yellow and orange and stayed yellow and orange. Oops! However, the honeycrisp was a clear success.


Originally it was thought that the honeycrisp was a cross between the Macoun and honey gold; however, when the U of M folks tested its DNA, they realized that it was a cross between keepsake and another cultivar that did not survive the testing process. Apple fanatics everywhere must be wondering “What other apple varieties were grown and destroyed that I will never taste???” (That wouldn’t be me, of course.)


You can buy and pick honeycrisps at Russell Orchards in Ipswich.



(Thanks to Minnesota Harvest for the fascinating, detailed account of the growing and creating process.)


On Definitions September 22, 2008

Filed under: Agriculture,Ethical Eating — blueheronlocal @ 3:10 pm
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This may be my favorite semi-wordy definition of a sustainable food system.  
From the 2025 Vision Statement for Michigan Food and Farming
Sustainability as it applies to food means that societies pass on to future generations all the elements required to provide healthy food on a regular basis: healthy and diverse environments (soil, water, air, and habitats); healthy, diverse, and freely reproducing seeds, crops, and livestock; and the values, creativity, knowledge, skills, and local institutions that enable societies to adapt effectively to environmental and social changes.

Biodiversity, knowledge & skills, ecosystem health, strong communities, self-replication across generations, and the ability to adapt.  The inclusion of creativity is particularly rare—as our surrounding and systems change, we do need to be creative to maintain healthy systems.  Growers, cooks, bankers, lawyers, and politicians all need to be able to think within and also outside “the box” in order to adapt to new conditions.  My only complaint is that it does not explicitly include economic sustainability, although you could easily argue that the last section could include fairly valuing the work of those who work in our food system.