Local Food Connections

On Saturday, our neighborhood fresh produce market hosted their 3rd annual Farm Fest to give shoppers the opportunity to meet local farmers and producers. We love Farm Fest, not just because we get to chat with the men and women who grow the foods we love to eat, but because we can sample new products that more often than not end up on our regular shopping list.

Having fun at Farm Fest 2018.

Last year, we fell in love with an oven-ready vegetarian lasagna that’s made right here in our town. At $20 for an 8 x 8 pan, Il Pandolce isn’t something we can afford all the time but it has become one of our favorite date-night splurges. We also discovered Santo Niño de Atocha Tortilleria. Ms. Alice and her family make fresh corn tortillas and chips literally down the street from us. We can (and have) walked to her shop.

This year the big hit for us was Smirk Ice Cream. Their small batch ice creams are made with fruit sweetened almond milk – no artificial ingredients, no added sweeteners, and no dairy. It was like heaven on a spoon for me (I’m very sensitive to dairy products and usually have to enjoy ice cream in tiny, tiny servings). Smirk even offers free delivery right to your door in the greater Nashville area.

As we made our way around the tables at Farm Fest, I couldn’t help but notice something interesting…besides this grandfatherly gentleman posting pictures of his wife to Instagram.

It’s Instagram-pa! He was having such a great time.

People were really interested in where their food came from. They wanted to know where the farms were located, if they could visit, and if their methods were organic and/or humane. I suppose this is what one should expect in a local produce market but nevertheless, it was inspiring. If more folks thought this much about their food, just think of the impact we could make.

Top 5 Reasons to Buy Local

  1. It supports your local community. 68% of food dollars spent locally stay in the community, as opposed to only 43% of food dollars spent at a chain grocer.
  2. You will reduce your environmental impact. On average, food travels 1,500 miles to reach the grocery shelf. This means massive amounts of energy are used in the transportation, refrigeration, storage, and packaging of these foods. Buying local eliminates almost all of this resource waste.
  3. Local food tastes better and is more nutritious. Most grocery produce is picked early and ripens in transit. Local produce has time to ripen in the field, meaning it can be picked and sold at the peak of flavor and nutrition.
  4. You will buy less. Let’s face it, there are no shopping carts at the Farmer’s Market, no impulse buys, and no BOGO super deals. When you shop local, you generally buy only what you need.
  5. You’re helping end food waste. Almost 40% of food loss occurs before the product even reaches the consumer. A lot of this waste occurs due to spoilage when fruits and veggies spend too much time in storage or transport but 17% occurs directly on the farm, where “ugly” produce is discarded as unsalable. Odd or misshapen produce is pretty much the norm at the local level and no one cares. An ugly carrot tastes just like a pretty one.

Angie with our free jar of salsa and a half pint of maple syrup from O’Brother’s.

During Farm Fest, we also signed up for our 2018 CSA share. Last year, we purchased shares from two local farms and we found ourselves overloaded with some things (like okra and peppers) and missing out on some others (like blueberries and melons). This year, we’re sticking with one CSA – Oak Grove Farms – and will purchase other “supplemental” items from the Farmer’s Market or the produce store. This will be our 3rd season with Oak Grove and we can’t wait for spring to roll around. They grow some of the most delicious strawberries we’ve ever eaten and their homemade salsa…oh my! Let’s just say, if it came in a keg, we’d buy one…or maybe two. As luck would have it though, Farmer Zach was giving away pint jars of his salsa that day.

Along with the salsa and maple syrup, we bought a dozen eggs, a bag of locally roasted coffee, 2 packs of dried apples, some Moosehead Kettle Corn, and 2 pints of local honey. We also went home with a half loaf of Amish sourdough bread and a half loaf of jalapeno sourdough bread from Laurel Mountain Farms. They had the cutest baby goat named Tommy at their table. After the second (or maybe fourth) time they let us play with him, I felt a bread purchase was the least we could do to repay them. And boy am I glad we did! That bread (and some homemade spinach dip) made for some super Super Bowl crostinis.

Food Waste Update

  • Wasted Food this week: 0 ounces
  • Total Wasted Food in 2018: 9 ounces
  • Found Food this week:  20.17 US pounds
  • Total Found Food this year:  83.34 US pounds

Keep up with our food finds in real time by viewing our Food Find Gallery.

Going Incognito at the Open House

My grandmother’s house went on the market this past week. Angie and I have been driving by it almost religiously since September when we found out that my dad and uncle sold it to a real estate “flipper” to settle the debts of my grandmother’s estate. (She had signed the house over to the nursing home to pay for her care.)

My grandparents bought the house in 1962. My dad lived there as a teen and I grew up playing hide-and-seek in the closets, racing Hot Wheels across the hardwood floors, and dreaming about turning the attic into a secret hideaway. I can still see my grandma sitting in her recliner by the front door talking on the phone – a black rotary phone with a 25-foot cord – or making popcorn in an iron skillet on the stove. A lot of memories were made in that house and for a moment, we entertained the thought of buying it, both as a way to preserve those memories and as a place to make new ones.

Granny’s House 2018

The thought of buying a house wasn’t purely sentimental though. Our little town is experiencing a bit of a boom right now. Unemployment is really low (4%) and jobs are plentiful (at least in the manufacturing and service sectors). We’re only 25 minutes from downtown Nashville and it seems everyone wants to live here (except maybe us). I recently read that 270 people move here every month. And because of that, rent has gone through the roof!

Handrail outside our apartment.

Our apartment complex was built in the 1980s. I remember because I was still in high school and had friends who where among the first to live in the “new luxury apartments” of Village Green. Today, the sign out front is about the only thing left that still says luxury. For $859 per month we get the honor of living in a 1-bedroom apartment where there are circles in the ceiling from a prior leak, windows that are so poorly constructed that icicles form on the interior when it’s cold outside, and you can’t hold the handrail coming up the outside stairs because they are caked in bird poop (that’s been here as long as we have). And this summer, our rent will go up to the current “market value” of $919.

Just two short years ago when the house next door to my mom was for sale (for $82,000), we ran the numbers and found that purchasing it on a 15-year mortgage would have made our payments less than $600 per month. It was a newly renovated 2-bedroom home built in 1994 on a 1-acre lot and we passed on the opportunity. My grandmother’s house is also a 2-bedroom home. It sits on a 0.13 acre lot about a mile from the center of town, in a neighborhood that has long since passed it’s prime. I mention this fact for one very specific reason.

The realtor held an open house yesterday, so Angie and I stopped in to see the renovations. Once again, we stood dumbfounded by the shoddy workmanship that people here seem to pass off as acceptable. The drywall seam was showing in the bedroom. There were paint drippings on the floor and corners of the ceiling that had been missed completely with the paintbrush. The brand-new appliances were all scratched up. The countertop was cheap laminate and the carpet in the den was the very same one my dog peed on when he was a puppy (in 1989). The asking price for my grandmother’s house…$169,900.

We nearly passed out in the “newly renovated kitchen” when the realtor handed us the flyer.

Area comps via Zillow. The yellow dots are recent home sales in Granny’s neighborhood. Not a single one even comes close to $169,900.

It was at that moment that I decided not to introduce myself as the grand-daughter of the previous owner; which led to a delightful conversation about the history of the house.

Did you know,” the realtor asked, “that these are the original hardwood floors and they have never been stepped on? The woman who lived here covered them up with carpet. Can you believe that?

You don’t say.” (Funny, but I distinctly remember getting in trouble for leaving black rubber scuff marks on these same hardwood floors when I was a kid, about 20 years before the living room was carpeted. But I didn’t argue.)

And she lived here for something like 25 years.” (More like 50, but again, I didn’t argue.)

And the neighbors all keep their yards really nice.” (Did you see that dilapidated swing set next door? Or the pile of brush the size of a small car in the yard behind us?)

And it’s walking distance to town,” she added, as if that very fact alone might sway us to pay the 112% markup in price over what it sold for in September.

To this comment, I just had to respond. “Have you ever tried walking to town from here?

Well no, but I clocked it on my car and it’s less than a mile and this is a low traffic area.

I shook my head in disbelief and refrained from asking what planet she lived on. My grandmother’s house sits on one of the busiest connectors in the downtown area. Everybody and their brother drives down this road to get to the other side of town and the always busy Department of Electricity is at the end of the street! There are no sidewalks either, and last time Angie and tried walking anywhere from here, we nearly got hit by a car.

Incognito at the Open House

We left the open house with 2 new ink pens, a 2018 calendar, and the very real feeling that the Universe was once again trying to send us a message. Whether for sentimental or practical reasons, buying a house is not what we really want to do. I know this because, if you handed us $169,900 today, we would not buy my grandmother’s house. We would be more likely to opt out of traditional housing altogether and convert a shed into a tiny house or hit the road (again) in a RV.

The buy vs. rent debate is one that we think about often, especially on days like today, when we are waiting for maintenance to fix the kitchen sink. Last night, the sprayer handle shot off and flew across the room when Angie turned on the faucet and we’ve been without water in the kitchen all day. It’s frustrating and frustration (in my opinion) motivates people to make poor financial decisions. Buying a house is not necessarily a bad financial decision but buying a house in a town you hate to avoid paying rent on a place that’s not worth the price definitely would be. We don’t need a long-term solution to a short-term problem. We just need to practice patience, as my mom loves to say.