Does seasonal and local matter?https://tableunderatree.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/banana-2-scaled.jpg25601920Table Under a TreeTable Under a Treehttps://tableunderatree.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/banana-2-scaled.jpg
Real food, from real people at real places. That’s the mantra that we repeat every day at Table Under a Tree. But does that mean the food in question always has to be in season and always come from small-scale producers near you?
Why not enjoy early season mangoes freighted from Far North Queensland? Why not make the most of hothouse tomatoes year round? What’s wrong with buying oranges imported from California? Or perhaps a bottle of French Champagne?
In isolation, the answer to those questions could be nothing; no problem; peel away; and cheers. The real issue emerges when you think about the cumulative nature of our buying habits, and the impact that it can have on producers, the community and the environment.
Take for example, the humble banana. Over the past year, at a rough tally, Table has delivered somewhere in the vicinity of 635 bunches of bananas. Now, bananas are grown in multiple regions across the country, and the ones our customers might otherwise have bought in supermarkets may have been grown anywhere from Coffs Harbour to Cairns. The farms where they were grown would probably have been large commercial operations, using any number of chemicals, and the farmers responsible for them would have been paid very tightly controlled wholesale prices. The quality control process would have knocked out significant numbers of wonky hands, leaving a high level of seconds. And the amount of packaging and fuel required to safely get those bananas from farm to supermarket would have been huge.
Instead, we bought the bananas from a local grower, Caldera Harvest. I know they were grown by Matt Everest at his farm at Eungella and I know and trust his approach to minimal-intervention farming. He tells me how things are going at the farm and steers me toward or away from things as quality and season demands. Sometimes the bananas were funny shapes and sizes, but whenever I taste test (which yes, I periodically do for all the produce we supply), they are delicious.
We paid Matt a fair price and our customers got great value for money. The profits stayed in the local community which means more small businesses could benefit in-turn. A happy healthy local economy. The packaging used was all reusable – Matt loves the black crates as much as we do – and of course the bananas traveled minimal distance so the carbon footprint is much smaller. They were picked and delivered within days, so they were in-season and super-fresh. And the fresher food is, the more nutrient dense it is, which means it is better for you, with longer shelf life so far less likely to go to waste.
But bananas are easy… What about something that isn’t readily available year round here in the Northern Rivers? I’m talking to you Mr Avocado or you Mrs Broccoli? And lots more!
Like so many things in life, I think it comes down to the 80-20 rule. I believe in supporting local growers that I know by name. I know that fruit and veggies taste best when they are at the peak of their natural season and have not spent an eon in cold-storage. But I’m also a realist who loves broccoli! Sometimes I do buy things from other regions, and we always splurge on good Champagne for Christmas morning (yes, morning… don’t judge me!). To me it comes down to striking the balance between my own family’s idiosyncrasies and knowing that supporting local growers and eating what they have in season does wonders for farming viability, for the community I live and work in and for the long-term health of the environment. Make smart choices 80% of the time, and then be ok with deciding 20% of the time to enjoy the output of Victoria’s broccoli growing regions or the occasional French vineyard!
Make those decisions consciously knowing that there is power in what you decide to put on your plate. I think I’ll go and eat a banana now! It’s real food, from real people at real places.