Retrofit Report: Five Things to know about Sustainable Eating

At “Eating Sustainably Along the Lakeshore” on Monday, Feb. 23, a panel discussion and a dozen displays covered topics like eating local, food policy and community supported agriculture (CSA). The program was part of a series sharing knowledge and tools for living with less long-term impact on essential resources. The panel included:

Cindy Visser, of Visser Farms, which sells at nine area farm markets and offers CAS shares. “We’re incredibly passionate that our land is as great for our great-grandkids as it was for us from our great-grandparents,” she said.

Jeff Roessing, director of Eighth Day Farm, a CSA program growing food at Holland Town Center and 709 Pine Ave. in Holland. Its goals include involving people in producing and eating fresh, healthy foods.

Matthew Pietsch, executive chef at Salt of the Earth restaurant in Fennville, where he directs a farm-to-table concept emphasizing fresh, quality ingredients from within a 50-mile radius.

Sustainable doesn’t mean complicated

It’s easy to plant tomatoes, beans and other seedlings in deck containers or the backyard. Michelle Gibbs, director of the Holland/Hope College Sustainability Institute, said state Master Gardeners are eager to give tips. (See

Last summer she grew vegetables in her yard, with her 2-year-old son watering and picking. “He won’t touch them if we get them from the grocery store,” she said, “but if he picks them off the plant, he’ll eat them.”

“Involving children in the process of growing their food and understanding where it comes from can be a great experience for the whole family,” she said. “And you can’t get much more sustainable than your own backyard.”

People eat every day, so evaluating where our food comes from is a good way to first get involved in sustainability, she added.

Cooking quality has rewards

Roessing suggested setting priorities and allowing time for cooking good foods, seeing it not as drudgery but as entertainment. “In our household,6 o’clock is kind of sacred time for us,” he said, with family and friends joining to cook and eat, have devotions and fellowship.

Pietsch told of food writer Michael Pollen pointing out the average American spends 27 minutes a day preparing food (defined as putting together as few as two items) while spending an average 2½ hours a week watching cooking shows. “But they’re not applying that knowledge.”

Start slow, he suggested, with a few basic recipes. Dedicate time to preparing quality food.

Recipes and tips are readily available from CSA and farm websites, or from market vendors. Check out good books like Alice Waters’ “The Art of Simple Food.”

Eat local, help a farmer

When Salt of the Earth opened, it started out seeking high quality ingredients and valuing relationships with suppliers, Pietsch explained. Now the “eat local” movement has grown – and so has a “massive infrastructure” bringing local farm goods to restaurants.

Visser said restaurant sales have been a blessing to farmers. When a restaurant menu lists local farms, diners can know they’re getting “home-grown food,” she said. “When you support places that will buy local, it really helps us and our community.”

Sustainable food isn’t just a summer thing

Mud Lake Farm, south of Hudsonville, grows “hydroponic lettuce, herbs, microgreens and other good stuff” supplying restaurants and 100 CSA members with fresh produce year around. (Lumber mill waste heats four greenhouses.)

Visser touted new winter hours at the Holland Farmers Market for local produce. And she described her delight in eating strawberries in winter that swhe froze when they were plentiful. Canning or freezing summer bounty pays off in winter, and she’s glad to offer tips at the market.

Sustainable can cost more – but pays dividends

Roessing cited writers who say spending 10 percent of our household budget on “industrial” food is a false economy that doesn’t take into account taxes that subsidize those foods and health costs of low-quality processed foods. Spend more for better quality, he said.

“Longer term, we need to look at ourselves and ask, are we eating to live or living to eat, and if we can in fact begin to incorporate better eating into our lifestyles, and teach our children to do that, we’re going to be further ahead,” said Holland resident Paul Lilly at the event.

He liked the idea that we should probably spend more for better food. “You’ll be healthier, your health care costs should be less, and those are good things.”

Story from Holland Sentinel By Ben Beversluis — read more

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