Olive Tapenade at the YMCA Derby Day

I spent today cooking the following recipe at the YMCA Derby Day in Rye, NY. A 5-mile run for grown ups and a one mile run for kids. While I have been a runner and probably will be again in my future (when I get a dog, or bears are chasing me) I’m not in an athletic mood. I am however, happy to feed runners and kids and paramedics and folks asking lots of the “Is this organic?” question.

In a word, no. Its not.

But! There is a continuum of conventionally grown~organically grown~locally grown. I’d make you a 3D model, but my CAD skills are rusty. Instead, I’ll say in a nutshell:

Local, Organic = Best
Local, Non-organic* = Great
Local, Conventional = Okay
Faraway, Organic = Um, not that great, actually (I’m looking at you, Chile)
Faraway, Conventional = The Bad Guy

*This non-organic thing at the Farmer’s Market requires you to talk to your farmer. Just because they may not have purchased the government-approved organic seal, doesn’t mean that you should say something like, “oh, thanks, but I only eat organic,” and be on your way. Honestly, that sounds kind of ignorant. I get where you are coming from and I get that your doctor and Time said that organic is the only way to go, but lets consider that you can also buy organic Oreos. I promise you that they are both bad for the Earth and you, and no, you will not eat a box and walk away looking like Angelina Jolie. That isn’t how it works.

If you have been reading this site for a while, you know that time and again, I dust off my soap box and get cranky.  I was asked frequently if the apples we were giving away were organic. No, they aren’t. And that was a crappy answer. What I should have been able to say was, no, but they were grown in the Hudson Valley and the techniques used to preserve the harvest so that they are here for you to eat was X, Y, and Z. XYZ will not include petrochemicals, toxins, or non-biodegradable matter. I frankly don’t know what their practices include, but I know that eating direct from your farmer is as clean and community-supportive as you get.

Here’s why:

1. Local farmers happily invite you to visit the farm.
If there were scary toxins lying around, they wouldn’t. Instead, these folks have Harvest Picnics and get city slickers like us up into the field to see how their gardens grow. Pet a cow, hold some barn kittens and feel better.

2. Buying Local Means Supporting Local Community
It takes a whole lot of talented, knowledgeable people to run a working farm. Forget the farmer chic idea. There is no such thing that will last through the fad of green-this, organic-that. Real working farmer folks who depend on the viability of the crop to sustain them (i.e. pay the rent on the land and/or the water bill) need lots of other talented folks to do things like fix tractors. That may require a skill like welding, which, talk to them is much like asking a thirteen year old to darn socks. Its a dying art. By supporting the end product, you defacto support a community who then spends money in the community on things like restaurants and clothes and florists. We are all connected and your dollar really does count when you spend it close to home.

3. “Organic” as a Label is a Meaningless Thing
If the aforementioned Oreos can be organic, then my knock-off Canal Street purchase can be Kate Spade. Talk to real farmers, particularly those who grow proteins like pork or beef, and then will tell you that if they go ahead and buy the outrageously priced government seal of approval, they can no longer treat a sick animal, whom has a name, identity and place in the great family tree, with antibiotics. No way around it. So, Piggy’s foot gets an infection from stepping on a nail? Down he goes. Even if a simple shot of penicillin would have had him right as rain.

The point is: Know thy farmer. Throw the kids and the dog in the back of the Volvo and head up to Tivoli to see what Migliorelli is really doing to your apples. You’ll be a better human because of it.

And that’s the whole point, right?

Olive Tapenade
1 Quart olives, of your choice, finely chopped. I like the olives from the Market. Good people, creating a value-added product that I just can’t grow in my backyard.
2 T garlic, finely minced
1/2 cup chopped herbs (today I used fresh oregano, rosemary, thyme and parsley)
3 lemons – use the zest and the juice
1/4 cup olive oil
Bread for serving (but you could also use grilled meat or fish, an omelet with some feta cheese, whatever captures your imagination.)

Mix everything together in a large bowl. Smear on bread. That’s it. Alternatively, you could put everything into your food processor and pulse to happiness.

WAIT! Did you just write that whole thing about responsible consumption and then advocate OLIVES?! Yup. Sure did. I will not be giving up olives or citrus or avocados or anything else that I can source from legitimate farmers with honorable resources. This practice isn’t about denial. Instead, practice accountability and moderation and approach food with a hungry, raised eyebrow.

And support your local YMCA.

Happy thinking, y’all.

Find Your Local Market:
Community Markets (Hudson Valley, Westchester and Brooklyn)
Local Harvest (Everywhere Else)
[more links welcome]

  • Patricia

    A great, and timely, piece! In addition to everything you mentioned, I also have a deep interest in how hired help is treated. Unless a farm is very small, people are needed at harvest time. A conscious farmer thinks not only about the quality of her produce, but also about the care given to those who help bring it to market.

  • JDP sr

    Well-said…. and our Oreo IS organic, but has too much fur to be edible.