Thursday, August 14, 2008

Change of Venue

We've been in Michigan this week, specifically Pentwater, a small town northwest of Grand Rapids where my family has been vacationing for years. There's lots of boating, swimming and dune climbing. But finding our kind of food has been more of a challenge. The nearest supermarket is in Ludington, 15 miles away. I hate to come off like a snob, but I did not warm to processed turkey, processed ham, processed cheese and potato chips. Very quickly I was missing my garden-fresh vegetables and homemade pickles.

Was there any food for us here in Pentwater?

In the local wine store I noticed a sign advertising a farmers market in the village square. On Monday afternoon we paid a visit and found one vendor with a few eggs and a truckload of hand-dyed yarn. The woman running the stand was Dennise Wright, who owns a farm a few miles away outside Hart with her husband Andy and their nine children (soon to be 10).

The Wrights have 40 acres where they raise mostly chickens, turkeys, pigs, sheep, goats and a few Guernsey cows. They have a few cow shareholders for the raw milk and in high season drive 220 miles each way to sell their meats at a market in Chicago. Dennise invited us for a visit. Yesterday we stopped by to tour Liberty Family Farm where the Wrights are trying to duplicate some of the "grass farming" techniques of Joel Salatin. The pigs and chicken forage behind movable fencing, rotating through clover and weeds and leaving fertilizer behind.

The Guernsey cows are improbably friendly and docile with their huge brown eyes. One bull calf is growing horns but still nursing. He will eventually end up as steaks and hamburger. This time of year, the meat larder is running low at the Wrights'. The pigs are still growing; a few were scheduled to be slaughtered on Friday. Too late for us. We purchased a roasting chicken broken down into parts as well as a partial leg of lamb and a 4-lb pork shoulder roast. Pentwater has a full-service produce stand on the outskirts of town. We stopped there for some local vegetables and fruits and came up with the following menu:

Grilled chicken and lamb fajitas with quacamole
Black bean salad with corn and summer squash
Peach cobbler with local peaches

There's a larger farmers market here on Thursday mornings as well. We'll pay a visit to see what some of the other local farmers are growing. I bought a dozen of the Wrights' eggs ($3.50 a dozen here, compared to $5 in Chicago) and have been eating them daily for breakfast. We could also make egg salad. Today I've got our pork butt smoking with some mesquite chips on the grill. We'll have pulled pork sandwiches and homemade cole slaw for dinner.

Suddenly, those trips to the supermarket in Ludington aren't looking so necessary after all. The local food movement is having an impact even here in Pentwater, Michigan, if you make the effort to find it.


el said...

Welcome (back) to Michigan, Ed! Enjoy those cool lake breezes.

Yes, you have to look for decent food here, as you do most places outside of cities. But if you look hard enough there are stalwart types like the Wrights everywhere, which gives us all a lot of hope.

I Heart Kale said...

This is great to hear--I have to travel to Western Michigan occasionally for work and have had the same problem finding good food. Guess I'll have to look a little harder, and sounds like it'll be worth it!

Ed Bruske said...

El, I think my point was people automatically go into industrial food mode when they go on vacation. In fact, there are alternatives and finding them can be fun. We had a great time visiting with the Wrights and if we'd stayed longer, we would have found some other local farmers as well.

ILK, you might start your search at the Local Harvest website. Seems there are local food sources wherever you look. And I never got around to talking about the guys selling smoked fish out of Lake Michigan.

Woody said...

Ed, Pentwater's a great place for family summers! Woody (of the O'Leary reunion)

Ed Bruske said...

Woody, great to hear from you again. Hope you are doing well. Pentwater has been a traditional destination for the Chicago side of the family. We are usually in Maine, but this year we decided to hang more in the District of Columbia.