Yesterday, I saw the Oscar nominated documentary, Food, Inc. It is excellent, engaging, educational –and agitating.
Directed by Robert Kenner, the documentary, as Netflix describes, “explores the food industry’s detrimental effects on our health and environment. Kenner spotlights the men and women who are working to reform an industry rife with monopolies and questionable interpretations of laws and subsidies, political ties and rising rates of E. coli outbreaks.”
The documentary trumpets the “locavore” movement, a movement that supports the growth, production, purchase, and consumption of local foods. From what I learned in the documentary, and through other sources –and it all makes sense – locally grown and produced food offers considerable health advantages.
What I am learning more about is that mega corporations are putting local farmers and food producers out of business and in major competitive disadvantage, and some of the means they use to do so result in unhealthy food; e.g. spikes in E. coli in our beef are a result from feeding cattle cheap corn – which is not the natural food of cattle – instead of grass, which is the natural food of cattle.
Food that is healthy and good for us – like fresh vegetables – cost a lot more than the fat and sodium laden items like $1 cheeseburgers we can get at fast food restaurants. This is the case because our government subsidizes the big corporations' production of foods that result in the $1 cheeseburger, but it doesn’t subsidize the healthy veggie growers and their farming.
We have become increasingly disconnected from our food – with the average meal traveling 1500 miles to our table.
There is tremendous and intended secrecy about the methods of food growth and productiona in America.
Hunger has been eliminated in America. But we are nutritionally starved. And we are becoming fatter and fatter.
I was born in 1963, and growing up in Easton, we had a community far more in touch with the origins of our food. We were a rural community, a community that still had many farms, and a dairy.
To this day, townies refer to the Five Corners and Furnace Village area in Easton as the “Corn Belt.” That is because of the extensive farming and all the farmland that was up there. For an excellent column on farming in the 1940s and 1950s up in that neck of the woods, , which will take you to a story written by fellow Easton Patch columnist Lee Williams.
, located on the Ames family estate in North Easton Village, is a valuable addition to our community and provides an extensive array of locally and organically grown fruits.
Now in its second year of operation, the farm sells its produce at its farm stands and at farmers markets in the area.
runs its farmers market at Sheep Pasture from May through October, on Tuesdays, from 2 pm to 6pm, and on Saturdays, from 10 am to 2 pm. (The market opens this year on Saturday, May 21).
At the NRT Easton market you can find produce, pickels, artisan breads, and more.
Easton still farms cranberries, helping make Massachusetts the second biggest cranberry producing state behind Wisconsin. Working cranberry farms can be found off of Rte. 106/Foundry Street near Southeastern Regional, and up on Bay Road close to the Easton-Norton border.
We had many milk cows in town years ago.
In the afternoon – I’m not sure if it was two or three o’clock – and you were driving down North Main Street, you had to be on the lookout for the herd of Tufts Dairy cows crossing. It was just about the same time every day that the cows walked across North Main.
David Tufts was our “milkman.” He might show up a couple times a week at our house on Andrews Street to drop off milk, eggs, and orange juice.
In the 1930s through the 1950s, the Ames family ran Langwater Dairy on their property. The dairy's cows were of a prized Guernsey breed that Lothrop Ames brought over from Ireland.
When we lived on Andrews Street, my mom would “walk to market” to pick up groceries, either at Harvey’s Market, which was located the spot on the corner of Mechanic Street and Main Street where now is Shangri-La Salon and Day Spa, or at Fernandes Supermarket, which was located in the plaza across from Hilliard’s Candy (which makes on site its own delicious confections).
Harvey’s Market was a small establishment. Next door to it was Manuel Silva’s cobbler shop.
Yeah, the shopping experience was different at Harvey’s Market. My family ran a tab there, and the bill was paid on either a weekly or monthly basis; not exactly sure about the billing period. The market had wood floors, and offered all sorts of SS Pierce products and quart bottles of Simpson Spring soda. Charlie Harvey, the proprietor of the business, handled the butcher duties; the butcher case was in the back of the store.
“Charlie Harvey has the best hamburger,” my mother would say about the chuck that he ground himself.
(By the way, as I have written in this space before, if you want a burger made from fresh ground chuck, then you can get one here in Easton – at .)
I remember on the outside wall of Harvey's Market, on the east side of the building, there was a big color sign that perhaps would not be permitted in our overly politically correct society that increasingly seeks to take God out of the mix.
The sign was a Sunbeam Bakers advertisement (please see attached image) which showed "Little Miss Sunbeam" praying, and it had this caption taken from the Bible: "NOT BY BREAD ALONE."
Fernandes Supermarket was one of 37 supermarkets in a chain that at one time employed 2700 people throughout southeastern Massachusetts and Rhode Island. The chain was started by a Portuguese immigrant, Joseph Fernandes, a infantryman hero of the European theater in World War II.
Fernandes Supermarket was part of a big step that America was making toward the , Roche Brothers, and of today.
When Joseph Fernandes returned from war, and he sought financing for his supermarket venture, he turned to a gentleman with whom he served in the Army. That gentleman’s name was Nelson Rockefeller, and he networked Joseph Fernandes to a cadre of New York bankers who helped with the capital to launch the business.
A cool aspect of the Fernandes Supermarket in Easton was its lunch counter.
I'm not sure that Harvey's Market or Fernandes Supermarket lent much to locavore living. But I think in shopping these places we had more intimacy with our food then we do nowadays.
Most all of our chicken and eggs today come from massive production facilities. This wasn’t always the case.
In Lee William’s column cited earlier in this piece, he writes about the work he did as a teenager at Harco Orchards and Poultry Farm on Bay Road near the Norton line. Lee mentioned how the farm had a national reputation for the quality of its laying hens.
On Randall Street, near where it intersects with Bay Road, the Andrews family had a highly profitable chicken and egg farm in the middle part of the 20th century. The Andrews business had customers throughout New England and in the Middle Atlantic states.
Unpasteurized and raw milk is delicious – if you can get your hands on it. When I was a kid, a good friend of mine’s mother stocked her refrigerator with raw milk from the Neary family farm in South Easton. Good stuff.
Here in town, Johnny’s Cider Mill produced some of the tastiest cider – unpasteurized cider – anywhere. Then Johnny's Cider Mill, a favorite of locals for decades, ran up against the “pasteurization authorities,” and it decided that the cost of the modernization required of it to continue didn’t make sense – and it closed.
I could go on and on about Easton and our locally grown and produced food – most of which is better for us than mass produced and antibiotic laden foods.
Although, let's be real, genetic altering of food can be a good thing if it results –which it can – in cheaper and healthier and more available food. Genetically altering food can prevent famine and the starvation of millions.
I will do another column down the road on Easton grown and produced food.
Let me though end this column on a somber note.
Maybe four years ago, I was at Sheep Pasture, near the lifestock area, talking with Jeff Hammond, who, at the time, was helping out with the caretaking of the property.
We were discussing the various farm animals that live at Sheep Pasture.
I got around to talking about the pigs at Sheep Pasture, which arrive as piglets and then grow into massive sows which are sent to another location.
I asked Jeff what happens to the sows.
And Jeff replied, "You know the pulled pork sandwiches that are sold at the Harvest Fair?"
Ah, even locally grown and produced food has its unhappy secrets.