During this year’s Eat Local Challenge, we’re pausing to reflect on how cultural foodways contribute to the culinary dynamism and vibrancy of food systems around the country. What are foodways, you might ask? They’re the deep connections between a particular people or region and their food, as well as the culture that grows up around their long-held, food-related norms. The diversity of the United States means that foodways abound, either created by indigenous communities, brought by immigrants, or developed domestically over time. These uniquely entwined agricultural and culinary traditions are found in every community: Limited Miles, Unlimited Flavors.
We’re highlighting one Farm to Fork vendor and one Locally Crafted vendor that bring their particular foodways to life. These businesses are a reminder that eating locally grown or crafted food doesn’t have to mean a sacrifice of flavor or cultural vibrancy:
Portland, Oregon-based Three Sisters Nixtamal is preserving traditional ways of making masa and tortillas. They source organically grown corn from small farms in both Mexico and the United States, opting for heritage varieties instead of the genetically modified, monoculture-grown corn that is predominant today. After the corn makes its way to the Three Sisters production facility, co-owners Adriana Azcárate-Ferbel, Pedro Azcárate-Ferbel, Wendy Downing, and their team transform it through nixtamalization. This traditional process has been practiced for over 3,000 years in Central and South America, and entails soaking and cooking corn in water mixed with slaked lime. By exposing the corn to an alkaline solution, the bioavailability of nutrients and vitamins is increased. The end result is masa, or maize dough. Three Sisters preserves this ancient technique and sells their delicious tortillas and masa to the public as well as wholesale accounts, like the Bon Appétit team at Reed College!
Based in Sante Fe, New Mexico, Squash Blossom Local Foods is run by Nina Yozell-Epstein and her partner as both a sustainably-minded farm and an aggregator that sells food from 25 other small farms in the area. The region around Sante Fe possesses its own foodway, a mix of indigenous, Hispanic, and other European influences and farming techniques that forms something deeply unique. Farmers use acequia irrigation, a system of communally owned canal-like ditches that are used to flood fields, a holdover from the Spanish colonial era some 400 years ago. Heirloom crops are prevalent, with residents of small towns surrounding Sante Fe having passed down chili pepper seeds, uniquely adapted to the blazing heat, for generations. More than a farm or food aggregator, Squash Blossom is a connector, giving wholesale buyers, like the Bon Appétit team at the Institute of American Indian Art an opportunity to access the bounty of this syncretic and one-of-a-kind food scene. Read more about Bon Appétit’s longtime partnership with Squash Blossom here.