The way we eat

A Q&A WITH JEN­NIFER KNAPP OF LA MON­TAÑITA CO-OP

Pasatiempo - - ON THE COVER - Molly Boyle

“Tell me what you eat: I will tell you what you are,” epi­cure Jean An­thelme Bril­lat-Savarin wrote in 1825. North­ern New Mex­ico has al­ways had its own unique culi­nary iden­tity. From the Three Sis­ters tra­di­tion hon­or­ing the trin­ity of maize, beans, and squash, to the rich chile sauces we make at home, to the grass-fed lamb and ar­ti­san cheeses we buy at the farm­ers mar­ket, Santa Feans have al­ways eaten as lo­cally as pos­si­ble. And to­day, the ral­ly­ing cry for the eth­i­cally minded eater is more akin to, as food writer Michael Pol­lan put it in 2006, “You are what you eat eats.” In this Thanks­giv­ing week­end is­sue, Pasa’s food writ­ers dive into some of the press­ing is­sues con­cern­ing the way we eat now. We’ve talked to gro­cers, farm­ers, seed savers, butch­ers, meat pro­duc­ers, food bank vol­un­teers, and com­mu­nity ac­tivists — all of whom are work­ing hard for the fu­ture of our food. On the cover is a botan­i­cal il­lus­tra­tion of male and fe­male maize flow­ers from Köh­ler’s Medic­i­nal Plants by Her­mann Adolph Köh­ler, 1887.

Jen­nifer Knapp is the pro­duce depart­ment team leader at La Mon­tañita Co-op Food Mar­ket’s Santa Fe lo­ca­tion in the New Solana Shop­ping Cen­ter. She is also re­spon­si­ble for outreach with man­agers at the Al­bu­querque and Gallup stores, along with ads, pro­duc­tion plan­ning with farm­ers, and vol­ume buys with dis­tri­bu­tion cen­ters. To get to the bot­tom of how a cross-sec­tion of Santa Feans eat, Pasatiempo asked Knapp a few burn­ing ques­tions about the store’s prac­tices and cus­tomer base.

Pasatiempo: What kinds of ques­tions and con­cerns do your cus­tomers have? Knapp: I think so many of our shop­pers re­ally want lo­cal prod­ucts, and as a buyer, that’s what I want, too. We just have so many amaz­ing grow­ers in this state, and I feel like it’s my duty to con­nect our com­mu­nity to them. They want to know what’s lo­cal and they’ll buy it first. Pasa: What about the ge­net­i­cally mod­i­fied or­gan­ism (GMO) is­sue? Knapp: Yeah, peo­ple want non-GMO, most cer­tainly — with or­ganic, that goes hand in hand. But a lot of our lo­cal pro­duc­ers aren’t nec­es­sar­ily cer­ti­fied or­ganic. … My job as a buyer is to make sure any­one that I’m bring­ing in that is non-cer­ti­fied has clean prac­tices and is not grow­ing GMO seeds and is not spray­ing any­thing. Sec­ond to lo­cal, peo­ple want or­ganic, clean prac­tices. Pasa: Can you ex­plain why some grow­ers aren’t cer­ti­fied or­ganic? Knapp: You have to sell a cer­tain amount in a year, it’s a lot of fund­ing that you have to put into it. The his­tory of your land — you have to have three years of it clean with no chem­i­cals. So a lot of peo­ple, maybe new grow­ers, don’t have the his­tory, and they don’t have the fund­ing or sell enough to get cer­ti­fi­ca­tion. Most of our larger grow­ers in the state will have the re­sources to do it, but not ev­ery­one else does. We’re trans­par­ent about that. I’m not go­ing to bring any­thing in that I know is ac­tively sprayed. And if some­one does use a chem­i­cal fer­til­izer on maybe part of their land but not this par­tic­u­lar crop, I’ll let cus­tomers know that and say, “Oh, they’re on 16 acres, and four acres away, they’re spray­ing this, but they don’t spray that.” Pasa: How do you find those kinds of things out? Knapp: En­gag­ing with the grower. Ask­ing the good ques­tions. Through our dis­tri­bu­tion cen­ter, we do have a value chain spe­cial­ist. He’s on a USDA grant,

and he is also work­ing on food safety here in New Mex­ico. So he’ll go do farm vis­its and have the work­shops and help ed­u­cate. We do go out to farms. If a farmer says, “No, you’re not wel­come,” that’s a big­ger is­sue to me.

But ev­ery­one I work with is like, “Please come down.” Ev­ery­one is trans­par­ent. And our ap­pli­ca­tion process does speak to what prac­tices you’re us­ing. I feel like most grow­ers don’t even want to use those harsh chem­i­cals, be­cause it’s not healthy for them or their work­ers or their fam­i­lies. Pasa: What are your most pop­u­lar items in pro­duce? Knapp: It varies sea­son­ally. Right now, we’re in fall, so ap­ples, pears, per­sim­mons, dark greens are com­ing in. Peo­ple can’t seem to get enough of hard squash right now. I have lo­cal or­ganic cer­ti­fied broccoli right now, and we are blow­ing through al­most 600 pounds of that a week. Peo­ple tend to eat sea­son­ally who shop here, which is great.

And I think it also helps that we take part in the Dou­ble Up Food Bucks pro­gram, so any­one who’s on SNAP, which are food stamps, they can get ba­si­cally a two-for-one deal on any New Mex­ico-grown pro­duce. So, you know, they’re pur­chas­ing a $5 head of broccoli but they’re only get­ting deb­ited for $2.50. … That’s an­other rea­son I want to go so hard­core lo­cal, be­cause that opens up our doors to more peo­ple and gets peo­ple ac­cess to great, great food. And they do it at the Farm­ers’ Mar­ket as well. That’s where it orig­i­nated. Pasa: Name the top con­cerns that you want to ad­dress when eval­u­at­ing whether to fea­ture some­thing in the store. Knapp: No GMO prod­uct is ever go­ing to come into our pro­duce depart­ment. Non-GMO is num­ber one. And next to that, lo­cal, or­ganic. If I’m not bring­ing it in from New Mex­ico, it must be cer­ti­fied or­ganic. We work with a lot of Colorado grow­ers, too, so we’ll keep it re­gional as much as pos­si­ble. … I have a very trusted distrib­u­tor from Cal­i­for­nia called Ver­i­ta­ble Veg­etable, who was the orig­i­nal or­ganic distrib­u­tor in the coun­try — solely or­ganic — and they work with a lot of small or medium-sized farms out of Cal­i­for­nia, Wash­ing­ton, Ore­gon, and even Mex­ico, too, and they put their grow­ers through rig­or­ous test­ing. So we want the clean­est prod­uct pos­si­ble and to keep it as far away from large agri­cul­ture as pos­si­ble. Pasa: What sells well in other ar­eas of the store be­sides pro­duce? Knapp: Lo­cal meats. We’ve taken part in a Na­tive beef pro­gram which is ac­tu­ally out of Ari­zona. It’s grass-fed but grain-fin­ished, and that’s be­come re­ally pop­u­lar. It has a cheaper sell­ing point, so it’s more ac­ces­si­ble to many more shop­pers. Peo­ple also love the Sweet Grass Co-op meats. Right now we’re about to have our Em­budo tur­keys come in, so of course that’s go­ing to be a hot-ticket item. Lo­cal cheeses. Peo­ple all around the store, I’ve no­ticed, they shop lo­cal first, and that’s a good thing to see. Pasa: Can you talk about the Santa Fe­spe­cific cus­tomer as op­posed to those at other lo­ca­tions of the store? Knapp: Santa Fe’s a dif­fer­ent kind of town. We have a lot more health-con­scious in­di­vid­u­als who are more ed­u­cated about food and have the re­sources to be a bit more choosy about what they get. Pasa: Where do you think they’re get­ting that ed­u­ca­tion from? Knapp: On­line. And just word of mouth, too. You know, we’re a re­tire­ment com­mu­nity up here. Peo­ple have time. But you know, we do have a true di­chotomy in this town be­cause there are the haves, and then the have-nots. And so the haves are the ones who are re­ally find­ing the time, be­cause they have it, to ed­u­cate them­selves and then talk to each other about it. I feel like Santa Fe has kind of be­come a health-con­scious town. You can get herbs on any cor­ner here, and crys­tals and pen­du­lums to come in here and choose wa­ter­melon halves. I feel like a lot of lower-in­come in­di­vid­u­als in Santa Fe don’t nec­es­sar­ily know that they can come here and ac­cess food, and they think we’re su­per high-priced. Our prices are a lit­tle bit more, but it’s just be­cause we’re a small lo­cal com­pany. I think what’s helped open up our doors a lit­tle is the Dou­ble Up Food Bucks Pro­gram. It’s like, let’s get them in with the pro­duce and then see what else they can do fur­ther on in the store, be­cause we do have some great sales. My­self, I’m a sin­gle mother, and I’ve shopped at the co-op for years. It’s not only be­cause I work here, but be­cause I want to put the best food I can in my body and my child. Are we still go­ing to go to Chick-Fil-A and El Para­sol oc­ca­sion­ally? Yes, but you know, I want to do the best I can for my kid. And teach him about healthy grow­ing prac­tices, be­cause we’re go­ing to go down a rab­bit hole very soon if we keep putting all these nasty chem­i­cals out there. Who I’m mostly con­cerned with are the ac­tual farm­work­ers who have to spray those chem­i­cals — and it’s just can­cer­ous. Pasa: Do you feel like that lower-in­come cus­tomer is also be­com­ing more knowl­edge­able about nutri­tion, eat­ing lo­cally and sea­son­ally, and hor­mones and GMOs? Knapp: I think they are. I think that’s just the way our so­ci­ety’s go­ing. We have all this in­for­ma­tion at our fin­ger­tips. They are be­com­ing more and more ed­u­cated about it, which is great.

“I’m a sin­gle mother, and I’ve shopped at the co-op for years. It’s not only be­cause I work here, but be­cause I want to put the best food I can in my body and my child.”

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