Post by Contributing Writer, Bethany
Where does Real Food come from? Who is responsible for growing and harvesting, preparing and sharing it? How can you find the answers and educate yourself, your children, and your friends and family?
Real Food Field Trips
A Beginner’s Guide for Choosing Your Own Food Adventure
Real Food: “Those that nature gives us, plants, roots, fruits, nuts, seeds, meats, eggs, milk and those made from it. Fake foods are those that human beings create trying to imitate the natural food.”
Yes, the internet provides a myriad of links and overviews, top tens and best of’s, but on the reverse-journey from Dinner Plate to Origin, learning the story of food comes best through in-person introductions, learning facts beyond nutritional guidelines on supermarket packaging, and connecting with the people who first and foremost tend the land and the animals and the humble kitchen stove.
Hopefully you posses fond memories of field trips from days past? Perhaps now you have children to teach or a group of friends with similarly piqued curiosities. Follow your Real Food questions, knock on the door of opportunity, and you’ll be surprised who opens and what knowledge is there to be shared!
To track the origins of foods on your dinner plate, put on your thinking cap to brainstorm then pick up the phone (or send a text or email…) and connect with someone in possession of experience and insight.
1) Ask the Questions
Pausing to ask thoughtful questions about the origins of your food yields the first set of trail markers on your adventure. From there, you may choose any number of routes up the mountain, so to speak. This may be an exercise to do on your own, with a group of friends, or with kids during a kitchen-table-education-session.
Ask yourself about your food.
- “What are the ingredients on my plate? Where did they come from?”
- “How is my favorite fruit grown and harvested? What’s the difference between growing it conventionally versus organically?”
- “What flavors do I cook with most often? Where do those herbs and spices come from and how are the farmers treated?”
- “What pre-packaged foods do I regularly purchase? How did people used to make them before modern grocery stores?”
2) Seek the Answers
This is the fun part!
Tap into resources in the community around you. Find real-life folks who have knowledge to share, introduce yourself and your reasons for wanting to learn, and ask for the privilege of spending some time with them.
The opportunity to learn by seeing, asking questions, and experiencing in person is often neglected in favor of online research, internet-learning, and latest and greatest blog post topics. The web revolutionized our ability to seek out answers, but it also risks isolating us from engaging the sources if we stop simply at words on the screen.
It’s as easy as reaching out, introducing yourself, and asking for someone’s time and knowledge:
- “Hi, _____, my name is ______ and I noticed that you make your own _______. My kids and I would love to learn how and do it as a project at home. Do you think we could arrange a time for you to show us a few of your tricks so we could try to recipe ourselves?”
- “Hi there, we’ve never met, but I’ve driven by your farm (/seen you at the market /heard about you from a friend /noticed your produce in the store) and I would love to learn more about what it takes to raise your crops from start to finish. Would you be willing to give a small group of us a tour of your farm?”
- “Hello, I am _____, and I’m learning more about the origins of real food and the lost arts of food preparation. Would you have an hour to share with me about ______?”
The worst they can say is no. The best is yes.
And with that, you’re on the way toward a deeper understanding and appreciation of the food that sustains your life.
3) Set the Details
Arrange a date and set a time.
Make it easy for them.
Find out if they are most comfortable one-on-one or if they are open to hosting a group.
4) Organize & Share
If you are interested in inviting others to join (and if your guide is happy to accommodate a group), spread the word!
Make it as formal or simple as is practical.
Last minute opportunity? Pick up the phone and issue quick invites.
Long term school-year planning? Consider using the Field Trips to complement broader unit studies. Invite other families to participate, and spread the excitement.
Possible Real Food Field Trip Themes (taken from example Questions above):
- Mealtime Favorites
- Local Crops
- Exotic Foods
- DIY Packaged Foods
5) Arrive & Learn
Come with your curiosities.
Be willing to help.
Afterward, send a thank you note, stay in touch, and in return for their generosity, share what you learned from the experience .
Examples from My Story
In my life, meaningful in-the-field learning opportunities yielded fruitful results above and beyond bookwork and research.
As a home educated student, I learned often through field trips. My mom’s personal motto was (still is!), “Life is a Field Trip!,” and we as children benefited from her joy of learning. Often, she made arrangements for groups of all sizes to visit somewhere new, ask questions, and learn about the world and the people who made it spin. From egg farms to pig farms to canneries and chocolate factories, our early childhood exposure to food sources helped shape my understanding of food systems in the U.S.
Those memories of childhood tours continue to impact my view of food and farming, and I wholeheartedly believe in spreading learning opportunities far and wide so that many more children and adults will encounter Real Food first hand.
Three themes that yield terrific sources for Real Food Field Trips: passion, commerce, and kinship.
Learn Through Passion
Find someone passionate about Real Food and invite yourself over!
The teacher in love with their subject matter easily shares the joy of learning.
My husband, Ted, gave me the best birthday gift a few years back; he called an acquaintance and arranged for a private afternoon pasta-making lesson.
The real kick? Our teacher was a wonderful 70-something Italian man who had lived in America much of his life but still remembered his mother’s tricks for mixing flours, eggs, and salt in just such a way to create the perfect consistency for forming dough, rolling layers, cutting long strands, and hanging beautiful pasta noodles carefully to dry…
His joy for the artisan craft was so infectious that we couldn’t help but absorb inspiration and walk away feeling like the project was attainable in our own home. In addition, we not only experienced the three hour pasta making session, but we were treated to a tour of his home garden (full of winter vegetables on my February birthday!), introductions to his back yard geese and chickens, and samplings of delicious imported Italian olive oils and balsamic vinegars.
As we shared the time, the impressions of carefully prepared foods and the gift of tending a homestead sunk deeply into my heart and changed again the appreciation I have for thoughtfully made and intentionally shared meals.
Find: Looking for such a person? Try finding (or hosting!) a local Food Swap. These events often entice people who are passionate about real food projects and are eager to connect with others in their community.
Learn Through Commerce
Connect with a local farmer, artisan baker, or small business owner.
When shopping at the standard grocery store, we are not often able to ask questions. How different the experience when purchasing direct from a person or small business specializing in a particular product. These individuals are often quite happy to share the story of their product.
Rarely are the communications coming from large packaged and processed food companies meant to honestly educate. On the other hand, small batch artisan producers and growers of real food pour their heart and soul and sweat into their efforts, and their desire to educate about best practices and quality is frankly much more believable and trustworthy than the thinly veneered of advertisements coming from dollars spent on convincing consumers that packaged and processed foods will fill a functional and emotional void.
One of my favorite field trips in recent years came from arranging a farm tour to introduce a group of friends to my cousin Charlotte’s Champoeg Creamery in Saint Paul, Oregon. She shared with us about the proper care of healthy, raw milk dairy cows and the enormous amount of work and dedication that goes into responsibly caring for her animals and producing the milk products that she sells. Reading and researching about raw milk can be an excellent start, but connecting directly with a farmer brings a whole new level of respect and appreciation for Real Food.
Other mini-field trips birthed out of financial transactions include:
- Lessons from a local grass fed beef farmer on the physiology of twin cows, the effects of grazing habits and grain finishing on an animal’s system
- A detailed explanation on growing organic peaches in Oregon from a farmer who offered to thoughtfully explain the challenges of production (after the first farmer laughed me off for inquiring about such a product)
- Lessons on organic apple production and harvesting from visiting the farmers selling on craigslist
- Crop rotation and seasonal planting insights from our CSA farmer during a day volunteering on the farm
Find: Where can you find folks selling Real Food and willing to share their knowledge? Check local buying clubs and craigslist for farms and farmers, seek out a friendly vendor at the farmers’ market, and offer to help out at your local CSA.
Learn Through Kinship
Go backwards through the generations or laterally through your group of friends and find someone with experience.
Believe it or not, kitchen tasks that seem like novelties now were once standard routines in the domestic practices of yesteryear. Chances are good that you may find someone in your circle of friends who has some of the Real Food routines down to a science.
Looking to learn the art of breadmaking? Ask your great-aunt that now cooks alone. Her wrinkled hands and tender heart may tell you much more about the rhythms of kneading, rising, baking, and cooling than a simple cookbook ever will.
Wondering about soaking beans? Ask a friend who has been in the habit for years now to walk you through her kitchen system. Interested in learning about culturing and trying your hand at making yogurt? A first-hand tutorial may be yours for the asking if you tap a friend on the shoulder and ask to learn.
Find: Search your family tree, ask around among your friends, set up a Real Food open house and invite others to come share their knowledge.
Become A Guide for Someone Else’s Field Trip
Don’t underestimate what you already know!
Remember, a Field Trip can be as simple as a visit to another person’s home, or issuing an invitation for others to visit yours.
Identify your own skills and knowledge and and share them with those who are eager to learn.
Whether we studied together from books and resources or learned directly from one another, our local Food Group through Sustainable Food for Thought introduced each participant to new skill sets and levels of comfort in sourcing, preparing, and serving Real Food.
Step out this summer and ask questions of your friends, your farmers, and your family members.
Introduce children and adults alike to the origins of Real Food and build awareness and gratefulness for the work and effort sustaining the blessings on our mealtime tables.
You cause the grass to grow for the livestock
and plants for man to cultivate,
that he may bring forth food from the earth
and wine to gladden the heart of man,
oil to make his face shine
and bread to strengthen man’s heart.
Crackers Blog – A family enjoying the rhythms of real food and sharing their Field Trips along the way.
Sustainable Food for Thought’s Food Group – An example of local learning and Field Trips fostered through camaraderie and friendship.
Bethany Rydmark is an eighth generation Oregonian, a landscape architect, and a kitchen-tinkering, garden-dreaming, Food-Group-hosting, home-making wife and friend. She lives in Portland, Oregon and shares her appetite for equitable, sustainable, and meaningful food at Sustainable Food for Thought.