Monday, March 7, 2016

Q&A Queen of the Locavores

photo by Mary A. Nelen

If you're like me
you go where the wild food goes. In the fall last year, bluefish were “running” in the waters of the Atlantic ocean off the coast of Massachusetts. I took the ferry to Martha's Vineyard where the fishing derby was in full swing. Grand prize for the biggest fish caught from shore is a new boat. Grand prize from a boat, a new truck. My prize? A meeting with Ali Berlow, a local hero, and queen of the Locavores.

Derby Headquarters was in Edgartown on the docks where anglers raced to weigh-in their fish. Bluefish, false albacore, bonita and stripped bass were brought to a guy in waders standing at a table out on the docks with a big scale and large knife. He weighed each fish and yelled the numbers to a lady inside a rickety building. He then gutted the fish and threw them into a plastic bin. 
What was happening with this bonanza of fresh fish? I turned to the only person I could think of.   

Ali Berlow is publisher of Edible Vineyard and the instigator behind Island Grown and Island Grown Schools, two organizations that support area farmers in their efforts to make a living selling food on the island. She lives on Martha's Vineyard in the summer and in Vermont in the winter. When I visited Ali at her office on the shore road to Oak Bluffs, she greeted me at the door. A tall silver-haired woman in converse sneakers and a thin red thread with a rock at her throat and a dog in her arms was not what I expected. I was smitten. I learned the dog's name was Emma and Ali prefers the word “Eater” to “Locavore” since its more inclusive. 

We sat down on a small couch in her office. Before us on a low table was a copy of her latest book, “The Food Activist Handbook: Big and Small things You Can Do to Help Provide Fresh, Healthy Food for Your Community.” It was festooned with post-it notes. Much of what Ali has accomplished with many others on the island in their efforts to increase local food production and access is a result of a single event.  

VL: You start the book and your work on the island with a potluck supper. Why a potluck?
AB: Everybody has to eat. I reached out to farmers and neighbors and
everybody brought food. Its a great way to bring people together. I
spoke before the group. The dinner was at our home. I brought in a
friend who is a chef to lighten things up.

VL:  Why is poultry a gateway focus for local food activism?
AB: Because slaughtering requires involvement from the Board of Health.
They are the people who concern themselves with restaurant inspection
so education was a big part of the picture.

VL: Did you have snacks at those meetings?
AB: Coffee and donuts, I think.

VL: Can you explain what the map of the community was about.
AB: Have a look at the farms around where you live and determine where
local food is. We started out making a map and developed a coding
system for locating farms and identifying their specialities. 
(see map below)
KEY: Red indicates agricultural activity on Martha's Vineyard 
VL: Your book was compared to the Whole Earth Catalogue, a 70’s
counter culture catalogue for living off the land. What is your
response to that?
AB: I’ll take it! But perhaps the book is more like “Our Bodies Ourselves.”

VL: Schools, how did you break into that world?
AB: There are many ways to work with schools. The key is to look for
opportunity. Don’t be disappointed. First school we approached wanted
compost so we went with that.



Ali Berlow, center. Photo: Bob Hughes 
Before we said good bye I asked about the harvest of Derby fish. Ali said that they usually went to senior citizens on the island. Last year between 5000 and 7000 filets were donated to members of the Councils on Aging.  

The sun was going down and Ali was off to act as a judge at a Chef's Throw-down cooking contest in New Bedford. I later learned the winning entry was for a dish made with an egg-bearing dogfish called Grilled Dogfish, Sugar Pumpkin and Lamb Chorizo with Scrambled Roe and Peach Jam. It was made by Chef Chris Cronin of Little Moss Restaurant in South Dartmouth, MA.