Generally, when people say “local food,” they mean something more than local: they’re referring to food made by small-scale, sustainable producers—usually food with a sense of place. If that were not the case, champions of local food in central Ohio would be put in the awkward position of having to support Wendy’s and Bob Evans.
Moreover, when our local, sustainable producers do well and begin to expand outside the local area, we’re generally pretty thrilled about that. I managed to find pints of Jeni’s ice creams in a freezer six time zones away from Columbus. The fact that you can get ice cream made with mint from Val Jorgensen’s backyard all around the country is a testament to the quality and integrity of what we do here in Ohio… and it lets Jeni’s Ice Creams grow far more than it could if it were limited to the Columbus market.
So, what if we could find the most delicious, sustainable, local foods from all over the country and all over the world and tell each other about them?
That’s the idea behind the Ark of Taste. It’s a catalog of over 200 delicious foods that you’ve probably never heard of, because—for one reason or another—they’ve been cast aside by the industrial food system. In an era of progress, in which we expect more and better varieties of everything, it’s often a shock for consumers to realize how dramatically industrialized food has been narrowing our food options:
The goal of the Ark of Taste is to reverse that trend—to save “endangered” foods from extinction by promoting them to consumers.
There are lots of Ark of Taste foods potentially available in Ohio, but in practice they’re hard to find because not many producers are aware of their potential value. That’s not to say that there haven’t been pioneers in promoting Ark foods: Integration Acres, near Athens, has for years been the world epicenter of pawpaw production, and Wayward Seed Farm has grown plenty of Ark varieties for years (Aunt Molly’s ground cherries are my favorites, but Jimmy Nardello’s sweet peppers are a close second). Jill Moorhead of the Hills Market pulled off an epic feat of sourcing when she put together an Ark of Taste tasting event in 2009, and Knead’s Chef Rick Lopez has put on two Ark of Taste-themed dinners—one with Wayward Seed in 2008, and a Harvest Dinner in 2012 that made a small group of very happy people aware of the delicious Buckeye Chicken.
In recent months, we’ve seen signs that those early efforts are paying off in more widespread awareness of Ark foods. Edible Columbus ran a story on the Ark of Taste last fall; City Folk’s Farm Shop will be stocking Ark of Taste seeds for the 2013 season; and we’ll soon be announcing a farmer-chef meet-and-greet sponsored by Edible to help coordinate what people grow with what they’d like to cook (we’ll be there to discuss the Ark).
So what can you do?
If you’re a consumer, ask about Ark of Taste products at your local grocer, butcher, fishmonger, cheesemonger, spice shop, restaurant, or wine shop. If you own one of those establishments, try to source Ark products, and don’t be shy about using the Ark of Taste logo to promote them! And if you’re a farmer, consider producing something from the Ark. We’d love to see more Ark products in Columbus—and especially, to find more of them on our plates.