Even when Analiese Paik was working on Wall Street, her passion for food and wine was calling her elsewhere. Paik had always appreciated fresh food and fine wine, and shopped for produce among the farm stands in Union Square's green market, but it was not until she pursued a degree at the Institute for Culinary Education in New York City that she learned the intimate connection between how animals are raised-or grapes grown-and the way that impacts both the planet and the taste experience. Once she knew, there was no turning back. "I want the freshest food I can get," Paik says.
Paik is something of a crusader when it comes to fresh food, and her Fairfield Green Food Guide, an online destination that connects visitors with local farmer's markets, community supported agriculture (CSA) programs, vineyards, specialty shops and farm-to-table restaurants, is her way of introducing the county at large with the transformative experience of eating food grown locally. Connecticut may not be best known for its agriculture, Paik says, but it should be. When the Fairfield resident began putting the guide together, she was surprised by the diversity and the quality of the state's farms, vineyards and cheese-makers.
There's Double L Market in Westport, which has grown from a seasonal farm stand into a year-round old-fashioned grocery store, where customers can call in an order that's then noted on the store's blackboard. There's Connecticut Farm Fresh Express, a service that delivers fresh produce, dairy products, meat, baked goods, honey and syrup to residents' doors from more than 50 in-state farms. And Paik raves about Fairfield County's farm-to-table restaurants like Le Farm and Dressing Room in Westport, whose menus tell a story with each inventive dish.
"I'm putting information out there that's free and accessible to anyone," Paik says. "A CSA that's delivered to Fairfield County once a month; frozen organic fruits that are delivered each month; heated indoor winter farmers' markets. As the demand grows, farmers and entrepreneurs say 'We've got it. How can we make it easy for you?'"
There are real benefits to eating food grown locally, once people begin to venture beyond the overstocked supermarket aisles. First, there's the knowledge that comes from talking directly to farmers: discovering new vegetables and how to best prepare them; learning to vary one's dinners around what's in season and how to preserve food when it's in abundance to heat and serve during seasons when it's not. For instance, Paik says, "People don't know you can eat radish greens, but the greens of carrots are poisonous. You don't need to open a book-ask a farmer!"
Beyond the health and taste benefits that come from eating fresh, organic fruits and vegetables and grass-fed beef, and the direct support that provides to the local economy, are the positive impacts to the land. Our cheap, processed food, she says, carries enormous environmental costs, from depleting the soil's nutrients on fields growing massive quantities of wheat and corn, requiring tons of harmful pesticides and fertilizers that seep into groundwater and pollute the air; to the global warming-causing emissions generated by trucks and planes carrying that food to supermarkets; to the wasteful packaging from shrink-wrapped and plastic-boxed spinach, peppers and tomatoes.
Paik spent years as an active PTA mom when her two sons attended elementary school in Fairfield, trying, and ultimately failing, to get the town to rid school lunches of items containing high fructose corn syrup and saturated fats. Her biggest struggle, she said, was getting school officials and other parents to simply recognize that there was a problem. With the Fairfield Green Food Guide, she's finding that a lot of locals do get it. They want to serve fresh food to their families, they just don't always know where to find the nearest farm stand. Her service makes it easy. "I didn't know how popular my site would become," Paik says. "But our county is replete with sophisticated consumers."