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Yardavore: The Art of Cooking Local

Dec 01, 2016 Maria Reidelbach

Although the path was winding and sometimes narrow, in hindsight, it seems inevitable that Lisa Derosby-Jones’s life mission is cooking and serving fresh, healthy, locally-grown food to both family and community.

In person, Lisa is vibrant with energy, with clear skin and a mellifluous voice that’s often sharing some fascinating tip or fact. Her interest in healthier food began in college with side effects her husband, David Jones, faced after taking lots of steroids for asthma. His immune system had collapsed and to strengthen and detoxify him they decided to try a macrobiotic diet, in which a largely vegan, whole foods diet is balanced to provide optimum health.

Lisa, who was studying art history and studio art in Portland, Maine, and New York City, learned to cook and discovered that the joy of working with her hands to make art could also be found in cooking. As David’s health improved and her own struggle with weight became a thing of the past, she developed a private clientele, eventually cooking for over 70 families who were also pursuing a more sustaining diet.

Macrobiotics, although stressing seasonal and organically grown food, didn’t really address sourcing food locally. In the 1990s, Lisa and David opened a restaurant in New York City and were members of an early community supported agriculture (CSA) farm, but it wasn’t until the couple migrated north to the Hudson Valley that their awareness grew. It was a gig for an Appleseed Permaculture workshop that jump-started Lisa’s locavore consciousness. Ethan Roland, the director, challenged her to feed the 25 attendees meals composed of 90% locally grown food.

“I was just floored by the idea,” Lisa says, remembering that day. “I asked Ethan, ‘are you going to care that for five days we eat only four different vegetables?’” She did her best, surprising herself by achieving about 60 percent local ingredients and gaining kudos from the students.

Lisa’s next project, cooking for the High Falls Food Co-op, benefited greatly from this experience. From about 2001 to 2015, if you picked up soup, baked goods or other prepared food from the co-op, chances are Lisa made it. I still dream of her tahini brownies!

Working with the co-op was great for connecting with local farmers, and Lisa’s locally grown repertoire grew. She was channeling inspiration from farming family members—an uncle with a 400-acre vegetable farm, another who was a chicken farmer, and dairy farmer grandparents. Lisa had been using only organically grown crops, but after learning about Integrated Pest Management (IMP), practiced by almost all local non-organic farmers and combining the most effective organic techniques with low-impact conventional strategies, she reversed her priorities. Organic is still her gold standard, but she now favors locally grown IPM crops over non-local organic.

These days, Lisa is focusing on private catering and on her studies at Cornell University toward a certificate in Plant-Based Nutrition at the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies. The coursework has been a revelation. “The biggest nutrition study ever done is known as the China Study*; it’s a ten-year project by an international panel of doctors and scientists of 6,500 people,” she explained. The New York Times called the China Study “the Grand Prix of epidemiology.”

“Here in the US, a high-protein diet is promoted because people want to gain lean muscle mass, but what animal protein does for muscles, it also does to cancer cells,” Lisa adds. “In a nutshell, if you consume more than 12 percent of your calories from animal sources, you’re basically providing fertilizer for cancer cells. If you consume 80 percent of your calories from plant sources, the complex mechanisms of the plant biology effectively shut off cancer. These two critical pieces of information have been suppressed by the meat and dairy lobbies in the US.”

Lisa is a passionate advocate for a more vegetarian-leaning diet and encourages an incremental approach like Mark Bittman’s “Vegan Before Six” diet, which suggests a strict vegan diet the first part of the day, then whole foods as desired after 6pm.

To add more locally grown foods to your life in a quick and affordable way, Lisa recommends keeping it simple.

“Don’t aim for that Instagrammable result,” she laughed. “For example, a great dessert is fresh or stewed dried fruit topped with cream.” She points out that when whole, local food is prepared simply and carefully the results are usually delicious on their own.

Lisa Derosby-Jones Dishes 

Tips for Local Food

“There are a growing number of New York State producers bringing shelf stable foods to market and I have a particular interest in supporting these emerging ventures. Pumpkin seeds and buckwheat, for example, should be embraced as part of our regional cuisine heritage and are extremely nutritious—buckwheat is a gluten-free, super heart food and pumpkin seeds are high in protein and rich in the correct ratio of Omega 3s and 6s. Try Farmer Ground Buckwheat Flour and Stonybrook Pumpkin Seeds and Pumpkin Seed Oil, both of which I have found at Adams Fairacre Farms (and which are available from the company by mail). They are economical and shelf stable. My favorite use of buckwheat flour is in the traditional, nutrient-packed buckwheat crepe. I love to fill it with kale and garlic stewed in fresh or canned rough chopped tomatoes! When the kale is tender, drop an egg on top, cover it and poach it then wrap the egg and kale mixture up in a buckwheat crepe. Try topping it with one of these variations on a sauce made with Pumpkin Seed Cream.”

Pumpkin Seed Cream 

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Soak 1/2 cup pumpkin seeds overnight in 1 cup water (or pour boiling water over seeds in a mason jar and soak for 3 minutes). Drain and rinse seeds. Blend or process with 1 cup fresh water until very smooth. This cream can be used as the base for savory or sweet sauces. Try adding a blend of garlic, ginger, lemon and tamari or of cilantro, garlic, chilies and lime. For a sweet variation, maple syrup, vanilla and cinnamon.

More Lisa Derosby-Jones recipes can be found on the blog at stick2local.com.

*The China–Cornell–Oxford Project was conducted throughout the 1980s in rural China, funded by Cornell University, the University of Oxford, and the government of China and led by T. Colin Campbell, professor of nutritional biochemistry at Cornell.

Maria Reidelbach is an author, artist and local food activist living, working and eating in Accord, NY. Please send your tips for eating more locally grown food and to suggest great local cooks to maria@stick2local.com.