SAVOR THE SEASON: Try summer eats to beat the COVID blues

Eat strawberries, raspberries, blackberries and blueberries throughout the summer. (News photo — Andy Flynn)

LAKE PLACID — Summer is the most exciting time to eat in Essex County, and more people are looking for locally produced food as the nation continues to deal with the coronavirus pandemic.

Not only can consumers find locally grown and produced food that’s in season, but they can find it nearby at farmers markets, grocery stores and restaurants.

The tradition of food at summer festivals, however, may be on hold this year. The Essex County Fair in Westport has been canceled, and the I Love BBQ and Music Festival in Lake Placid — normally scheduled for the Fourth of July weekend — is being postponed until later this summer, as long as it gets state approval.

But no matter how much social distancing is going on, food is still at the center of the social scene — even if that scene is limited to a household or a lakeside picnic area.

For those not acutely tuned in to the locavore scene, Adirondack Harvest can help. This group, a project of Cornell Cooperative Extension in Westport, offers a website — https://adirondackharvest.com — that connects consumers to food producers through an online map and booklet, “The Adventurer’s Local Food Guide to Essex County, New York,” found under the Local Food Guides link at the bottom of the home page.

“Today, Essex County is a national beacon for the small farm movement” the booklet states, “having inspired and attracted diversified vegetable operations, small batch creameries, grass-fed dairies and meat farms, organic grain growers and full-diet farms.”

The food guide explains why Essex County has such a diverse range of produce. It’s all about topography and its relationship to agricultural zones.

“Essex County has a range of microclimates from its warmest Lake Champlain Coast (5a) to highest elevation cold pockets (3b),” the booklet states.

Driving from Westport on Lake Champlain to Lake Placid in the High Peaks region, it’s apparent that the county’s diverse topography has a profound impact on agriculture. Westport, for example, is 226 feet above sea level, and the village of Lake Placid, is 1,800 feet above sea level.

For food producers, that means they have challenges to deal with depending on their location. In Lake Placid, where the soil is acidic and thin and the growing season is short, the only way to produce warm-weather crops such as tomatoes, peppers or eggplant is in a greenhouse. Closer to Lake Champlain, farmers can get grow warm-weather crops outside. Even grapes can be grown in some of the county’s microclimates.

For consumers, this diversity in topography means there is a diversity in the food they can put on their tables, especially during the summer. We have vegetable farms, dairies, cheese producers, meat producers, bakeries, orchards and maple syrup producers. We also have a growing number of breweries and distilleries.

More restaurants are discovering these flavors and featuring local food on their menus, creating another market for producers and another venue for consumers to taste Essex County products.

Whether you decide to dine in, dine outside or order take-out, local restaurants have you covered for great summer eats.