Sunday, August 30, 2009

Traveling South

The Northeast Locavore is getting a southern accent for a week. I’m on vacation with my family in a place called Duck, a low-key town on North Carolina’s Outer Banks. We’ve been coming here for over 40 years. As a kid I can remember piling into one of those old school monster station wagons with wood panels on the side, a roof rack on top loaded up with all sorts of beach gear - boogie boards, fishing poles, water goggles, bathing suits, towels, chairs, and goodness knows what else. Down below there was me, my mom and dad, sister and brother, and family dog. Packing the car the night before was a battle, with us kids trying to sneak more stuff into the car while Dad wasn’t looking. The car always scraped bottom on the way down the driveway in the morning. It was quite a sight.

Back then the Outer Banks was still pretty desolate and the only real grocery store was in Elizabeth City, which was too far away to be an option. So a huge cooler was part of the packing mix, stuffed with as many meals as possible for our two week stay. Once we arrived in Kill Devil Hills (at that point there was only four wheel drive access to Duck) there was a store called the Trading Post where we could buy staples like bread and milk but that’s pretty much it. Oh, and Krispy Kreme doughnuts. Yes, there was actually a time when you could only get them in the South and it was a treat to look forward to. Now our trip is a more civilized affair; we have a house here so there’s far less “stuff” although Dad still grumbles when he packs the car the night before. Old habits die hard.

The eight or nine hour drive from New Jersey is one I enjoy, especially once we turn off Route 13 and get on Route 113 in Pocomoke, Maryland. The terrain flattens out and for the rest of the trip we see field after field of crops and white farmhouses. Shortly after Pocomoke we cross into Virginia and Accomack County, a sliver of land bordered by both the Atlantic Ocean and the Chesapeake Bay. The signs for fresh seafood start to appear as do roadside farm stands.

Accomack is the largest agricultural county in Virginia as well as home to many Perdue and Tyson’s processing plants. Indeed, while the scene is picturesque, this is not Organic Land. I picked up a pamphlet on the agriculture of the region at a rest stop and not only did it include the calendar seasons for the various crops, but also the pesticide spraying schedule! On this trip alone we passed a parking lot of crop dusters and saw a big John Deere pesticide spraying tractor waiting to make a left at a traffic light. I don’t like seeing these things, but it’s a good reminder of the reality of today’s agricultural system in the US.

Accomack spills into the Chesapeake Bay and the road becomes the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and Tunnel, a 15 mile expanse marked by seagulls on every light post and super tankers out to sea. Soon we are in North Carolina, traveling down the homestretch on Route 158 through Currituck County. The scenery is much the same as in Virginia. Even driving through in a car you can feel the pace of life slowing down; cars and stores are fewer and fewer, homes genearlly aren't as big and as fancy. People really are friendlier and take the time to say "Hello, how are you?" - and mean it. You feel you’re in the South at last.

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