August 17, 2008

To market, to market

Kitchen counter

"SUNFLOWER! Pick out your own for a dollar," read the red magic marker words on the poster board sign. Pots of flowers crowded the pavement near the folding tables of vegetables and fruits, near the open backs of trucks and folding chairs of families who had come to sell their produce.

This summer I read a bunch of books in which the authors extoll the wonders of going to the farmers' market to find out what vegetables can be obtained from local farmers. Writers like Michael Pollan, Bill McKibben, and Barbara Kingsolver stress that eating locally is the responsible ecological choice. In the book Plenty, a couple in Vancouver, Alisa Smith and J.B. MacKinnon, chronicle their year of eating only foods that came from within a 100 miles of their home. Eating locally makes all kinds of sense, way more ecological than eating food that has been shipped across the country, so it didn't take much to convince me that these authors were right. (The average bite of food travels 1500 miles before it reaches your mouth — how crazy is that?) I like the idea of eating locally and seasonally. And I have to say that reading about food almost always makes me hungry.

All the authors describe trips to the farmers' market that sound downright exotic as the authors discover the joys of eating locally grown produce. I've been waiting for a weekend when I'd be home so that I could go to the farmers' market on a Saurday morning. I was eager to feel the magic these authors talked about. Who knows what exciting new vegetable I might discover?

So yesterday, we went, canvas bags in hand. Yes, it was fun to walk around, talking to vendors as I chose fruit and veggies. But the disappointing part was the realization that "local food" means the same stuff that I've eaten every August. Since I've lived in the same place my whole life, I guess that shouldn't have been a surprise, but somehow I had imagined that I would be transported magically to the farmers' markets inside the pages of the books I'd read. I expected to find something unexpected.

The tables were piled with sweet corn, squash, tomatoes, peppers, and all kinds of bright-colored vegetables. Oh, they looked pretty and the clumps of basil smelled just wonderful but mostly, they were the same vegetables that grow in my garden or my parents' garden. They were the same vegetables that I can buy at the stand at the corner or get free from neighbors who can't eat as fast as zucchini grows.

I guess it was silly to think that I could live in the same place for 47 years, growing up with parents who raise almost all their own vegetables, and discover some exotic new fruit at the farmers' market. And driving from my rural area into the city to buy vegetables — yeah, now that strikes me as just a little bit crazy.

Still, it was a good experience. I liked talking to the people who are selling me food. My husband found a couple who were selling his favorite homemade cookies. I ran into several friends I know. And the best part of the morning was the way the fresh basil filled the car with its pungent scent, making the drive home smell wonderful.

15 comments:

Ianqui said...

Hopefully it also tasted better. Well, if you're already getting stuff free from your neighbors, then you're getting the homegrown good stuff. But for those of us who typically buy from the store, even if you buy the same stuff but at the farmer's market, it should taste phenomenally better.

jo(e) said...

Ianqui: Oh, I can see how the farmers' market would be absolutely wonderful for anyone who lives in the city. There is absolutely no comparison in taste between a tomato grown locally, ripened in the sun, and picked that morning -- and a tomato picked green and shipped across the country.

The stuff I bought did taste just as good as what I could pick from my own garden or a neighbor's or the local vegetable stand. And I did buy some stuff that I didn't have at home -- I didn't plant a big garden this year because I was traveling during May.

Songbird said...

It makes sense to me, too, but then I wonder how I would live without bananas?

jo(e) said...

Songbird: Even worse, chocolate is NOT locally grown ....

Yep. There'd be sacrifices ....

Silver Creek Mom said...

LOL I have to laugh because I know a number of people and a couple of Blogers who tried this and found it hard to do. It's a great idea but we have been spoiled with Variety. I try to grow a garden every summer except this one was a bust. I try to eat what is grown locally or what is grown here close to me here in Canada but I still like my Bananas weekly.

Silver Creek Mom said...

Oh great shot! who's your food dresser? ;)

Patti said...

I grew golden beets this year. And lots of new vareities of hot peppers (my hands still burning from chopping them). Both pretty exotic to me.

k8 said...

It looks good to me! There's something to be said for getting the basics fresh.

I experimented with heirloom tomatoes this year (in pots - it's all I have room for). The black krims are lovely, and they are a nice salad tomato size. I like my pink brandywines, too. However, what I'm really waiting on are the butternut squash I begged my parents to plant in their garden. In my family we caramelize it! But, that's the other thing about farmer's markets/local produce. It will change as the seasons change.

Jennifer (ponderosa) said...

In Bend about half the people arrived a few days ago, newcomers not only to town but to the climate; and the other half have lived here forever & are ranchers or children of ranchers. I'm the former... The ranchers look at the rest of us like we're nuts. Paying $5/lb for tomatoes. Of COURSE fresh tomatoes are better, they say; that's why we grow our own! Here! Have some seeds!

Mike said...

The problem we have here is that, if, for example you would like to buy strawberries in the right season, all the farmers are out picking and don't have time to stand around in farmer's markets!

ccw said...

The food looks beautiful and delicious.

This year was our first attempt at gardening. We did a container garden and while the yield has been small it has all been delicious.

ranaverde said...

I think an awful lot of it depends on the region and on the specific farmers' market.

The ones I've been to on the coasts have tended to be larger (odd, given that the Midwest is "farm country"), meet more often, and have a greater range of things - not just veggies and fruits, but cheese, bread, eggs, meat, soap, flowers, yarn...

So you actually can go to them and feel like you're having a nice community experience.

The ones here in the Midwest have been vaguely disappointing; 2-3 stands of somewhat taciturn folks (though the Amish family adds a small note of interest) all selling the same things, and not many of those.

I do envy those folks who are together enough to know what veggies they might need for the upcoming week. We tend to realize we need food about an hour or two before dinner, and, well, it's unlikely there'll be a market open then.

Still, there are more of these than I remember as a kid - progress?

zelda1 said...

I love our local farmer's market; however, like you, I have found that they grow exactly what I get from my family. But, there is something about walking around the square and looking at all the fresh produce and seeing the men and women who are responsible. Last week I bought sweet corn and after putting some in the freezer, boiling some for dinner, I cut the corn off of one of the ears and made a delightful salad. Your pictures, by the way, are reall eye candy.

Mary said...

Like you, I have lived in the same place all my life. My father grew quite a few vegetables, but we are not able to. So I do go to my local farm stands. We also have a farmer's market on Saturdays, and in addition to all the tried and true summer veggies, I can usually find fresh figs, and artisanal breads and cheeses, and even homemade sausages. Winter is a little harder, though. I would like to find an organic co-op to join.

Your photos are mouth watering! :)

Gawdess said...

beautiful colours and I can smell the basil - I swear