August 17, 2008
To market, to market
"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.
Posted by jo(e)