I delayed posting a blog last week following the first session of our farmers market at Latham UMC until I could better gauge the success of our opening day. The parking lot was a beautiful sight to behold as the time approached for the bell to begin sales at the market. Our Farmers Market Manager, Jane Smith, had invited and approved more farmers and vendors to sell in or market than we had any day last year. However, the perception of some farmers, based on their sales, was that we had fewer customers than they expected. When I talked to a few folks that I had previously seen at the market who were not there opening day, more than one told me that the word has gotten out that we were only going to have strawberries and a few other items. We had a lot of strawberries, big, sweet, juicy ones, because they are in season. We also had a lot more, including the best variety of leafy green vegetables that you will find all year long.
There were also jams and relishes and honey, fresh fruit popsicles, specialty tea and coffee, fresh baked pies, ice-cream, Kobe beef. free range poultry and eggs, butter, cheese, and more. As the days start getting hotter, the strawberries will no longer produce but the summer vegetables will develop and ripen.
I understand and identify with the need for education on which fruits and vegetables are in season in our region at any given time. For one thing, I got away from producing my own food for almost 20 years, from my mid-twenties to my mid-forties. Instead of planting and tending crops and herds for food, I depended on the global market to grow and process and ship and often prepare and serve the food I ate. I did not have to ask what was in season because almost everything was in season somewhere and was shipped to where I bought it and ate it. I learned through those years to expect to have the few foods that I liked the best all the time, even if tomatoes did feel like plastic on the outside and had the texture of wet sponges on the inside. And therefore, I did not try other foods but limited my diet year round to meat and potatoes and salad with an occasional spear of asparagus or head of broccoli thrown in and black eyed peas which I love. Of course I could have black eyed peas year round because they’re dried and on the grocery shelf all the time. I’d almost forgotten what fresh black eyed peas taste like because I had settled to eat them out of season all the time, flavored with fat, even in the summer when I could have had them fresh. What was missing from my diet was fresh food, food harvested that day and grown in the soil around me.
Once I started to grow a lot of my own food again and to buy it from local growers, even foods I had not previously preferred tasted good. When they are grown locally and served fresh, fruit, vegetables, and meat retain their natural flavors, which literally cannot be improved upon. Next to the pleasure and joy of eating strawberries off your own plants, tomatoes that grow behind your house, and potatoes you dig from the soil on your own property, buying, cooking, and eating fresh seasonal local fruits and vegetables, meat, poultry, and prepared foods from a farmers market is the most natural and fulfilling culinary experience you can have. Buying and eating locally grown food will enrich your diet and your life. You are buying these items from the men and women who, with their children and grandchildren, grew them on their farm. You can ask them questions and hear their stories and get their advice on both how to prepare the food and how to grow it if you want to grow it yourself.
The Alabama Cooperative Extension Agency has a number of publications listing the fruits and vegetables that are in season in our region for the upcoming weeks and throughout the summer and fall. Here is a link to one of those publications that tell you the kinds of in season fruits and vegetables to expect in our market. The Alabama Farmers Market Authority offers publications on ways to prepare local food that you will find extremely easy and amazingly tasty.
Preparing food that you have bought at a farmers market can be more time consuming than you have grown accustomed to. Having someone process and sometimes prepare the food we eat has allowed us time to busy ourselves with activities that have nothing to do with food preparation. Ultimately, making food that you purchased at a farmers market a regular part of your diet requires a lifestyle change. What would it take for you to leave work an hour early one or two days a week in order to come home and prepare fresh food for your household? Planning several days menus in advance will help you decide what you want to buy at the market. Having that meal in mind will make you want to leave work early or spend 30 minutes less on social media or texting or talking on the phone.
Here is another benefit: food preparation is always a learning experience that you can share with other family members and friends. Much of the popularity of the Food Network is our intrigue with ordinary people they feature who prove to be outstanding chefs when they start with quality food. That should tell you that you are just one or two fresh locally grown food items short of being an award-winning cook yourself, at least in your own household and social circles.
In summary, learn what is fresh in your locale, plan several weekly menus around it, buy it at your local farmers market, and set aside time several days a week to prepare and serve it. I promise that your diet, your health, and your relationships and communication in your house will improve as a result. Making these changes will take you closer to the source of your food and to the pattern of family interaction that builds healthy relationships among people but also between people and the soil, and people and God. God has blessed the very dirt around us to produce abundant food. Eating food grown locally increases our thanksgiving for the food, the farmer, and for the soil all around us that gives us life. As a result, we will see that caring for the local soil and about the local farmer is our responsibility too. You and I are the ones who determine if we have successful Farmers Markets in our community. We decide that each week when we choose to buy at the Farmers Market or not, and each meal when we prepare and eat locally grown food or not. Support our local farmers. Buy local! Eat fresh!