Tuesday, August 14, 2012

market tip: get to know your farmers

Welcome to the August 2012 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Farmer's Markets
This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama. This month our participants have written about something new they've learned about their local farmers.
gleaners after the market
Image Credit: from a local article about "gleaning"
Have you ever looked into where your food comes from? Have you spoken to a farmer who cultivated one part of your meal today? These are questions I couldn't have answered well just a few short years ago. We began our intentional food journey by joining a vegetable CSA when we lived in Virginia. It was gratifying to know we were helping to support a farm, and we would run home with giddy excitement on CSA day to find a crate of veggies on our porch.

When we moved to Massachusetts, we weren't satisfied by simply having the food dropped off on our step. We wanted to know our farmers, by name if possible, and know the ins and outs of the farm itself. We choose to buy the bulk of our fresh meat and produce straight from two local farms so that we know the farmers and their process and support them both.

In summer time, we pick up the remainder of our fresh food at our farmer's market. Prior to this month, I couldn't tell you anything about those farms apart from the name and spot in the parking lot where they were each located. I could tell you which one had my favorite bread but not what ingredients the farmer used to bake it.

Then I was reading Barbara Kingsolver's great non-fiction book, and she pointed out the importance of asking questions of the farmers at the market to find out which stands are local farmers versus produce wholesalers. The same week I was flipping through Local Flavors, one of my favorite seasonal cookbooks, and Deborah Madison made the same point about the need for researching the farmers. Here's another quick article (from Reader's Digest of all places) that gives some good pointers about shopping at farmers markets and includes the "get to know your farmer" idea. I tucked away the notion and continued to shop without asking.

With some luck, the carnival gave me the same challenge this month. I took it as a sign that I should do some investigating and finally did. I should have known how much fun it would be! I spoke to many farmers and found out about their farming/cooking practices. I learned about how lettuce is planted all summer long in Massachusetts to keep it from turning bitter. I discovered my bakers grind their own specialty flour to keep it free of bleach, bromine, and other chemicals. I found out my jam lady has been making jam since she was a child.

Perhaps most importantly, by connecting with the farmers, I wove myself into the patchwork of passionate local food creators, becoming a part of the communal tapestry and hopefully making it all the stronger. I'm an ardent supporter of locally grown food, firmly believing it to be more integral to my family table than the organic label, which can and is unfortunately twisted and distorted to fit the corporate mindset. Local food is sustainable food, and while that may not be an official distinction, it is measurable and observable, in community profits, social gain, and environmental stewardship.

Local honey and jam to slather on the loaf of big crusty local bread I bought.

If you're not already a farmers market convert, I encourage you to get out there and support them. I try to attend at least one a week but sometimes more depending on my grocery needs and the weather. Speaking of weather, it should be noted that your local farmers need you to show up on rainy days more than ever; they take a big hit to already slim profit margins on days of bad weather. My kids love nothing more than to don their rain boots, so we can often be found stomping puddles at the market.

For first-timers, the basic rules are to bring your own bags and plenty of cash, and as I can now firmly attest to, don't be afraid to ask questions! You can't know what interesting or amazing things you might learn unless you ask. When you do, be sure to come back and share them with me.

Editor's note: This post is part of Freaky Friday, Works for Me Wednesday, Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways, Real Food Wednesdayand Monday Mania.

Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!
Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:
(This list will be live and updated by afternoon August 14 with all the carnival links.)


Laura Burns said...

I love asking questions! And I feel like at the farmer's markets the people are often passionate enough to really engage in conversation... so then I not only get my answer, but I learn bonus information just from how the conversation went. The honey in your photo is gorgeous!

Emily Sefcik said...

I love that you're getting to know your farmers! I know only a few of ours but I need to get over my shyness and start talking!

Dionna Ford said...

We started chatting up our farmers in the last couple of weeks, too - I really enjoyed it! I'm definitely going to continue to know our farmers :)

Kellie Barr said...

What a refreshing post! I've always enjoyed getting to know our local farmers as well. I'm on a mission to eat more locally, while continuing to provide my family with chemical free food. I wish we were eating as much local as you seem to be. One day!

Momma Jorje said...

Great post! I see another potential benefit to striking up curious conversation with the farmers: I love to listen to people talk about what makes them passionate. I'm thinking since it is what they DO, they are pretty into it. Thanks for some inspiration, I hope to start shopping the local farmers markets soon.

hobomama said...

All right, you're inspiring me! I get so nervous about talking to the vendors — worrying it sounds as if I'm interrogating them. But if I present it (to myself) as trying to share in their passions and learn from these experienced people, then it sounds much more positive. Thanks!


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