Tag Archives: local food

Define “Farmers’ Market”

Some people apparently have a pretty loose definition of a farmers’ market.  In my head, the name implies that, you know, actual farmers might be there selling things that came from the ground or off of trees– something that requires the seller of such goods to have some sort of contact with the earth.  I think the photo below is a pretty good representation of what one might expect to see at a place called a farmers’ market.

So, you can imagine my disappointment when I went to a “farmers’ market” in a posh Arizona neighborhood (Scottsdale) recently to find that there were no farmers there.  I wish I had taken photos to show the paucity of agricultural products at this so-called “farmers’ market”, but the whole scene was so uninspiring it never occured to me to pull it out. 

 I saw lots of jewelry, clothing and knick-knacks but NOT ONE thing even remotely resembling fresh fruit or vegetables unless you count the knit scarves the color of tomatoes and eggplant.  I even jovially asked the scarf stallholder if there was any actual food at the market and she did tell me that “the farmer” wasn’t there today.  I thought, “THE farmer? Meaning just one guy?”  Then definitely don’t call it a Farmers’ Market (note emphasis on the plural). 

She also helpfully pointed out the stalls selling chocolate, salsa, pasta sauce and olive oil.  At least it was food.  But even the olive oil was a bit disappointing.  All of it was imported- not from California-but Australia and Spain.  More disappointing still was finding out later in the week that there actually is some locally grown and produced olive oil in the Phoenix area, so why wasn’t it at this market instead?

My point isn’t to harp on this particular market.  I’ve found this lazy defintion of a farmers’ market in other places (like Wichita, KS in the prime growing season last year).  The point is, it shouldn’t be called a farmers’ market if you can’t buy fresh produce there.  Further to the point, the people who run these markets and those of us who shop at them should demand it.  Otherwise, many reasons for a having a farmers’ market (i.e. supporting local farmers, providing healthier food, providing a sense of place and seasonality) are rendered null and void and we might as well head back inside to the supermarket.

What is a winter vegetable?

It’s not asparagus unless it’s canned, and somehow I doubt that President Obama (yes, I said President Obama!!) and the other dignitaries at the Inaugural Luncheon are dining on limp-as-wet-newspaper canned asparagus.

The menu and recipes for the inaugural luncheon are apparently the most viewed item on the Inaugural website. The good news: this is further proof that Americans are becoming more and more interested in food and our food culture. The bad news: they’re being told that asparagus is a winter vegetable, when it is, in fact, a spring vegetable.

Asparagus is available year-round in the U.S., but that doesn’t mean it’s in season; it just means that asparagus served in DC in January probably has an enormous carbon footprint.

There’s still a lot of work still to be done if we’re going to become more local, seasonal eaters.

Egg gathering, Aussie style

 

Having lived in Australia for three years now, I’ve already come to take for granted the pleasure of farm gate sales of all sorts of foods.  But after seeing a recent post at Howling Duck Ranch about food sovereignty in British Columbia, I realized the sale of produce at small farms isn’t something any of us should take for granted if we are still privileged enough to enjoy it.  Sadly, ever-increasing government regulation of agriculture in North America is tilted in favor of giant industrial producers and makes experiences like the one I enjoyed today few and far between.

Normally, I get my eggs from my mother-in-law who keeps a few hens.  But the hens have grown a bit long in the tooth and have quit laying (think of it as poultry menopause).  So until her new hens ramp up production, I’m supplementing those eggs with some I can buy down the street from my house.

 

Follow the signs to find the eggs

Follow the signs to find the eggs

Down the path... its like an egg hunt!

Down the path... it's like an egg hunt!

The first time I went, I figured there would be somebody manning the egg sales.  Wrong.

It’s on the honor system.  How great is that?  

You put your $3.20 in the ice cream container…

…take your eggs out of the esky (a.k.a. styrofoam cooler)…

…and you’re on your way.  The only thing they ask is that you return the carton the next time you come back.

Just looking over some of the individual state regulations in the U.S., it appears  something like this would almost never fly because of refrigeration requirements, labeling and packaging regulations among other bureaucratic red tape.  It’s a shame, really. I understand that all those regulations are done in the name of safety, but I’ve never worried about whether the eggs I buy from someone’s house on the honor system are safe.  I figure if they trust me enough to leave my money, I can trust that they are selling a safe, wholesome product.  Personally, I’d worry a whole lot more about the quality and safety of eggs bought from a ginormous anonymous hatchery with all its strict government regulations than I would about eggs bought from my neighbor who has a little flock of chickens scratching around in his backyard.

Michael Pollan for U.S. Food Czar

 

I just recently read journalist Michael Pollan’s memo to the next President (it’s really long but worth the read).  After reading it, I think there needs to be a food czar– just like the drug czar– only this position would likely be a lot more effective.  This person would help direct food policy and oversee both the compromised and castrated FDA and USDA.

Michael Pollan probably knows more about food policy than any other American after researching his two excellent books The Omnivore’s Dilemma and In Defense of Food, so he is the obvious choice for food czar. I’d like to hear what others think and who they would like to see as food czar or members of the food czar’s staff.

That said, I have a couple of quibbles about his memo in the NY Times magazine.

Click here to see my quibbles

Your own backyard garden. Can you dig it?

Its winter down here, so heres a photo of my Aunts garden in Missouri

It's winter in Australia, so here's a photo of my Aunt's garden in Missouri

The latest trend in local eating is getting the food straight from your own backyard.  Who knew that so many folks in flyover country were on the cutting edge all this time, summer after summer.  Oh.  But wait.  For it to really be trendy, you’ve got to hire somebody else come in and do all the dirty work for you, according to this article and this blog from the NY Times.

Of course, a lot of people were quick to attack this as elitist (which it kind of is) or to say that it’s nothing new since people have been eating fresh produce off their own land since the beginning of agriculture.  What really kills me is the arguments that others have offered in rebuttal to these criticisms.  The most absurd argument I’ve seen is that outsourcing a veggie patch to someone else saves fuel because it cuts down on trips to the farmer’s market.  I’m guessing that the gardener has to use fuel for his weekly trips to clients’ homes, so really it’s a wash in terms of fuel consumption.  It just shifts the burden of the gas bill to the gardener.

The main thing that rankles me about this new “trend” is the continued disconnect from how our food gets from the ground to our plates.  First, there’s the disconnect from the earth because someone else is doing the “dirty work”.  When you plant seeds or put in bedding plants and get dirt underneath your fingernails you physically connect with the earth. From that moment, not only have you planted seeds for food that will eventually spring forth, you’ve planted the seeds of anticipation.  It’s exhililarating to see the first tender sprouts pushing their way through the topsoil.  I’ll usually check on my seedlings morning and night just for the wonder of watching them grow.  When it’s time to harvest, I do so with mixed emotions.  There’s some regret, because I know when I snap off the leaves or pluck the fruit, that it’s the end of the amazing cycle of life I’ve spent weeks witnessing.  At the same time, there’s pure joy in knowing that I get to carry the food into my kitchen and eat something that I grew, in partnership with the earth and sun, and consume it at its freshest.

Another disconnect in this trend is the loss of human interaction with those who grow our food.  Sure, there’s a gardener who comes to the house and tend the garden, harvest its bounty then leave the box at the backdoor, but this presumably happens when the clients are away at work.  Some clients may only see the grower when they first meet to discuss the exchange of service for money.

At The Food Section blog, Josh Friedland wonders what the fuss is about and contends there’s little difference between these outsourced backyard gardens and CSA boxes or farmer’s markets.  I think there’s a huge difference.  With a CSA and the farmer’s market, there are typically built-in connections between growers and consumers.   At a farmer’s market, you often have face to face interaction with the person who did the growing.  Likewise, CSA members meet the farmer who grew their weekly box of goodies when they go to pick it up, and many CSA members put in sweat equity at the farm where they have their membership.

Of course, consuming produce grown in your own backyard is certainly better than buying it at your local supermarket even if someone else is doing all the work.  Unfortunately, the trend in hiring someone to do the gardening is fueled by people who feel they are too busy to do it themselves, which sort of flies in the face  of the Slow Food movement.  Slow Food isn’t just about fighting back against fast food.  It’s about fighting back against our ever-quickening way of life.  It’s about unplugging from laptops and mobile phones and Ipods and Blackberrys and taking some of the time we normally spend with technology and use it to grow and make our own food and enjoy it with others.  In other words, we need to spend less time connected to the digital world, and more time connected to the diggable one.