This winter I passed a fair amount of time watching a whole list of documentaries on the food industry in America. Then, because I prefer to learn from reading rather than from watching, I bought another list of books on the same topic and read them all. I must say that I enjoyed the experience thoroughly. While I now feel immensely skeptical of industrialized food, I also feel illuminated about the more natural, healthy and sustainable options.
The latest of these enlightening books was one called Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. The author and her family took on the project of eating (almost) exclusively locally for a year. The tales she had to tell of the experience were delightful. I can highly recommend the memoir for anyone interested in becoming a locavore.
|It's easy to see the possibilities here!|
Another thing the book did for me was open my eyes to the possibilities of farmers’ markets.
The summer after my family moved to North Idaho we decided to visit one of the local markets. I was just 10, so I poked around the booths until I found a random painted seagull which I bought for $5 (I’ve always had a weakness for knickknacks). After that I was ready to go. Instead I had to stand around for a half hour while my Mom and Dad listened with engrossment (and to a child's mind, inexplicable engrossment!) while a women explained how she spun wool into yarn.
Now, of course, I myself would find such a lesson fascinating, but for years after that first and only experience, I thought of farmers’ markets as boring places where one could buy little crafty things of various kinds, but not much else. As you might imagine, this didn’t make me want to leap up on Saturday mornings and dash down to see what farmers were marketing. However, my passion for food and my recent reading inspired me.
I thought it was time to try something new, in the hopes of expanding my horizons.
On May 11, this year, the nearest market opened; it’s just five miles away. I arrived about 10, an hour or so after it had opened. What was my surprise when I discovered that…it's perfectly marvelous! I bought a cinnamon roll and cup of coffee on that first visit and wandered around, scoping out the opportunities. I talked to a goat-cheese maker, a chicken farmer, a baker, a coffee roaster. I took notes on prices and selections. I studied many tempting offerings. I listened to the amateur country-singers on the center stage. I concluded the grand experience by buying a loaf of asiago-garlic bread to celebrate.
|The beauty of vegetables always surprises me!|
Of course, that early in such a Northern state, there was very little produce, but all the farms were selling beautiful tomato and pepper and squash and eggplant starts. I knew that my parents were looking for some, so I decided to make a date with them to return and explore together. We’ve been back twice, in fact, and now it shows signs of becoming a family tradition. Each time I return there is a more plentiful and gorgeous selection of food: spinach followed by lettuces, kale, chard, arugula, radishes, and now baby carrots and hot house tomatoes. (I say nothing of the tempting breads and cheeses and meats.)
It’s marvelous to trace the development of the season through the market offerings.
One of the defining elements of being a locavore, as I learned from reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, and have now confirmed with my own experience, is learning to cook what’s available. I’ve not given up shopping at grocery stores because I’m just experimenting currently, but I’m going to attempt to buy the bulk of my vegetables at the market this summer. As I don’t necessarily have any recipes for kale or chard, I’ve had to scour my cookbooks and think of new ways to serve vegetables in side dishes.
|What's more inspiring than a gorgeous market tomato?|
It’s actually great fun, since I love trying new recipes. Moreover, it reminds me of the resourcefulness which a writer ought to have. And not just writers, really – resourcefulness, or the ability to adapt to what circumstances offer you, is a valuable quality for anyone. Authors, in particular, though, have to be able to take what comes their way, inspiration-wise, and make something marvelous with it, much like the seasonal cook.
Actually, I suspect the simple act of shopping at the farmers’ market will produce food for writing, as well as food for the table. It’s a lovely experience: walking in the filtered sunlight under the tall pines, making the circuit of red-painted wooden booths, slipping between other shoppers, chatting with the universally friendly merchants, sipping coffee and breathing the deep cleanliness of the morning air. How could I not be inspired?
I have a semi-disastrous novel draft which I have to rewrite in the next few years. The main character is a musician. I have a sneaking suspicions she may show up, playing at the farmers’ market, once her story gets sorted out into something more manageable.
Can you blame me for my enthusiasm, when I know that I can get up once a week and head out for an exhilarating experience? It’s a lovely feeling to return with a mind alive and a recipe to prepare. I hope many others will take advantage of the summer to discover with me what lovely things the fresh markets of the season can be.