Thursday, July 23, 2009

local harvest

yesterday, my sister molly and i visited a farmers market on 47th and 2nd that is open all day every wednesday. i didn't even buy anything this time and i felt like it was the most nourishing lunch hour i've had in a while.

one of the nicest things about summer is that produce is in abundance almost everywhere, and much of it can be found pretty locally at farmers markets. while exotic foods from far-flung places used to be appealing to many, it seems that as environmental and health concerns have become the focus of many peoples' eating habits, the opposite has become true - the closer, the better. local harvest has a feature that lists farmers markets all over the country searchable by location, and most are in operation through at least the late fall. their website is a great source in general for information on all things local and organic to every region.

the farmers market appeal is partly because local food leaves less of a carbon footprint as it doesn't get shipped or flown, and for that same reason it's often fresher as it doesn't spend days in transit - essentially, it's sold sooner after harvest. also, most people just feel good supporting farms and farmers. there are just so many things about it - being there is an event in itself.

whenever i'm at a farmers market, i feel good about it. to me, there's something wholly different about buying produce in a store, even a nice produce store, versus buying it directly from the people who grow it and live off their land. they are always open to questions and they give suggestions and advice, much like the staff at trader joe's and whole foods, both of which i appreciate for being informed, helpful and friendly. but these sellers are much closer to what they sell and it shows.

i love being so close to the produce in its natural form - it's uncut, unwashed, unpackaged and it's all so gorgeous looking. now don't get me wrong, i love me some convenience cut fruit and veggies for ease and speed. there also exists a middle ground to be had, which i find at the grand central market where the roots are trimmed and the stuff is rinsed and neatly tied, but this is just a different kind of experience for a different kind of use. in summer, when it's available and bountiful, i am just in love with the idea of looking to see what looks best on that very day and buying it, washing and prepping it, tasting it and finally cooking with it. each step of the process feels a little bit zen - the selection, the display, the preparation, the display again when it takes its final form. there's a connection to what i'm doing and eating in each step of the process, while the experience of pre-cut and washed produce is about connecting with the train i need to make or the dinner i'm too tired to cook. also important connections, just different.

farmers markets are also a great place to find unusual types of produce - peppers and eggplants in crazy colors and shapes, purple basil, pink garlic, white raspberries, gooseberries. every piece is one-of-a-kind, and you really feel that while you're browsing.

it's debatable to me whether farmers markets are more or less expensive than stores- in my experience they're either the same or even a little more, while kelly tells me that hers in bethesda is way less - basically, she spends forty dollars a week and gets pastries, breads, flowers, herbs and like, a kilo of fruits and vegetables. i guess it varies (and kelly will have a tagalong in a few weekends when we're visiting).

i also find the shelf life issue to be variable - sometimes it lasts longer than store-bought produce probably because it doesn't lose all those days in transit, while other times it doesn't seem to last as long, probably because of a lack of chemicals and preservatives, and i'm okay with that. i just try my best to store and keep them well. besides, the shelf life of produce at most stores is less than variable - it's just non-existent.

i'd love to know your experiences with price and shelf-life and any special tips you have. comment below, if you like.

usually on a farmers market excursion, i have one bold moment where i feel the essence of the local, healthy experience. yesterday, it was seeing these small cardboard boxes of berries which looked as if there were just enough berries to fill them, so that you intrinsically understood the idea that a person harvested these and brought them to this spot to sell. it struck me as so sweet, and so humble somehow. i was charmed by the fact that they harvested all they could, and here they were. no pallet in "the back" or coming off a loading dock. once the lucky people who spot these buy them and take them home, there are no more until next time - it's as simple as that.

also, charmed by the certainty that no modern factory assembly line created any part of this perfect little package for mass distribution or consumption, no mass anything - no label, no inner lining pad at the bottom, just berries in a box, undoubtedly placed there by hand - probably by the hand of the farmer who first planted them years ago.

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