Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Reflections on the Farmer's Market

This summer and fall, Kaleidoscope has had a tent at the Blairstown Farmer's Market, hosted by the Foodshed Alliance, in the heart of our town. It's a small market, but well-loved. Every week I schlep in our canopy, tables and assorted craft materials to share freely with children at the market.

I got to experience first-hand what Michael Pollan, popular author of In Defense of Food and The Ominvore's Dilemma has been holding up as a gold-standard for local food. As he explains "By shopping at a farmers market, you support local agriculture, which has a great many benefits. You keep farmers in your community. You keep land from being sprawled with houses and shopping centers. You have the experience of shopping in the farmers market, which is the new public square. You support a lot of values when you shop at the farmers market."

See, my favorite thing about a farmer's market isn't the just food, it's the people. Everyone has a story. Take Lou Tomasso as an example: he's the owner of LL Pittenger Farms and the only man from whom I'll buy beef. Lou knows his cattle, his farm, his heritage and his food. He's proud of what he does, and it shows. Heck, the man posts pictures of the new calves every year on Facebook! I can skip the market for weeks, and he'll remember my name and favorite cut. He'll give me a break on a porterhouse, because I'm a regular. He'll tell me the best way to grill my London Broil. I know how he raises his animals in open fields. I know how he grows the hay they get in winter. I feel connected to my food, and I feel blessed to have it and the people who raise is.

But I don't just talk to the farmers. When you go to a market like ours, you'll find that there is always some friend there to chat with. Maybe you haven't seen them all winter, but now you can stand in the sunshine, fresh leafy produce in your canvas bag, and catch up. You can extol the many virtues of kale, taste test cheeses for an upcoming party, and figure out what the heck you do with bok choy. The market is a powerful place of connection.

To be a part of the market every week has been so exciting. We painted, colored, collaged and stamped. We explored fossils, built catapults, played games and compared leaves. We blew bubbles, chalked the parking lots and dressed up in costumes. And we did it under both blue skies and gray (including one hurricane named Irene). I made friends with whole families of farmers and market shoppers, because my tent provided a fun, safe place for their children to create.

My daughters were able to wander the market independently, trying the samples (sometimes two or three times at Sugh's Southern Sweets), meeting the farmers and playing with other children. My 8-year-old soon took on the task of planning the meal and buying food for our Saturday night dinner, with a budget and guidelines from mommy, of course. (Two veggies, only ONE dessert.) The market became a kind of home for the kids, and in that way, it became my home too.

Even more impressive was watching a group of "market kids" (children whose parents worked at the market) provide support for others. They helped set up tents and tables, manned the Foodshed Alliance's booth to sell shirts and even stood in for a farmer one day and sold produce on his behalf. (And, man, could those kids haggle!) These children all stepped up and became responsible for their market, for their local food economy, for their food. What better lesson could they learn?

So, I'm looking forward to this weekend's All Hallows Harvest Festival complete with pig roast, hayrides, cider making and music. And in November, the area's first winter farmer's market will be coming to Newton! We get to keep the fun going all season long! Suffice it to say, it'll be worth schlepping tables around Warren county.

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