It was a lovely day at the Farmer's Market on Saturday. Lots of visits with neighbors and visitors. I was astonished at how many travelers popped in to our market. We aren't even on the beaten path.
Astonished, but I guess it isn't that surprising when you think about all the good things going on in one big parking lot. Pumpkins and tomatoes and eggplants and peppers and onions and sweet potatoes and green beans. Swiss chard, herbs, zucchini, spaghetti squash, patty pan squash, seedlings, flowers. Apples and pears. Cool jewelry, hot coffee and tea, parathas, samosas, scones, homemade donuts, homemade pickles and mustards and relish, salsa and jam. Chili rellenos, big pots of beans and bbq. Milk and cream and seven different kinds of cheeses. Fresh butter. Homemade soaps. Who knows how many varieties of baked goods (including my freshly milled good stuff!)? A solar power oven display, a guy from the Lion's club. Dogs and children and young artists and happy hikers and local musicians and teachers and folks who work for Homeland Security. Builders and librarians, ministers and Tai Chi instructors. Senior citizen tour groups passing by.
All thrown together on a brilliant October Saturday morning, making for a lovely picture of community and local economy. I wish everyone had a chance to check out their farmer's market. Some people tell me they don't go because they don't have the money, that goods at the farmer's market are priced too expensively. And yes, many things could be purchased at Wal Mart for significantly less. But can we afford the bargain? The cost that comes from not knowing our neighbors? The cost to our health that comes from eating cheap, nutritionally deficient, overly processed foods? The cost to our environment when we pay people to raise meat and vegetables and fruits irresponsibly?
I realize that for many of us on a tight budget, the extra few dollars a week make a huge difference. But as I have witnessed the joy that comes in developing an economy of bartering, it makes me realize that there are options out there for cash-strapped folks who are willing to be a little creative. On many occasions I have suggested to folks that they can pay what they can afford for my bread. Or barter something that they have. I have heard lots of other vendors suggest the same thing.
Have you wished you could afford to eat more healthy foods, but don't see a way it can be done? Trust me, I know what it means to be a penny-pincher, wondering if there is enough left in the bank to pay the water bill and the house and the electricity and the insurance, along with a pair of shoes for a growing kid and a prescription for a sick kid, all at the same time. And for those of you who don't work at a farmer's market, the idea of trying to fit one more thing into a busy Saturday morning might be more than you can imagine.
But as I wax poetically over the joys of our cool world of real food and neighborhood community and producers who make stuff with their own hands, I hope you won't feel like that is something just for me and my kind. There IS a way to experience that kind of food and community, but you might have to start out with some baby steps. And use your imagination and make a little extra effort. I promise that it will pay off. In more ways than you can imagine.
PS By the time the bakery and the kitchen were cleaned, the floors swept and mopped, the laundry folded, the trays and pans washed and dried, I was pretty exhausted and in need of a real meal. A chicken was sprinkled with loads of fresh rosemary from the yard, a squeeze of a couple of lemons, some chopped garlic, salt and olive oil and shoved in the very hot oven. I took a red onion, sliced, place it in a layer on a pyrex, topped with sliced zucchini, garlic, eggplant, fresh tomatoes, more onion, fresh thyme and basil, bell pepper, another layer of tomatoes, drizzled olive oil and a sprinkle of sea salt, then placed that pan in the oven with the chicken. A loaf of Italian Peasant bread was sliced, brushed with olive oil, and placed on a tray to go into the oven as well. It didn't take any work at all to throw it together, then we lit candles and the tiki torches and sat out in the balmy starry evening air, European style (almost 9pm!) and enjoyed good food, great conversation, and a fitting end to Farmer's Market day, grateful for the dozen hands or more who contributed to our dinner.
It probably would have been just as delicious if we had made our dinner with all store bought veggies, but there is a unique kind of magic that comes with knowing who helped grow your food. Very good magic.