Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Stuff's Gettin' Real...

by Jas Faulkner

Hi!  My name is Jas Faulkner and this is my second season writing for the ENFM blog. Like many of you, I am continually learning ways to live a cleaner, greener life. Over the next six months we'll explore what the market has to offer.  We'll also look at the history and culture behind farmers' markets, local foodways, and   other aspects of the production and the politics of food in North America.  But first, I need to talk to you about something very important.

 Consider this a call to farms.  

In the past you may have decided to support your local farmers' market based on some abstract principle. You may have done it because it was an emotional callback to a time when nearly every family had someone who lived on a working farm.  You may remember the sweet smell of warm produce picked earlier that day and then lovingly prepared as family shared stories of the past and planned for the future.

You may have made a weekly trek to The East Nashville Farmer's Market because it's a fun thing to do.  It's a way to meet some nice people who are passionate about growing safe, nutritious food for your community.  Your friends and neighbors are there.  It's a lovely, bucolic space in the heart of the city where children dance to live music and artisans and their families share everything from cheese to salsa to pie to hummus.

If someone asked you why you visit The ENFM, you might have some vaguely pleasant answers about how it makes you feel good. And that's a good thing. You know?  Given the choice, I support local producers and merchants for nearly everything I use in my kitchen and elsewhere. I do a price and availability check at The Turnip Truck and Center of Symmetry first and now that market season is upon us, ::deep breath:: I have another local place to look for what I need (or sometimes just want.)

Here's the thing, and it's kind of a big thing, er, deal:  Stuff's gettin' real.  We can't take for granted that these sources will be around if we don't support them. If you care about preserving Tennessee's agrarian heritage, if you care about what goes into your pantry, if you want to keep something that has become a vital part of community life, you'll understand why it is important to support The East Nashville Farmers' Market.

It only happens on Wednesdays at those magic hours from 3:30 to 6:30 at 10th and Russell. Come on down and meet your farmer!

Monday, March 18, 2013

Go For The Real Deal: Producer Operated Farmers' Markets

by Jas Faulkner
How much do you trust the people who supply the grocery store you support or the kitchen manager of your favorite restaurant to provide food that is safe?  

In a very telling incident, food journalist Michael Pollan visited a farmer who grew potatoes for McDonald's french fries.  During the interview, Pollan asked the farmer if he fed the potatoes to his own family and the answer was an emphatic, No!' The farmer grew his own organic spuds to feed his own clan.  Later in the story, Michael asked for a drink of water and was warned away from filling his glass at the tap.  The farmer's wife explained that the local water was full of pesticides and they bought bottled water to drink.

That was a sad example of a farmer knowing his or her food, and also knowing that he didn't want to eat it. It brings up an interesting question of  how well the people behind the tables at farmer's markets know their produce. Can they tell you where the seeds came from or whether their stock was exposed to chemicals that might remain not only on t he outside of the fruits and vegetables, but have permeated the flesh?  Did those potatoes come from a county away?  A time zone away?  Did they come from another continent altogether?

Once upon a time...
 A farmers' market was exactly what the title suggested.  It was a place where people who grew fruits and vegetables or raised animals for meat could sell what they raised. The advantage was one of both quality and trust. There was a greater sense of accountability on the part of the producers and customers knew that they had a responsibility to support farmers if they wanted to buy food that was locally produced by people they trusted. This worked well because most metropolitan areas were surrounded by farmland. There were enough farmers to feed everyone who cared enough to maintain a locally centered food economy.

As more people moved to the city and the land surrounding those urban areas was devoted to housing, people got comfortable with the idea of buying everything they ate from large corporate producers who created factory-perfect food-like stuff that could come from anywhere. Zero plotline development and the loss of connection to family traditions such as the household kitchen garden cause people to lose a sense of what it meant to eat with the seasons.  The demand for shipped in produce grew and with it, the loss of seasonal eating except for certain holidays.

Over time, people began to miss the feel of buying from a farmers' market, so they sought out places where they hoped to buy fresh, in-season produce.  One thing many of these shoppers didn't think to ask was: "Where did it come from?"

Not All Farmers' Markets Are Equal

A farmers' market is a farmers marker is a farmers market?  Right?  Well, on the surface, that might be true.  The open air ambiance, the smell-of-the-week of whatever is in season, the atmosphere that makes it feel more like a large outdoor party; these are all things that draw people to farmers markets.

So what is the difference and why does it matter?

There are two different kinds of farmers' markets.  The first is the  traditional market where farmers sell what they raise.  The second, and sadly more common in many urban areas, is really more of a reseller's marketplace.  these people often go to food wholesalers and buy large lots of produce.  In some rare cases, they might know the person they are buying from without ever actually seeing where their wares come from.

When you buy from a market that allows resellers,  you run the risk of buying food that might have been raised in less than ideal circumstances. Do you or they know exactly what into the items you're considering for your pantry?  Chances are the person behind the cash box knows exactly as much as you do, which is nothing or pretty close to it. Is that a risk you want to take?

Know Your Farmer
Traditional farmers' markets are worth the investment of time and money.  Eating locally means you are more likely to eat in season and eat in a way that will contribute to your overall good health.  It means that you have the confidence of knowledge and the power to make your own choices about what you put into your body.  It means that you help keep the local economy robust and  food sources close by which is a smart, sustainable way to feed your community.

Most important of all, know your farmers means that you are buying from people who are selling you the same things they are feeding their own families. They get  your support of their hopes and dreams and you get the benefit of years of agricultural education, family experience, and strong personal values that go into organic family farming.

So the next time you think about visiting a farmers' market, look, ask, and make informed choices. Your local farmers will thank you for it!