Monday, September 14, 2009

Farmers Markets: The Benefits of Eating Locally

If you had been in downtown Perrysburg on Thursday at 5:30 PM, you may have seen this: A woman pushing a stroller, with her baby secured to her hip by a bright blue sling, balancing eight pints of raspberries, blackberries, and concord grapes in the seat where a baby would normally go, holding the basket on the bottom of the stroller with her foot to keep it from collapsing under the weight of the produce filling it, and heading off with a butternut squash perched precariously on the tray where one might otherwise find a sippy cup or toys, all while calmly sipping a fresh lemonade. What was she doing, you might ask? Buying cheese, of course!

Our local farmers market has become a favorite stop for Jonah and me every week. Every thursday afternoon, our senses are bombarded with wonderful smells, tastes, and colors. Jonah absolutely loves looking at all of the fruits and vegetables. I let him smell and touch any that I have bought. Old ladies working at the stands are always quick with samples for him, knowing that if they can get him to eat it, I will probably buy it. Jonah's two favorite stands are the flower stand, and the kettlecorn stand. When I am choosing flowers, Jonah will ever so gently touch the blossoms, and lean in to make exagerated sniffs that only a young toddler would make. When we stop for kettlecorn, Jonah watches the people crowding in for samples, kids eating popcorn from clear plastic bags two fisted, and fathers waiting in line with the impatience of a child. The kettlecorn stand is a favorite among everyone in Perrysburg. You can smell it before you can hear it, then when the popping begins to fill your ears you know you're getting close. During strawberry season, the smell mingled with the scent of the fresh berries being sold next to it. I can't think of any other tradition quite like kettle corn from the market.

I've been wanting to write about our farmers market for some time now. It has been a staple in our lives since it opened for the season, in late spring. Not only has it become a great sensory experience for Jonah, but I've also really incorporated local eating into our natural lifestyle. I've really come to appreciate the value of supporting local farmers, as well as the healthfulness of eating foods grown regionally.

I used to think that eating locally would be inhinbitive. I love to cook a variety of things, and I thought that buying foods farmed locally meant buying the same thing over and over. This is far from the truth. My quest to feed my family a majority of locally produced foods has opened up doors. Rather than going to the grocery store with my same old list every week, I go to the market and see what is in season this week. My family has been eating fruits and vegetables right after they are plant ripened and picked. This means we get what is in season, and every week that is something new. Last week, we had fresh plums, this week it's fresh peaches and concord grapes. Next week I'm sure that it will be apples. We even get locally aged cheese from the market. Cheese the way it's supposed to be- the way it would be if you went to an old european village where the only way to get cheese is to age your own milk. I can't find that at my giant eagle.

I've also learned about foods I've never cooked before. If I see something unique, I ask the person who farmed it "What is this?" and "What is your favorite way to cook it?"

As far as being healthier, it really makes sense. The food doesn't have to be preserved in any way. It doesn't have to be picked before it is ripened and at its height of nutritional value. It doesn't have to be waxed or colored or reinforced to withstand a journey across the country. It's food at its simplest. Picked ripe, and ready for your plate.

It really bothers me that while we (my family) live in a very agricultural state, most of the produce that we've been eating has come from other parts of the world. Why do we need to get tomatoes from Chile or California when there are so many farmers here in Ohio that have wonderful tomatoes. Sure, bananas and pineapples we need to import, but why canteloupe and corn and peaches? Not only is it bad for our local economy, but also for our environment. Why do we waste the resources shipping this produce to places that can and do grow their own.

And for those who still think that buying locally is limiting to your dietary choices, I have made several dinners including from-scratch lasagna, that have been 100% locally farmed. Everything from the flour and eggs that I used to make the noodles to the cheese and beef that I used to stuff it.

If you have a local farmers market, now is the time to go and check it out. Take your children, they'll love looking at all of the produce and if you include them in the process of picking it out they will be more likely to eat it when you cook it for them. There are so many things in season now, it would be a challenge to come back empty handed!

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