Saturday, September 09, 2006

Chard Times at the Market

Fall seems to have settled in for good here at the farmers' market: everywhere you turn, the cool-weather produce overflows from baskets and bins, reminding everyone that though the popular fruits and vegetables have passed their peak, autumn has its fair share of luscious foods.

And as with some summer vegetables (dare we mention zucchini?), some autumn veggies just keep growing until the farmers hardly know what to do with them. Thus it was that when I stopped to visit the Asian Lady and admired her beautiful chard, she told me, "Take what you want – no charge!" How could I refuse?

Though no one else was giving away free produce, I still picked up plenty of good deals on good food:

--The Gentleman Farmer and his son had more tomato "seconds," so I bought another half-peck for the last round of canning. I also bought a quart of green beans (to freeze) and a large eggplant for this week's cooking.

--The Cheerful Lady and Handyman Joe had a wide variety of things on their table, so I splurged a little: onions, garlic, sage, carrots, and some tiny egg noodles made by one of their neighbors.

--The Bee Man was back with good local honey, so I bought two pints from him for winter baking.

--A new farmer had two small acorn squash for $1.00 –- how could I resist?

--The Orchardist returned with loads of lovely apples, and I simply couldn't help myself: I bought a bag of Fall Russets (tart and crisp), a bag of Primas (sweet and juicy), and a bag of Bartlett pears.

--The Tomato Farmer and his wife had the last Romas of the season, so I bought five pounds' worth to make tomato sauce and salsa.

Unfortunately, the Tomato Farmer's Wife told me that these would be their last Roma tomatoes ever at the market. They won't be returning next year because they took a hard loss with this year’s crops and can't afford to keep farming.

And there you have, in a nutshell, the hidden tragedy of every farmers' market: for all that we might support the market, we can't always keep every farmer in business. The awareness of the true costs of foods still eludes many people, and the appreciation of the need for local foods still has not spread widely enough to make farming an economically viable option. And when these small farmers find little help from the government (federal or local) in the form of subsidies or the encouragement of local demand, there's little that any one person can do.

So after a lengthy conversation to commiserate with her and to express my appreciation for all their hard work and fine produce, I shouldered my bag, picked up my basket, and headed home.

And though my full pack weighed me down considerably, I felt my own burden less than that of the farmers who can't make a living from producing good food. As much as I personally can get excited about local foods, I still get discouraged when I realize how few people think the same way.

What else can we do, though, but keep trying?


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