Sunday, May 27, 2007

On Your Market, Get Set...

Six more days. That's how much longer I have to wait for the start of this year's farmers' market. Six more days.

And oh! am I ready!

A number of my favorite culinary sites have recently talked up the joys of farmers' markets and buying local, and they're definitely whetting my appetite for good local produce. Over at Culinate, they've run an article about farmers' markets and another about CSAs, as well as reminded those of us weary of grocery produce and the staples in the cupboard that eating in season is going to get easier soon.

A number of food bloggers have already been visiting their local farmers' markets, open in May or even year-round, and have been reporting their finds. Eating Liberally has showcased some unusual vegetables, while Sam at Becks and Posh compared her farmers' market purchases to equivalents at the local supermarket (and hey, the farmers' market is cheaper in many ways). And closer to home, new blogger Alyssa makes me insanely jealous with her visit to the farmers' market in Columbus.

The news isn't all happy: a recent article in the Columbus Dispatch indicates that Ohio's farmland is shrinking, despite a state conservation program. On the other hand, my new senator in the U.S. Congress, Sherrod Brown, has co-sponsored a new bill called the "FOOD for a Healthy America Act," legislation that aims to increase availability of and access to healthy food for lower-income families as well as to support regional food networks and farmers' markets. And another Ohio congressman, Tim Ryan, participated in the Food Stamp Challenge, living on the ridiculously low allotment of funding and eating as best he could to raise awareness of the problems of providing healthy, nutritious, inexpensive meals to low-income familes.

In short, it's been a busy news month where food is concerned, and it has all made me really eager for the return of my local farmers and all their good food. But I have something to do first, before I start stocking up on this year's produce. That's right, it's time to clean out the pantry.

I've been noticing for a while that my pantry-closet had become a mess, with empty jars jostling the full ones, and I finally mustered my courage yesterday morning to take everything out, clean the storage units, take stock, and rearrange things.

Don't expect an exact count of everything I found, but here's a short list: half a dozen jars of canned tomatoes, two pints of homemade salsa (yippee! I thought I was out!), two pints of applesauce, half a dozen jars of various jams, three pints of honey, pickled carrots, zucchini relish, the last of the shallots and garlic, a two-pound bag of rolled oats, and a one-pound bag of grits. And that's not counting all the dried fruits and vegetables I have left in another cupboard, nor the remaining bags of frozen vegetables (which are slowly dwindling).

To put it mildly, I actually put away enough produce last year to get me through the winter with only the need to buy more perishable items (like the potatoes and broccoli I can't live without). I am thrilled! That means, Dear Readers, that it is possible to eat locally year-round with a little hard work and foresight up front.

To celebrate this discovery, I decided to do two things. First, I shoved the library books off the top of my reading pile in order to latch onto Plenty, the book by Alisa Smith and J.B. MacKinnon, the journalists who launched the 100-Mile Diet series in The Tyee two years ago. As local eating has hit the mainstream, their book hit the bookshelves a few weeks ago to much fanfare and good press. Just a few chapters in, and I can tell you that it not only does not repeat to any great length what they wrote in the series, it adds more details about what discoveries they made. As MacKinnon so aptly put it, "A farmers' market is an act of reconnection" (p. 50), and over the year, they connected with a number of people, regions, and foods.

Then, when I needed a breather from my reading, I planned an unusual salad offering for a cookout with friends tomorrow, drawing upon my stores of local food tucked away last fall. I started by making polenta with local cornmeal, baking it and cutting it into small squares before baking it again to make "croutons." After that, I sauteed minced garlic with edamame and corn for a sort of succotash to layer over the polenta, and I topped it all with homemade salsa and shredded local and organic Cheddar cheese.

I sampled it for dinner tonight, and if my salad plate doesn't get scraped clean by hungry friends at tomorrow's cookout, I'll be surprised. It really is as good as it looks, and hey, aside from the olive oil, it's entirely local, which I know will go over well with this crowd.

Honestly, the more I incorporate local foods into my eating routine, the better everything tastes, the better I feel about myself and my community, and the more fun I have.

So start that farmers' market countdown if you're not among the fortunate ones who are already making their weekly pilgrimages. For me, it's six more days and counting, and I am ready to go!


At 5/31/2007 12:10 PM, Anonymous Loren said...

I think that it is awesome that you were able to put up enough to get you through the winter! I am fairly new to canning and preserving, but am deeply enjoying the entire process and I am really looking forward to picking my own strawberries for jam. Only a few more days to go...
Have fun at your first market day of the season!

At 5/31/2007 12:58 PM, Blogger The Baklava Queen said...

Thank you, Loren! I'm pretty pleased, too, though I know it's never quite "enough" if one considers what our grandparents and great-grandparents must have done. I'm glad to hear that you are "deeply enjoying" preserving your own food... I wish more people would understand that it's more a joy than a chore to do such things.

I'm looking forward to strawberries and jam, too... and I look forward to reading more about yours on your lovely blog!


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