Saturday, June 12, 2010

Some Farmer's Market Love from the Co-op Conference

I had a great time this past week in Bloomington, Indiana at a co-op conference.  But the personal highlight of my trip wasn't at one of the workshops- It was while I ditched the hotel breakfast and morning announcements for the local farmer's market.  After seeing all 3 of the gorgeous Bloomingfoods Co-op stores, the farmer's market was next on my list of must-sees.

Wow, was I impressed!  I love my St. Paul farmer's market, but I admit to being a bit jealous of this one.  To start with, I must have seen a dozen certified organic booths.  Like the St. Paul farmer's market, all the producers were from local farms, but certified organic is pretty darn important to me, too.  My philosophy is that local is great, but just being in close proximity to me doesn't make it sustainable.  I mean, you can grow something next door to me and be planting GMO seeds and dousing them in RoundUp.  It might be local, but I don't want to eat it.

Same goes for organic.  Of all the labels, I trust this one the most (though it still has its issues).  But all by itself this label doesn't tell me a product was necessarily produced sustainably.   Organic food from some gigantic corporate farm halfway across the world is never going to score as high as a local, organic farm in my book.  So seeing all of those little local family farms that were certified organic and selling at this super adorable market just made my day.

Reason #2 for jealousy is that the growing season is clearly much longer here in Indiana.  This market was overflowing with veggies that aren't even close to ready yet in Minnesota!   I started my walk with a pint of big, fat organic raspberries that I bought from a little girl and her father whose farm was only 8 miles from the market.

Next I was so excited to talk with a man who harvests wild sassafras root.  Not only did he endure my many curious questions, he volunteered tips for digging my own sassafras, should I come across a tree.  I think that's one of my favorite things about visiting a farmer's market when it's not crazy busy (it was raining and technically the market wasn't even open yet)- You get a chance to really talk with the producers and they LOVE to tell you about their food.  I know you get a similar effect shopping at the co-op- Most of us love to talk (okay, brag) about our amazing food.  But it's pretty awesome to get one step closer to the farm when possible and talk to the growers themselves.

My third purchase was a giant bag of black walnuts.  I've definitely seen this weird green balls around my neighborhood, but I've never figured out how the heck to get to the nuts inside and then how to make them palatable (They're definitely NOT palatable without processing.  Trust me.).  This guy let me chomp on black walnuts while he explained how to process a small batch or a giant batch of walnuts.  The small scale process involved a mallet.  The large scale process involved putting a crazy amount of walnuts between boards, driving over them in your car and then soaking, cleaning, drying and curing them for  a month.  I gladly shelled out $3 for enough walnuts that I will surely get stopped for a bag search at the airport.

I went on to get some amazing caraway rye bread from a local bakery/farm and a fantabulously moist and cakey vegan peach muffin from the Bloomingfoods Co-op booth.  The muffin was gone before I made a complete lap around the market.

And what did I walk into when I returned to the conference?  They keynote speaker pointing out all the gazillion reasons why supporting local, small businesses is important.  Heck yeah.


melissa said...

It all sound so lovely! Keep in mind that there are a lot of small local farms all over the country that use organic farming practices, but aren't certified as such because the certification process is extremely expensive. For the ones that don't have a "certified organic" sign, it would be worth the time to ask what their practices are. You could have a lot more organic local growers than you know about! :)

JohnSteill said...

Excellent bit of reportage, ty!

Liz said...

Most definitely, Melissa! Great point. We only have 1 certified grower at the St. Paul market, but many of the Hmong growers don't use pesticides and I tend to buy from them. And the farmers seem to (I think) be really honest about when they have sprayed.
It's kind of like walking into a restaurant that says "everything here is vegan!". It's really nice to just know that you can enjoy anything on the menu. That's how I felt at the Bloomington Farmer's Market.

jessy said...

i'm so glad you had such a great time at the conference AND the farmer's market, Liz. that kicks booty! i super love that you skipped out on the breakfast and headed out to check out the market. yay! i never knew how to get into or process black walnuts for nomming either - that's too funny about the board and the car. ah ha ha! so awesome that the vendors were so open and willing to share so much, and i'm all for local AND organic as well. i'm with melissa in that not all the farmer's have the certification, but it rocks socks knowing that more and more farmers are staying away from harmful sprays and nasty GMOs and using more organic farming practices. makes me most happyfaced!