If you grew up in these parts, chances are you come from farming roots. Many of us Richmonders can remember our grandparents (or even greatgrandparents) growing vegetables and serving them at family dinners
Personally speaking, a shiny, ripe, red, sweet Hanover tomato, sliced generously and placed on white bread with (real) mayonnaise and a little sugar can almost bring a tear to my eye. It was in such a manner that my grandmother used to serve these delicacies to us. Even though they lived in the West End, my grandparents had a full-scale garden on some rented land in the country. I spent many summers out there in the heat, helping them pick those tomatoes. It was blissful
Even if you weren’t as lucky as I was, there are still reasons (other than pure nostalgia) to check out one of our many farmers’ markets this year. They are popping up all over the city and surrounding counties – so you will no longer have an excuse!
1. To help support our local farms.
Thanks to increased awareness, we have more local food options available to us now than we ever have (okay, maybe since our great-grandparents have). Buying local supports our regional economy, and we all know that our economy needs all the help it can get. Plus, buying from local farms helps to ensure that they will survive. Programs that subsidize agriculture threaten to shut down our local farms in a big way, and the only way to stop them is to cast your vote with your wallet by buying local. If you want to learn more about this, watch the documentary, Food, Inc.
2. Because your children will become less picky. I promise.
Being in the childcare business, I have heard, Johnny just won’t eat _____. too many times to count. While I agree that some children naturally become pickier eaters on their own, parents have a tendency to give up on them all too quickly. When introducing new tastes and textures, it can take a child quite a few tries (some experts say up to a dozen!) before they really begin to enjoy it. Just think about the first time you had coffee. (Or beer.)
Additionally, if you take them to the market with you, let them meet the farmers, and pick out their own snacks, your kids will be more likely to consume the food. Last year I had my picky 8-year-old eating raw dill because he liked the way it looked and wanted to bring it home.
3. To become inspired.
We all get stuck in a cooking rut from time to time. Surrounding yourself with new foods can really get your cold, abandoned knives out of the block and back to work.
A sampling of questions that I have had answered since frequenting farmer’s markets: (And no, I’m not going to answer these for you. If you want them answered, you know where to go!) What is a canary melon? What is the difference between pickling cucumbers and salad cucumbers? How the heck do I chop bok choy? And what does it even go in? Cantaloupe soup? Really? (Seriously, you must try this!)
There are so many ways to prepare all of the delicious fare that Virginia has to offer, that you will be forced to question ingredients and experiment in the kitchen. Your culinary skills and knowledge will improve so much that your friends will be inviting themselves over for cooking lessons – and dinner.
4. Because it’s cheaper.
Okay, not everything individually. I won’t over-romanticize this part. Bread is more expensive. Meat is more expensive. But you can make up for the cost with the fruits and vegetables, because they are truly cheaper than in the grocery stores. Why? They are in season, so they are plentiful. Also, there is no middleman involved. Need another reason? Read on.
5. To reduce your carbon footprint.
Most of our food travels at least 1,500 miles from farm to table. Buying local means you reduce this number by around 1,400 miles. That is a lot of gas saved. Also, farmer’s market food doesn’t come packaged. There is no plastic involved, meaning no plastic waste sitting in our landfill. Every plastic bag you toss can sit in a landfill for 20 years before it decomposes. (Note: Vendors will occasionally have plastic bags to hold your purchases. However, they really, really, appreciate it when shoppers bring re-usable shopping bags!)
6. Because your kids will eat healthier during a family’s busiest months.
Let’s not kid ourselves. We will be busy this summer. Between soccer, swim team, baseball, camp, vacation, and holidays, we will be booked solid. Our kids are out of school to boot? I need a nap just thinking about this. In the summer months, our kitchens have a chance of being just as neglected as our snow boots. Fast food drive-throughs will start to entice us, and guilt will surely ensue.
You can avoid beating yourself up by shopping for fresh food at the market. Much of the food is organic, which is proven to hold more nutritional value than conventional produce. Bread is freshly baked, with no added preservatives. You can buy meat free of antibiotics and/or growth hormones. You know that $2.99/lb beef you bought last week? If it’s conventional beef, it’s full of growth hormones. The conventional chicken breast that you (and your children) consumed was full of antibiotics. You can buy a whole, fresh, naturally fed, humanely raised chicken at the market. Roast that bad boy, and make sure to call and thank me later.
7. Because it’s fun!
Think music, food (free cheese samples – yes!), crafts, homemade jewelry, personal care products, baby animals, sunshine, and the outdoors. Just being out with your community and learning about your local farms provides a sense of fulfillment that you can only get from a Virginia farmer’s market. Bring your kids, spouse, neighbors, your neighbor’s kids, and your sun hat. Just don’t forget to pick up an extra Hanover tomato and give my grandmother’s recipe a try.