While whirling around in the familial vortex that resides in Southern California, we also had one quick trip to the local Farmer’s Market (Long Beach at the Alamitos Bay marina).
Walking through the market, its brilliantly obvious that over half of the nation’s fruit and vegetables come from California. In this late March, there are thousands of ripe, red strawberries, stacks of tender baby asparagus, artichokes, fresh dates.
This particular farmer’s market is not much more than a city block, but the eye-catching variety is inspirational.
If you’ve read this blog for much time at all, you know that I have an affinity for farmer’s markets. Most foodies appreciate eating regional food when traveling; what better way to understand a culture than to eat its food? When I travel, I take the approach that there is no better way to know a COMMUNITY but to visit its farmer’s market. Farmer’s markets represent the people.
In the case of Long Beach’s farmer’s market, along side the variety of fresh food is a Mexican man strumming guitar and serenading the shoppers for tips, children running through stalls threatening to tip over the wobbly tables and bikes parked without locks.
With tables of overflowing fresh fruits and vegetables and a sense of safety, I kept wondering if the people of this community understand how fortunate they are to have this quality and variety of food in their backyards. Here is it, mid-March and California is bursting with flavor and color; inviting the coffee-drinking casually strolling families and couples to imagine a dinner that is special, fresh and wholesome. The farmers are fortunate too. They cultivate a naturally abundant land and have a cornucopia of crops from which to choose and a community willing, able and ready to buy. At least that’s what it looks like from my vantage point.
Contrast the Long Beach farmer’s market or any other with the fact that entire US communities exist without so much as a suitable grocery store, much less a farmer’s market. Not a stretch of land within these interiors is suitable for food farming and grocery stores have deserted the place for a more upscale locations. Imagine living in a place where the only source of food is a 7-11 or fast food. If you live in suburbia, that’s pretty hard to imagine. If you live in a dense city center, it might not be such a stretch, particularly with the disappearance of the family owned market.
If only we could repeat the farmer’s market concept everywhere, in each community interior. Would it be possible to eradicate food deserts?
Strangely, this farmers market in one of the most abundant places on the earth made me think of Detroit. There, community leaders are making farming sexy again by allocating space to feed its community. They aren’t allocating space to grow soy or corn – they want food to grow where there was none before. Rather, they want to grow food where it hasn’t grown in the modern memory. The leaders and people of Detroit are face with blight and a repressive poverty and see farming as a community solution on many levels, including food and jobs, but also, some of its buildings could even converted to indoor farming spaces, using vertical farming techniques so that Detroit could feed itself even in the middle of winter. Local farming would be revitalized, community and co-op would have a significant place in the community along with food that doesn’t come in a bag, box or can. Many, many interests would be opposed to this concept including grocery stores and corporate farmers, but wouldn’t it be practically Utopian?
Are local farmer’s markets and movements like Jamie Oliver’s or Detroit’s be changing us? Could we be turning a corner in our country? Could we possibility be returning to a time when the farmer and fresh food is the center of the community as opposed to to its exterior? As we hear more and more about our food and its sources and effects on our bodies, is it finally dawning on us that eating fresh food is important both for our health and our communities. Colorful food isn’t just something that foodies appreciate, its something everyone can appreciate. Could Detroit compete with California as the bread basket of the United States? Is it possible that a new commitment to growing food to eat (rather than to process) could change our world?
As a farmer’s market hound, I hope so. Farmer’s markets leave me with respect for the farmers and appreciation for the food and typically, a great dinner.
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