Sunday, June 24, 2007

See you at the market!

Last Saturday, two friends came by the market who hadn't been there in a long time. They live in Saline, which now has its own farmer's market, and they have generally chosen to forego the ten mile drive and city traffic that an Ann Arbor trip would involve.

But they decided to take a little jaunt last Saturday and surprised me when they materialized in front of our stall. Paul reported that he had very little traffic to deal with, and was pleasantly surprised to cruise easily through the city streets.

But as they approached the Ann Arbor Farmer's Market area, Paul and Maryanne said that street activity noticeably increased. Shoppers walked purposefully down the sidewalks toward the market; parents pushed strollers with baskets dangling from the handles; cars on the street jockeyed for parking places; the cityscape seemed to come alive. It was only 9:00 AM and over at the Farmer's Marlet, Ann Arbor was very much awake!

Yes, the market had been jumping for almost two hours. As we head into the fullness of the summer produce season, the market is awash with bright colors and textures. Colorful flower bouquets, nestled in the crooks of protective elbows, bounce along through the aisleways; farmers peer from behind mounds of leafy greens piled on their tables; shoppers can choose from the aroma of fresh strawberries or fresh basil, depending on which stall they pass.

And people! The market is truly an intergenerational meeting place. Many elderly shoppers still frequent the market, intuitively seeking that connection to their past when times were simpler and produce was always fresh. Professional types will cruise through, often more on Wednesdays than Saturdays, picking up their salad greens for a fresh dinner after work. The young parents pushing strollers have made it to the market now, and with toddlers in tow, they dispense fresh-baked goodies to their crew, making it easier for all to navigate the tempting aisles.

I recently read that each time you shop at a farmer's market, you make, on average, 7-10 interactions. I realized that I see this many times from my observation station at the stall. It has become the common background of my view to see a constant grouping and regrouping as, say, two friends bump into each other, and as they chat for a moment, another acquaintance joins them who also knows someone else who happens to be passing by. Soon, and certainly several tmes at every market day, a large group of talking laughing shoppers has formed. News is exchanged; jokes are told; recipes are shared. And then the group disperses; another group will soon form with other members at another section of the market.

Or perhaps you're purchasing something at a stall and the shopper next to you asks how you prepare it. And then the farmer has a suggestion. Or remembers that the grower at the next stall knows something about it and asks him. Or the shopper on the other side of you overhears and offers his experience. Meanwhile some kids are petting a dog that is sitting with its owner at a table just by the market, the stall that sells fresh bread and rolls has just started putting out samples, and the cries of a youngster quickly turn to giggles as his father lifts him onto his shoulders.

Let's cut to another scene as you enter a big box chain store. You take your basket and start to roll through the ceiling-high shelves stacked with boxes. All is quiet, except for the canned muzack that accompanies your travels through the consumer canyons. Fluorescent lights send an evenly unreal glow across the landscape. You talk to no one; there is no one to ask for help. You go through the automated checkout and an assortment of beeps and computer generated voices assure you that you are having a nice day.

Come back to the market! Come back to the colors, the tastes, the smells of Michigan produce in all its fresh glory. Come back to the growers and shoppers and children all mixed together in a hodgepodge of humanity. Ann Arbor is awake and alive at the Farmer's Market! Paul and Maryanne were glad they came; you come too!


Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Cruising by the strawberry patch at the end of the day when I scooped up a red beauty and popped it in my mouth -- and stopped in my tracks. Now THAT was a strawberry. Believe me, I have spent hours crawling through strawberry patches, picked thousands of berries, tasted at least well into the upper hundreds. You would think I might be a little jaded. Or at least a bit cool toward these innocuous looking little fruits that take over my life and back for the month of June.

But I really had to stop and just taste that berry. Somehow the perfect combination of springtime rains, sweet organic earth, afternoon sun, and essence of berry had conjoined to splash a sparkle of flavor across my tongue that deserved the silence and stillness of utter appreciation. In an extremely busy time for market gardening when strawberry picking becomes yet one more huge task in a day overfull with patches to tend and fences to mend, I appreciated the reminder to stop and savor the fruits of our labor.

You may have noticed that the grocery stores have been flooded for the last month with huge, pale red, "strawberries" wedged into their clear plastic shells. Gentle readers, don't buy those berries. They were picked green so they could travel several days and thousands of miles unblemished; they are probably a variety that "ships well"; they spent the ripening days of their lives encased in plastic; and they don't taste good! At best they will offer a faint reminder of what a strawberry might suggest; at worst and very often, they are tough, dry and tasteless.

Wait for the Michigan berries. We are fortunate to live in an excellent fruit growing region. Wait for the Michigan berries. Even if they aren't organic, they will be fresher and sweeter. Wait for the Michigan berries, but don't wait too long! Depending on the weather, strawberry season in Michigan can be short, but believe me, very very sweet. Come see us at the market -- good Lord, good rains, and garden devas willing, we'll have our delicious organic berries for a few weeks. I'll try to save you some!




Holler Fest 2010
August 20-22