I’ve never been one to do the tourist thing. As much as I love to travel, to get out, to meet new people, to try new foods; I much prefer to do all of the above as if I were a local. I find it even more difficult to swallow when the tourist thing surrounds an activity so warmly familiar it seems routine. My children on the other hand find joyous fun in even the simplest Saturday afternoon outings. It’s with that in mind that I found myself this past Saturday frequenting an overly-crowded and even more overly-priced — albeit local — orchard and cider mill. And yes, I did have fun.
“Oh, Mom! What are those?”
I love it when my children get excited about things that can be grown so when my five year-old’s eyes lit up and the chatter started last week as I pulled a packet of Luffa Gourd seeds from the envelope Seven Acre Woods had lovingly tucked them in I couldn’t resist engaging her. The conversation that resulted was even more pleasing than what had spurred it because if there’s anything I love seeing my children excited about more than things that grow it’s how (and where) those things are grown. And that’s exactly where her interest turned.
“Can I grow one of those in my garden? Oh and Mom, don’t let Dad use that loud thing on mine okay? I just want a shovel and a rake.”
‘That Loud Thing’ is the rototiller and while her current interest is a bit misplaced — the decibel level of the machinery used to till land on which food is grown is of little environmental and social concern, after all — her interest in the production of food at all is encouraging; and timely.
For some the Farmer’s Markets either never ceased or have already made their grand re-opening for the 2010 growing season and even for those in colder geographies the season of local production is just around the corner — or so I keep telling myself as I stare out the window at a barren white expanse.
As we step foot back in the Farmer’s Markets this year we may know, at least for the most part, where the goods we find there were grown but do we really know how? USDA organic certification can be costly and for some small producers and those that are trying to keep consumer costs at a bare minimum in order to make healthy, local fare available to all income levels, certification can be downright out of reach — but that doesn’t mean their goods aren’t grown organically. It just means they can’t bare a USDA seal.
Without getting to know your growers; without asking how their products are grown you’ll never know if the goods you choose each Saturday and Sunday morning are meaningfully produced in the manner most important to you. As you venture back out to shop your local farmer’s market this season remember, knowing how is just as important as knowing where.
I may be rebellious. I may despise conformity. But I am also, in some things, a creature of habit. During the holidays, for instance, I adore tradition. Until just last year I eschewed the idea of any deviation from what I considered a traditional holiday feast. Especially when the feast was to be had on Thanksgiving.
Turkey, mashed potatoes — in my defense I had deferred many years earlier to the advent of smashed potatoes as a time-saving substitute on this count — green beans, corn, biscuits, gravy, squash, cranberry relish, stuffing. It’s unclear whether or not (most likely not!) those who celebrated the real first Thanksgiving would have considered even a portion of my meal traditional, but my opinions have always stood nonetheless.
In The Dairy State of Wisconsin legislators are being urged to allow the sale of “raw” (unpasteurized) milk to consumers and their decision is expected to set national precedence. The battle, ultimately, centers on public health. Proponents tout the health benefits of the product. Meanwhile the opposition fears the potential compromise of public health should the measure pass and outbreaks of milk-borne illness become more common. But beyond the politics and debate lies a bigger, more immediate question; how does one buy raw milk now?
The answer may be simpler than you think.
Decide What Kind of Milk You’d Like
While cow’s milk is traditional, the black and white spotted dairy producers of our childhood (and countless big dairy commercials) are not the only producers of delicious milk and milk products. Raw goat’s milk is just as good — and in the opinion of some, even better.
Locate a Supplier (or three)
Raw milk is available for purchase for human consumption in 28 of the United State’s 50 states. (It’s available in a handful more when intended for animal consumption.) Unfortunately, finding it — even within those states — can sometimes prove difficult. A great place to start the search however, is with The Campaign for Real Milk’s database dedicated to help consumers find raw milk in their area. And even if you’re not in a state where raw milk itself is available, dairy shares — where you purchase a share of a cow or goat and receive a portion of its milk in return for your investment — are.
Do Your Homework
Whether we like it or not modern, conventional farming calls for mass production to meet demand. Streamlining technologies and processes that make that production possible unfortunately also make it more and more possible every day for a cow (or goat) to be a number rather than an animal. All the while requiring the help of numerous farm hands who have little interest in the end product. Both of these make the potential for contamination of milk greater. Get to know the suppliers whose products are available in your area. Ask about their herd, their help and their processes. A familiarity with the animals, a close oversight of production by the owner and processes and materials that are easy to keep clean and sanitary (look for glass and stainless steel) all reduce the potential for milk-borne illness.
Do you drink Raw Milk? Where do you buy it?
The first column I wrote for Try Handmade, almost a year ago now, was about berries — the love of them, to be exact. And so, it seems fitting that they’re making news in this month’s column once again. Just last week I received an email from one of our favorite u-pick farms, the strawberries here are finally ripe; the blueberries will follow suit soon. We’re a good few weeks behind those in the warmer, southern climates but when it comes to the scrumptiousness that is fresh berries we’ll take them when we can get them. And this year, when we can get them is just in time to restock our jams and jellies. Many of those we’ll make ourselves, from the fresh berries we source locally, but others we’ll buy and the Strawberry Balsamic variety from Sun Chowder Jams on Foodzie is looking promising so far.
Of course, besides the berries that I’m so happy to finally see again this year many of my other summer favorites are starting to ripen too, if not here in warmer locales. The tomato season is upon many families in the southern United States with some of the best slicing tomatoes they’ll taste all year now gracing farmer’s market stands. Don’t forget to pick up a few jars of stewed, diced or whole canned from your favorite producers as well — or grab an extra bushel and do the canning work yourself — this winter when What’s In Season Now columns are just a fond memory and scarce little is growing the taste of summer like that in home-preserved tomatoes will be a welcome addition to any meal.
Other foods to keep your eyes peeled for this month include green beans, peas, beets, summer squash, peaches, cherries, herbs such as mint — of all varieties, but a favorite here is chocolate — parsley, thyme, lavender, cilantro and some of the year’s last fresh asparagus. And remember, tomatoes aren’t the only summer bounty that can be preserved. Pick up enough to keep over for winter now or ask around the market to find out which producers you can expect to have preserves available as the year wears on.
Don’t forget to check out the April and May editions of What’s In Season Now, as well. Depending on your locale many of the suggestions made in both those columns will still apply. And if you’re new to the Farmer’s Market, last year’s how-to guide, How To Shop a Farmer’s Market, is perfect for getting you started.
Until next time, happy local shopping, happy local eating!