I can feel the warmth of my soul deepen as soon as I click on my turn signal ; the cool breeze blowing through the trees, the loud buzz of hundreds of conversations happening, the smell of dirt with a hint of sweetness, and my smile as it stretches the skin of my cheeks.
I almost always have my windows down so I can take in a deep breath of fresh air before getting out of my car. Taking wide steps toward the white tents full of ripe produce covered in just a lit bit of sandy grit, I am eager to grasp the information that I will learn from one of the farmers or maybe a freshly-picked, fuzzy, pink peach.
Michigan thrives by celebrating its four distinct seasons with unique events that can only happen during that time of year like donning our brightly colored, puffed ski jackets to shred freshly laid powder in the winter, cinnamon-sugared doughnut filled cider mills and u-pick apple orchards in the autumn leaves of fall, but in the summer, it is our local community farm markets.
The Northville market on Thursdays in the downtown parking lot of my community is an event I refuse to miss; because of the closeness to my house (I can bike there!) and the market includes native flowers and plants for my garden and back patio oasis, creamy, savory cheese from one of the best cheesemongers in the midwest, The Cheese People, and locally-grown produce from the "double Dukes," Fusilier Family Farms, and newcomers, Lake Divide Farm.
I used to be oddly intimidated by farmer's markets; I'd wander by the booths afraid to to get too close as I may offend someone if I didn't buy something or be confused about their offering and how I would prepare it that week. I would ponder on questions like "is this a good price?" or "is this considered safe, local, or organic?" or "should I even care about all of that?"
I stumbled upon a Michigan blogger, The Fresh Exchange and with her influence, I have been taking bigger steps into seasonal, local eating as I learn more about its value to my community and my family. Making the choice to be a vegetarian at the beginning of 2018 took me down a large, but rather bright, rabbit hole because I knew I wanted to eat fresh tasting produce that was both environmentally conscious and clean from chemicals that could harm my body or in reality, were unnecessary to consume.
To me, farm markets had a reputation of being overly costly or only worth a visit if I was planning a special meal for friends or family. If you know me at all, you are most likely aware that I take our family spending very seriously. My shiny post-grad job in advertising paired with a salary that felt like a million dollars to a young twenty-something quickly lead to a shopping addiction and a "keeping up with the 'gram" mentality. After discovering Financial Peace University, I made the commitment to "live like no one else so later on I could live and give like no one else." So, I had settled on the decision that farm markets were for strolling through on Saturdays with my husband or picking up an afternoon treat, but certainly not for my weekly shopping.
My hasty belief in stereotypes and selfish insecurity to learn more was squashed when I stumbled on a "4 baskets for $12" sign from a local farm in the 'ville that hung over wooden crates of cherry tomatoes, baskets overflowing with cucumbers, and stockpiles of corn still nestled comfortably in their husks. "Twelve dollars? That's all they're asking for all of that?" I thought and ducked my head into their tent to see if I was able to find a deal. Echoing off the vinyl was a loud "hey there!" from a man with dusty boots and a white, wide-brimmed cowboy hat and I immediately realized that my dispositions about this market were wrong.
However, my purpose at the market isn't to save change on summer squash, but to sow seeds in my neighborhood that reap a robust connection to humanity. I am slowly reaching out my hand and offering my name, so that I can get to know the farmers as people. I am beginning to ask questions like where they live, what foods they treasure or look forward to, and how they got into farming. They are an absolute wealth of knowledge that can pour heavily into your hungry soul! I am quickly turning into the woman who will chat with a vendor for hours soaking up the recipes they create, how they care for their produce, and recently, how I can grow and preserve my own foods. We are surrounded by amazing people who desire community and conversation as much as we do; the market is one of the best places to cultivate it.
As a new admirer at the market, I am still using fresh eyes to explore new booths each week or slowly discerning how many pounds of zestor apples is reasonable to take home. After purchasing two recipe books on canning, I have unearthed new potential at the market as I learn about bulk cooking and preserving my food for later seasons - especially when winter is coming to Michigan very soon.
While there is so much to discover, I have created a routine list that I bring with me to ensure I grab a few staples. Some of these viands include:
tomatoes (cherry, heirloom, ground cherries, and even seconds to make into a tomato sauce)
summer squash or zucchini
microgreens or shoots
seasonal fruit like strawberries in the July then peaches in August then plums or apples in September
flowers, plants, or new vegetable plants for my garden
at least one new food I haven't tried before. Some of my experiments from this summer were kohlrabi, shishito peppers, and doughnut peaches. All were a success!
This list is no where conclusive as I am always throwing in seasonal favorites that expeditiously grace us with their presence. One of these elusive vegetables are garlic scapes that grow wild in Michigan, but they are only available in the early summer and then they disappear until next year! You can bet I was grabbing a bunch of these each week and at every stand I could find them.
Getting to taste the native fruits and vegetables that Michigan offers is a highlight of my weekly adventure. As I stumble upon something new, I can feel the wrinkles my forehead change from skeptical to inquisitive; I find myself asking the farmer if this plum creamy and subtle or ripe with juice? Then I can't help but taking it a step further and finding out how they prepare them, or even which variety is best for how I want to eat them. I have had a few big wins this summer with help from the farmers like making and canning my own tomato sauce, preparing kohlrabi slaw with a fresh herb vinaigrette, and blending a garlic scape pesto!
Will you join me this weekend in giving something new a try? A few sweet friends will compliment my ability to cook and conclude my success to some inherent skill, but let me be the first to tell you that is totally false. I practiced reading recipes and because of that, I have learned new techniques to make meals quicker or taste better.
But I'd like to let you in on a little secret: I've also failed a ton. I put too much onion in my chutney and it was pungent. I bought a tray of second tomatoes and let them mold over in my basement. I totally botched a batch of pesto after using some parmesan that had hardened too much. Mistakes do happen in the kitchen, but I am learning to embrace them. I hope that you do too.
Will you to head to your market before fall totally takes over and the harvest dwindles? I still have acorn and butternut squash to pick up and a bushel of fresh-out-of-the-ground potatoes to store away!
What is offered at your market? Do you have a favorite recipe you've learned from a farmer? I bet you have things I do not have! Let's share. and eat.