Monday, March 17, 2008

sustainable living: the new farmer's market

(picture c/o The Farmer's Exchange)

This post begins a new series here at the Ranch documenting our journey on the road to a more environmentally friendly home life. At least, it will assuming I have the patience to maintain a series of blog posts. We'll see. As many of you already know, Sap and I have been making a point to try out new ways to cultivate a way of living that is less damaging to the environment, healthier, and generally more economical. We became particularly interested in sustainable living starting in 2004 when we bought a house, moved in together, and in the course of some very early home projects found that the more environmentally friendly alternatives were also better on the bottom line over the long term, and not just in some "we all benefit from better air" kind of way, but real, quantifiable savings.

We have also been re-examining the food that we eat. I'll intermittently discuss the utter brokenness of our current industrial agriculture system throughout this series, though if you're interested in it, then I cannot recommend highly enough Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma, which I've talked about before. Go to the library and check it out; it will change your life in tangible ways. Suffice it to say that ever since Pollan's book touched our lives we've been working to replace as much of our food as we can with locally and sustainably grown alternatives.

This endeavor led us last weekend to the American Countryside Farmer's Market in Elkhart. Farmer's markets are often an economical way to get organic and local foods, which are often much more expensive than grocery store slop. The real benefit of locally grown food, however, lies not in cost, but in quality. We ate at the market (it has a number of restaurant-style booths), and the food was great. I had an Italian meats sandwich on fresh ciabatta bread, while Sap had fresh-made strawberry sorbetto, and then a veggie quiche and a lemon-poppyseed muffin (she also got Diet Dr. Pepper from the fountain, making the market the one location we've found outside of Texas that offers it).

We scored some great finds to take home as well, particularly of the meat/dairy variety. Many of the booths are run by the Amish, who offered fresh-made butter (by the ton) and cheese chemical- and hormone-free. The provolone wasn't even much more than the store bought stuff. I also found a buffalo steak (!) for $3; don't worry, I'll let you know how it is when I make it. And, amazed as I was to see it, I finally found something for which I've been searching for a long time: true, honest to God pastured beef, chicken, and pork. Sap also found local, homemade strawberry-rhubarb jam.

Not all of the food was cheap; in fact, most of it was more expensive than what you'd find in a grocery store. Locally grown foods like what you get at the farmer's market are worth the cost, though, because they're better in 3 ways: 1. they're better for you, 2. they're better for the planet, and 3. they're better on the taste buds. I'm just going to lay this out there in no uncertain terms: if you don't patronize a farmer's market or cultivate your own garden, you don't really know what a tomato tastes like. You just don't.

There's a certain hodgepodge quality to the market, a high tolerance for odd juxtapositions. You'll see an Amish dairy by an Italian deli and an ice creamery next to a doggy biscuit bakery (yes, "Providence" fans, it really is called the Barkery, and yes, the woman at the counter does look a little bit like the sister in the show). The quiche place, run by two young Amish girls, is next to a buffalo burger joint, which sits by a Mexican food joint, which I believe was next door to a roast chicken vendor (they were selling whole chickens for $5.50). And this is just the food floor; the second floor has an alpaca clothing booth, a wood furniture store, a family photographer, a coin collector, and an African clothier, among other things. Of course, I guess this is what one should expect from a place frequented by Amish farmers and craftsmen, urban liberals, arts and crafts types, and families with little kids looking for fresh ice cream.

And yes, there is a shop run by a Yoder.

For you Michiana readers, I have to say that as much as I like the South Bend farmer's market, American Countryside is just vastly superior. The downside is that it's a fairly significant trek (about 10-15 minutes down the bypass from 31), but let me tell you, it's worth it.

We've decided that we're going to try to go to the market every Saturday.


grimsaburger said...

A question about the butter: does it taste like real butter, by which I mean does it taste like Irish butter? If that's the case, I may be buying it by the ton. And until then, I will be silently weeping in memory of those months I was lucky enough to have the real stuff.

TioChuy said...

I am thinking about growing some of my own veggies this year. I remember when I was a kid and lived out at my great-grandparents place for the summer how good the food was. As far as working on the house it'll have to wait till the son comes along and I figure out my budget.

el ranchero said...

Grims-- I didn't taste the butter so I don't know, but I bet they'd let you try a bit. My guess is it's pretty close.

Chuy-- I think that's a good idea. There's nothing like fresh tomatoes and peppers to add to your meals. We've found, too, that there's little need to add any chemical fertilizers/pesticides to a small home garden. You lose a couple of tomatoes to the bugs, but not many.

TioChuy said...

There are ways to rid yourself of some pests that are "eco-friendly" as well. Here are some ideas. If you dig around on the webs you can find more. Some may not work as well. White vinegar you can pick up at your local gardening store.

Jen said...

Okay this is too funny, I'm working on my veggie garden right fact I just renamed my blog to In the garden! (To be honest, it's not formatted exactly as I'd like, but I'm tired of messing with it tonight.)

I also wanted to mention that you're lucky to be near a cool farmer's market. Did you ever try to go to one here? Slim pickins.