In the kit that I pack for my farm market cooking demos I have a black plastic spoon. It is the only piece that is left from a set I was given by my friend Sean Holland about 15 years ago. It came with a metal canister, which, to my 30-year-old, freshly out of grad school, living on a budget of naught point nothing budget looked pretty slick. He gave it to me saying, “everything we own is an opportunity to choose good design, to choose something meaningful, to choose better.”
He told me, young, impressionable, on the verge of manhood, me that every moment of our day, from the soap we use in the shower, the clothes we wear, the music we listen to, is an opportunity to elevate our lives, even if just in small ways. It is a lesson that stuck.
This past Saturday I drove up the road to Baltimore to the 32nd Street Farmers Market. It was a crisp fall morning, everyone a little more bundled up than they had expected to be from the warm days proceeding it. The farmers and vendors were finishing their set ups, grabbing locally roasted coffee from Zeke’s, and warm bagel sandwiches from the women frying bacon and eggs in the tent next to me as I set up.
The food was beautiful. Fresh, lush fall greens, the colors deepened from cooler nights. Crisp, pure white heads of cauliflower not yet fading to beige from their longer travel to get to the grocery store shelf. I grabbed grass-fed beef and pastured eggs from Lauren at Liberty Delight for the beef and broccoli stir-fry and beef and pumpkin soup I was preparing that day. I stopped and said “Hi” to the folks at Black Rock Orchard, grabbing GoldRush, Stayman and Crimson Crisp apples for a batch of warm homemade applesauce and Billy, set up directly across from my tent, loaded me up with a Fairy Tale pumpkin, throwing in a personal-sized Honeynut squash to enjoy at home later.
People were happy. They greeted each other by name, with smiles. They joined me at my tent as I cooked for two hours with the fresh ingredients I grabbed at the market that morning. There was no urgency. The market itself, while filling refrigerators for the week, was also a place for connection, for leisure and to see food for what it truly can be, farm-fresh, grown and sold by people, to people. In Sean’s words, it can be better.
Speaking of better: I had the pleasure in Baltimore of working with both the Maryland Farmer’s Market Association and Future Harvest – the Chesapeake Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture. They have a program promoting grass-fed and pastured meat and eggs. When asked to do this demo it was an easy “yes” for the health and environmental benefits of these products. It is just one more choice – while eating, living and sharing better – to do better.
Please note that farmers have a lot of choices to make in the methods they use to grow and produce the food they share with us. Those choices are complex and muti-layered depending on the land, crops, environment, economic needs and markets they are selling into. There are a lot of reasons to like grass-fed, just as there are many reasons to like organic. At the end of the day, the thing that I like best are the farmers who I look in the eye each week and whose food is not only on my table but the tables of their customers, their friends and ultimately their family’s. That is a better way to shop and that is something I can trust.
I prepared four farm-fresh dishes at the 32nd street market. Click on the recipe for details: