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Wednesday, 07 August 2013 00:00

Mountain momma

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Living within walking distance of the farmers market has lots of perks. For starters, it’s a great excuse when asked, with a tinge of poorly disguised incredulity, “You don’t even grow a few vegetables, not even a couple of tomato plants?”

 

Instead of admitting I can’t even find time to water my hanging baskets twice a week, which by this point in the summer are hanging baskets of dried-up brown stems, I go with something more like: “Well, we live REALLY close to the farmers market, and my kids love going down there and buying stuff from all the farmers. It’s kind of a Saturday morning family thing.”

Indeed, the farmers market has helped my kids appreciate fresh veggies. In their eyes, the rows of farmer stalls are one great big, giant buffet. They eat tomatoes like most people eat apples — just taking a big ole bite out of them, juice squirting out sideways and running down their elbows. They’ll chomp on raw green beans like they’re carrot sticks. 

Let your kids help pick out your buys. It’s a far more interactive food experience to dig through a basket of zucchini still smudged with dirt and hand over money to the farmer who actually grew it.

Ironically, living within walking distance to the farmers market doesn’t mean we actually walk — at least not at this time of year. I simply buy too much stuff to get it back home on foot. 

I’ve tried ousting my kids from their strollers to make way for my market bounty. But then we just end up carrying the kids and pushing the bags, so it’s a wash.

We tried biking, reasoning the produce could share the roomy pull-behind bike trailer. But once my toddler was nestled in with a dozen ears of corn, a frozen beef roast, a couple pounds of sausage, five pounds of tomatoes, fingerling potatoes, and green beans, it was unpleasantly heavy to haul.

I actually spend more money at the farmers market than the grocery store this time of year. Why not? You can buy all your veggies, of course, plus homemade bread, eggs, a huge array of locally raised meat, cheese, sauces, on and on and on. If I play my cards right, farmers market finds will make appearances in the menu all week, right down to blackberry cobbler for dessert.

I begin dreaming of farmers market meals as soon as the weather gets warm, but it’s not until about this time of year that they really hit full stride — a rare silver lining to the otherwise gloomy reality that summer is almost over. 

It’s a race to see which farmer can bring corn to market first. The first ears of the season are a novelty at best, more of a suggestion of corn, the cob no bigger than a popsicle. But they’ll go fast alright, because despite the tiny kernels they’re still sweet and succulent, and will all be snatched up within the first hour the market opens.

Farmers market regulars know to be there early if they want those coveted items. With my heart set on pesto pasta salad last weekend, but arriving far too late to ensure success, I made a frantic beeline through the market in a now infamous mad basil dash, stopping at stall after stall. “Got basil? Got basil?” I asked until I finally procured the last two bunches of the day  — one bunch each from two different farmers who were down to the bottom of their basil buckets.

When we travel, I love to search out the local farmers markets. In some cities, these are enormous affairs, comprising an entire block. I like the intimate feel of small town farmers markets in the mountains. They are festive, happy places. Check out the farmers market section in the calendar at the back of the paper for every farmers market in our coverage area.

The Jackson County Farmers Market in Sylva is particularly great for kids. It often has “Family Art at the Market” and sometimes even a story time.

The Haywood Historic Farmers Market often has live music. The Waynesville Tailgate Market has a Kid’s Corner the first Saturday of the month with activities to engage kids with healthy, local food.

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