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Welcome to austinagrodolce … My family and I garden with more intention and enthusiasm than allocated budget or overall design plan. It shows. Wildlife populations don't seem to notice our lack of cohesive design, they just like the native plants here. It seems by growing local we've thrown out a welcome mat. Occasionally, we're surprised at who (and what) shows up.



Sunday, August 3, 2008

Marketable

Subscribing to a farm and having just harvested organically grown fruits herbs and vegetables delivered to your neighborhood hub to pick up and enjoy week to week may be the easiest way to guarantee you are eating fresh local foods. It is certainly not the only way.

As I reported earlier, joining a local food coop like Austin's Wheatsville Coop is one great shortcut to having a wide variety of local responsible and sustainable products available to shop from.

Wheatsville provides a list of local sources that shows their distance from the store. Aside from a couple of producers in the Yantis and Dallas, Texas area coming in at a distance of around 200 miles (and still within state limits), many more of their sources are within a 50 mile radius from the store. 

Another great shortcut is to head to a farmer's market, where the various producers not only come to one central location for your convenience, but you also often have the pleasure of meeting them face to face.Barbara Kingsolver in her book entitled Animal, Vegetable, Miracle:A Year of Food Life chronicles her family's year of eating nearly exclusively what they could produce on their farm or procure locally, from other farms, cheesemakers, butchers, or other value added enterprises in the area immediately around them.

If, like me, you aren't lucky enough to have a family farm to run this experiment on your own, then a Farmer's Market is your next best bet. You show up and the farmers show up and you have a chance to ask them face to face if something is organic, if they butchered the meat themselves, or any other important questions you might have.

This past Saturday, even though I still have some of my CSA produce on hand, I headed over to the Sunset Valley Farmer's Market, held weekly in the Toney Burger Athletic Center. The market is there year round, rain or shine, and they offer 75 percent organically sustainably grown produce.The market's produce is locally sourced, fresh and in season.

I have learned that some things simply won't survive organically in these climes and times. Corn won't make it organically even under experienced hands. Peaches either most seasons. Some food crops have been taken so far away from their sustainable sources they can no longer produce without the chemical props. Sad but true.

At the market, most vendors have their produce clearly marked as to whether or not it has been organically grown. Short a sign? I always ask. Most people are happier that you care than they are defensive about being asked.

I was there Saturday for three reasons. First and foremost, I wanted to do as Barbara Kingsolver had suggested we all ought to do from time to time - look my food producers in the face and thank them for what they are doing.

I knew David Pitre of Tecolote Farm would be there at the market Saturday and I wanted to say hello to him and thank him for the amazing commitment he and his family have made to helping so many other families have healthy responsibly raised food on their tables. I also was hopeful to buy more of their wonderful Chinese Yard Long beans. We'd gotten these twice in our CSA baskets and I wanted more.

I took my camera and, armed with my mental list, headed over to Sunset Valley. I'd dilly dallied past their 9:00AM starting time. I had two stops to make ahead of getting to the market, a mistake I will try to avoid in future because when I got there just prior to 10 AM the parking lot was rapidly fillingand the lines in front of most booths were already 5-6 people deep. And, something not to be taken lightly in the face of all this fresh food and meat and cheeses...it was already 90 degrees out on the asphalt.

Katie Pitre had reported in our newsletter that there were fruits and vegetables they no longer had in sufficient quantity to share among the CSA basket groups. She stated that even after the basket season ended, what they had in any quantity would be offered at the Farmer's Markets until the end of their season. She shared the list with the basket groups and encouraged us to come see them at the Market.There to see them I was, standing helplessly stuck in a seemingly immobile line as I heard person after person ahead of me brightly inquiring, "and what are these?" about the beans.

Listening to David Pitre explaining enthusiastically about Chinese beans and how to best prepare them, the woman in line behind me wondered out loud "how does he stay so happy in this heat?!".I speculated out loud that maybe he stays so happy because he likes what he does and he gets to eat organic fresh food all the time.

Lucky for me, I stayed happy too. I not only had a chance to say "hello and thank you!" to David and his crew, but I got a gorgeous batch of beans to prepare for dinner this week. Now that I have an updated recipe from Jaden's Steamy Kitchen, I can barely wait to figure out a menu that will do them justice. Also, I bought one of my husband's new favorites, a Canary melon, one of the many treats we were introduced to courtesy of Tecolote Farm this year.

My second goal dealt with tomatoes. My tomato plants are still sputtering. I finally took drastic measures this morning and significantly pruned them in a last ditch effort to promote more fruit to set. Whether or not that assures me a more steady supply of back yard tomatoes in the weeks to come, I wanted, no, I needed more tomatoes and I needed them right now.

Summer is a season I will not negotiate without fresh tomatoes. I had a package of wonderful Pederson's bacon on hand and I'd decided BLT sandwiches were on the day's lunch menu. I needed some T!Enter Morning Glory Farms. I came, I saw, I asked "organic?, they answered "Yes!".  I bought.

Last but not least, in weeks past I had looked over the many booths offering all sorts of grass fed, antibiotic and hormone free chicken, beef, lamb, goat, pork, bison and gulf harvested shrimp at Sunset Valley. I'd never hesitated buying fresh fruits and vegetables, I'd even bought wonderful eggs there, but I'd always been a bit wary of buying my meat from a guy with a freezer in an athletic center parking lot. Somewhere along the way I had gotten the crazy idea that bigger/industrial is better/safer when it comes to buying animal protein.

Now I know better. When it comes to buying meat, if I hope to have any idea of how an animal was raised, and as importantly, how it was slaughtered, then I have to do my homework, hopefully meet up with the ranchers and butchers face to face, and be willing to ask questions. So far, when buying meat, the producer with the shortest trip from their pasture to my table may be my best, if not my only, conscionable bet.

At Sunset Valley I knew I would suffer from too many choices. I'd done some scoping out and knew I needed to decide on a starting point for buying meat directly from suppliers. As an entry point, I targeted buying a small pork roast in order to make a batch of Sue Bette's smoky "Killer Party Tacos" meat in the crock pot.Thanks to the Richardson's Farms folks from Rockdale, Texas, I now have a 3.3 pound pork roast in my freezer, just waiting it's turn for the crock pot and then our dinner table. 

The Richardson's graciously answered my questions about their animals and past that, we all agreed that transparency in production is key when it comes to trying to eat responsibly. I let them know that I appreciate what they are doing and that as long as I can, I will happily pay more than supermarket prices in order to get meat from animals that are free roaming, fed naturally, and butchered as humanely as possible.  They seemed genuinely glad to hear that.

Heat and crowds aside, I had a great time at the Farmer's Market. I did make a couple of impulse buys. I managed to avoid picking up anything other than a photo of some gorgeous flowers, butI did buy a couple of additional peppers for a future batch of gazpacho, and I couldn't resist some arugula. Other than that, I pretty much stuck to my list and got in and out in under forty minutes.If I add in the dollars I spent at the Market to the dollars I spent at the Coop, I easily tripled my $10/week pledge to buy fresh and local foods. As it turns out, with a little help from the locals, it is fairly easy to eat fresh, eat organic, and put seasonal food on your table.

With the amazing variety of delicious local food available you'll have so many wonderful choices you will never regret spending a few extra pennies to avoid having to eat tasteless supermarket vegetables shipped in from thousands of miles away. I pinky swear it.

6 comments:

sue bette said...

Thanks for the recipe shout out - I am a big fan Animal, Vegetable, Miracle as well - lovely recap on your farmer's market shopping experience - it is great to hear that your local farmer's market is busy and packed!

TexasDeb said...

No thanks needed. That taco meat recipe is a real winner all around. The first time I tried it with pork stew meat which my chef son reprimanded me for since it would be so lean compared to the recommended butt roast, but it was delicious. My husband who is usually picky about leftovers had it three times with no complaints.

I will post on it separately when I use the pork roast. A delicious recipe that can yield large quantities, is easy, doesn't heat up the kitchen or the cook - genius!

Robin said...

A few months ago on a walk, my mom and I caught David out in the field checking on the irrigation system. I wanted to show my mom the beautiful rows of escarole, radicchio, fennel, leeks, etc, that I get to pass on my frequent walks. In his excitement about what he grows, he leaped from row to row bursting with enthusiasm. He plucked a leaf here and a head there for us to sample. I have not ever forgotten that experience. I feel so lucky!

He and Katie are two of the most vivacious and resourceful people I know. It's not easy growing organic veggies in Texas... and they do it with style, tenacity, and a quick smile (despite the crazy heat).

Dan said...

Nice post Deb! Love those Farmers Markets!
I'm proud to say that Wheatsville carries that terrific Richardson Farm pork, just so you know.
Dan from Wheatsville

TexasDeb said...

Thanks, Dan for mentioning that - I should have pointed out in my post that seeing the Richardson Farm Pork carried in Wheatsville was a real confidence booster for me in buying from them directly at the Market.

TexasDeb said...

Robin- you get to walk by the farm? I am a little bit jealous.

You are so right about how tough it is to grow organics in our heat with so little rain to count on year to year. If my family had been depending on what our garden produced this year we'd starve for sure.

Thanks for sharing your story - the Pitres are great!