The 12-ish Gifts of 2020: Farmers Markets

So this is the post I planned to post today…

If my faith community has supported my spiritual/emotional health, my local farmers market has helped me maintain my physical health. I am so grateful to the farmers and vendors and organizers of our market, the Cary Downtown Farmers Market.

I took this picture this morning on a gray, foggy Saturday morning. Traffic was sparse, since I’m sure many people have refrigerators packed with holiday meal leftovers. Still, the farmers were there with their fresh, healthy, and delicious goods.

Farmers Markets generally are the place to find food that is the healthiest both for our bodies and for our earth. Most of the farmers in our market are “organic-ish,” meaning that they follow organic practices but can’t afford to follow all the USDA regulations (which were designed for large-scale operations) to officially label their products as organic. Many raise the heirloom varieties of vegetables that are better adapted to our local environment. Most of the produce has been picked in the past few days, so they are packed with vitamins that tend to degrade after being picked. Their eggs come from free-range, pasture-raised chickens that fend for themselves, but may be supplemented with organic feed or scraps. Their pigs and cows live humane lives in fields and are slaughtered quickly and humanely in small numbers. All of those things contribute to the healthiness of the food.

At our market, the rule is that farms must be located within 50 miles of the market itself. So that means the food travels a minimal distance from producer to consumer. It isn’t packed in disposal shipping containers, nor is it wrapped in plastic. Most of us regulars bring our own baskets and bags and simply transfer the food to our own containers. If we buy things in containers, such as plastic pint boxes or egg cartons, we return them to the farmer the next week. This minimizes the energy used in transporting food and the waste of packaging, both of which reduce the negative impact on the environment.

But the farmers markets are even more important during COVID. Farmers markets have the smallest possible food chain. The only person handling the food before you get it is the farmer or family/staff. It is held outdoors with required social distancing (ropes mark off 6 feet spaces for waiting in lines) and mandatory mask use. There is hand sanitizer EVERYWHERE. It is the safest way to shop for food that I know.

The other great thing about farmers markets in the age of coronavirus relates to my former post–namely, community. My weekly visit to the Cary Farmers Market is my biggest social event of the week during these shelter-at-home days. I see my friends and neighbors and we catch up on things as we stand 6 feet away from each other wearing our masks. We share news or ideas about how to use any new products that show up (I had written in earlier posts that I had never cooked baby kale or mustard greens before, but made dishes based on farmers market people’s suggestions). We have a restricted crowd capacity, but since our market is relatively small, I’ve never known them to have asked customers to wait (although we would, I’m sure, if necessary). And it’s a family-friendly place where dogs and children and strollers and such are all welcome.

For those of us who are regulars, it is kind of like our version of the Cheers bar (except less dysfunctional). And really, especially during these times, don’t we all want to go someplace where everybody knows your name?

So thanks to Parker Farms (farmer Jason is shown with his son Isaac in the photo above), who has been the source of most of my pork and produce this year, and Queen B Farms, who provides me with chicken and the chocolate milk I’ve turned into yogurt or the regular milk I’ve turned into ricotta cheese (whose son that helped out since his middle school years we’ve watched grow up and just finished his first semester studying agriculture at a midwestern university). Thanks to Meadowhawk Farm, who introduced me to baby kale and mustard greens. Thanks to Western Dragon Tea, whose products my tea-obsessed son loves enough to drag himself out of bed at 8:30 on a Saturday morning in order to buy some new blend for himself or his friends. We are just doing the minimal Winter Market now, so there are many more vendors who have provided so many fresh local fruits, vegetables, honey, baked goods, cheeses, coffee, and other products this year that I don’t have pictures for (I took these all this morning). But I’m grateful to them all.

Because one thing I know is that you are what you eat. So one of our family’s biggest defenses against coronavirus in 2020 was eating healthy food that is good for us, and the Cary Farmers Market is our #1 location for that. We’ll be doing the same in 2021, of course…even after the big threat of COVID is over.


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