“Shake the hand that feeds you”

Today’s LA Times has a photo slideshow celebrating the farmers’ markets of the area. Hm. I was a bit puzzled as to why the first 20 photos (of 28!) pictured the prepared foods (or, as the Torrance market calls it, the “non-agricultural products”) section or local restaurant gardens. Okay, I was happy to see our “crepe man,” Thierry Boisson, featured in photo 14, but really, isn’t the farmers’ market supposed to be about the produce, about the farmer?

Every stall I see in the produce section is a riot of colors, piled high with ingredients, all of which I want to take home and make into glorious meals or just eat as is, with juice running down my chin. If many of the larger operations hire people to run their stalls and work more than 1 market on any given day, still in most of those stalls stand the farmers and families who grow these fabulous foods for me and my family. They can tell me which produce is ripest, how long it will keep, how to cook it to best effect. They’ll often throw in something extra “just to try” or “for the kids” or reduce the price because I bring my own reusable nylon bags, which weigh more than plastic on the scale. (One week I forgot one of my bags on the scale, and the next week, the farmer not only returned the bag but insisted that I fill it with English peas, as I’d paid for them last week!)

Best of all, these people have names and faces that I know. And lucky for me, they know my face, if not my name, and my children’s faces – this is particularly helpful when my 5-year-old insists on getting lost and needs to be taken to the information booth, which has happened twice already. “I was just going over to taste the strawberries, Mommy, and then I looked around and you were gone….” Maybe it would help if the tasting displays weren’t so attractive and at child level and the nice people at the information booth did not hand out lollipops, thereby creating incentive for him to get lost? Or maybe I just need to buy a leash?

In any case, the farmers’ market, which takes place right next to my house twice a week, will be what I miss the most about Torrance when we leave in June. I know, Ann Arbor has a wonderful market, but still…. Many of “my” vendors here know that we are moving, many have asked how the real estate transactions are going (both the sale and purchase are finally done!), and ask when we are leaving. Many have offered me their phone numbers and shipping information – I know I won’t find cherimoyas in Michigan, after all. In a way, these vendors are like family, and I’m more inclined to hug them than shake their hands.

We should do all we can to support our local farmers – it’s good for them, good for us, and good for the environment to buy local. If you can “shake the hand that feeds you,” as Michael Pollan writes, your life will be richer for it. And if you want to see what lies beneath the surface of that farmer’s face, check out this beautiful piece – “Peach farming: risk, worry, and obsession” – written by David Mas Masumoto. You may find that a poet and artist lurks beneath that “stoic farmer’s face.”

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