Thursday, October 12, 2023
Good news! Today is National Farmers Day, which is so perfect because it’s a gorgeous fall harvest day, I have a trip scheduled to the Farmers Market on Saturday, and my camera is absolutely overflowing with delicious photos of delicious things.
See, my spider really WAS good luck.
This is also a topic dear to my heart, not only because farmers feed me delicious things (I predict much use of the word delicious in this rambling) but because I have very strong opinions about food. Shocking, I know.
If there is one thing that I adore and can’t live without it is the Farmers Market.
My year is divided not by month or even season but by what is ready to show up on my plate.
This time of year is naturally all about gourds, squash and pumpkins. There is also the late summer tomato boon and zucchini bonanza, so I’m not complaining. Farm fresh tomatoes will smack down grocery store schlonk any day of the week.
I never NEED all the tomatoes I buy. I just can’t help myself. There are big purple ones and tiny yellow ones, fat green ones and knobbly looking multi-colored ones. They taste different, too. Some are tart and make good slicing tomatoes for sandwiches. Some are sweet and go nicely in a salad. And some you can pop like candy, they are just that good.
I always start out picking one or two, but inevitably there is another that looks just as interesting and I’m never sure if I got enough orange ones so I grab a few more until suddenly my arms are piled with tomatoes and my bank account is diminished by about $42.
I eat a lot of tomatoes.
Of course, this isn’t the tomato blog or even the Farmers Market blog so I will try to contain myself.
All of these lovely gifts of nature exist thanks to the farmers who grow them. And it is no small feat to grow things, I can tell you that from experience. I can’t even get a basil plant to last more than a few weeks, and I even manage to kill mint, which is practically an impossibility. Yet farmers battle weather, pests, animals and the whims of Mother Nature to bring all that to your table.
This would be an opportune moment to make the distinction between actual farmers, like the ones who have tomatoes and cattle and corn and pigs here in Tennessee and our sister states like Kentucky and Alabama, and the people who get called farmers on industrial farms that do nothing but grow tens of thousands of acres of monoculture crops.
Technically those are farms. But they are not the same. Their job is to produce the maximum quantity of food at the lowest cost. And they are so detached from the earth and our lives that they are about as interesting as that paper-bag-tasting cantaloupe you just got at Shoprite.
I won’t even get into the factory farms where animals are raised. That is too horrific for this blog, which is a celebration of the families who dedicate their lives to feeding their neighbors.
Farming is truly a family business. Sometimes the kids will be at the market ringing up orders. Sometimes weighing fruit, sometimes pulling bacon out of coolers.
There is an Amish family who show up every week with a whole brood. The kids hang out and play while the parents sell eggs and raw milk. Their milk is fantastic, but since it is unpasteurized it has to be labeled “not for human consumption.” It is probably the healthiest milk you will ever drink but… laws.
Being a farmer is also a calling. One farm that I buy from most often is based in Kentucky, and they trek themselves 75-ish miles here every Saturday, 52 weeks of the year, rain, shine, snow, ice, whatever. There is always a line a mile long in front of their booth and occasionally someone new will walk by and ask why. Then everyone on the line has to roll their eyes and scoff because everyone knows they have the best eggs ever, and their sausage is really to die for.
Sometimes they are late, if the weather is particularly bad. Then there is a line a mile long waiting at an empty space, and everyone will just stand there indefinitely until the farmers show up with their giant freezer trailer.
Recently the parents of this farm built their son a big new dairy barn. He had been milking cows for 14 years in a 10×10 space with no heating, no cooling, and no platform for the cows, which meant he spent hours hunched over milking. The new barn was a work of modern engineering.
They were one day away from their insurance inspector coming to look at the building so it could be properly insured and opened when it burned to the ground during one of those hot dry spells.
No barn. No insurance. It broke my heart. But they keep going, somehow. I’d have thrown myself in bed long before that and used up at least 900,000 words to condemn it all.
There’s another farm I frequent that sends out some of the best email newsletters I’ve ever read, which is unusual. Farmers are good at farming, bless their green bean growing souls, and that takes quite a lot of focus and muscle and brainpower. So when it comes to communication, even the “hi howdy” kind when you greet them at their booths, they aren’t always shining examples of engaging humanity. Some are better than others. “Awkward” comes to mind quite often.
But this one particular farm sends emails every week and it is literally the only email newsletter that I read top to bottom every time.
They always have recipes and cooking tips, because you can’t cook farm meat the same way you cook supermarket meat. It takes a minute to get used to it but I promise you won’t want anything else again.
And they always have a story, which is my favorite part. Sometimes they tell about a persistent chicken who wants to be fed on the front porch and not in the field. Said chicken will stalk the farmer and stand on the windowsill and get loud until he gets attention.
Occasionally a chicken will become a lap pet, at which point nobody can eat him and they just end up with one more pet. Apparently they have quite a few.
Sometimes it’s a story about a baby goat that is lame or otherwise not up to producing whatever they need it to produce, so it, too, becomes a pet and commands lap time and bottle feeding.
Once, they told a story about a stubborn bull that would not bow to anyone’s wishes. It was huge and lumbering and had no use for fences. The farmer would put up all manner of fencing but no matter what it was made of, this bull just plowed through it.
One day they got a phone call from a nearby church asking if they’d lost a bull. Sure enough, they looked in the yard and this bull was gone.
The church was over two miles away.
Being a farmer isn’t always hilarity, though. Sometimes entire strawberry crops get flooded out. Once, when a farm was having a truck full of eggs delivered so they could hatch them for chickens, the truck was in an accident and every last egg was destroyed.
It’s stuff like that that makes you very aware of our precarious relationship with life and how grateful we should be for the people who sustain us.
So on this Farmer’s Day, I’m taking a moment to appreciate the piles of spinach and the buckets of butter. The hand-rolled cinnamon buns and the freshly fried donuts. The watermelons and sweet potatoes, the tomato pies and goat cheese. The ginger root on stalks as tall as I am and of course the giant buckets of strawberries.
And the people who work through fire and flood and ice and rain and drought and truck accidents to get all these nourishing and delicious things to my table. They have my gratitude, appreciation, and full approval to keep feeding me.
Photo: mushroom deliciousness.