Ok, so only true food geeks like me and my mom would be excited for weeks in advance about going to a farmers market. But, since we are, we were anxiously awaiting my trip to Iowa so we could hit the infamous DesMoines farmers market. After three days of sitting in my work-related seminar (three days with an ex-IRS agent and more code section than you can shake a tax return at) I was ready to camp out waiting for the big event. I’m such a freak.
Anyway, last Saturday my mom and I dragged my step dad, my brother and his wife (also very interested in the market but probably wondering who these freaks are that she’s related to) to the market bright and early. It was HUGE. I’m telling you, the place was like a fair. There were food vendors, musicians, a guy in a Jesus shirt preaching the gospel, dogs and babies…and oh yeah…farmers!
I saw fruits, vegetables, plants, wines, cheeses, breads and pastries, mushrooms, pasta, rocks with oil lamps in them, wood working goods, bags made from recycled materials, sewn goods…I can go on but I’ll spare you. HOWEVER…I quickly noted as I asked questions that not all these folks are coming off the farm with their wares. Some of it’s not even local.
Exhibit A: A woman had fresh ginger root for sale. I had a feeling that ginger does not grow in Iowa. So my mom asked her where it comes from. “I order it from a company in Chicago. I don’t know where it comes from before that. But I’ve never had any problems with it!” Hmmmm. Exhibit B: A tent with a wide variety of interesting pastas was busy doing business. So I asked the girl behind the boxes of linguini if she made it. Not only did she not make it, but it was shipped in from Denver. Exhibit C: A food vendor with catfish caught my eye. (Love me some catfish.) After talking with her, I learned that her fried catfish is ordered frozen…and pre-breaded. No thanks.
While that was a bit of a disappointment, the real local goods were fantastic! I had no idea kohlrabi grew so prevalently in Iowa. The tomatoes and peppers looked amazing. I met a guy who grew these different colored oyster mushrooms – I so wished I was staying longer so I could have tried some of those!
In an environment like that, I was bound to find some kindred spirits. I chatted up a guy with a small table who was with a group called County of Marshall Investing in Diversified Agriculture (COMIDA). As far as I can tell this small organization is working to support and grow a local food culture in their county. He told me that Iowa imports 95% of its food. All that farmland, all those farms…and everyone is eating from somewhere else. That made me very sad. But with groups like that settling in maybe that’s a trend that can be turned around!
I also picked up a flyer for Buy Local, Buy Fresh which listed all kinds of farmers markets in the state, farms and grocers where local food is available and a little pledge in the corner to spend 5% of weekly food dollars with their partners. There are chapters for this organization in a number of states across the country. I haven’t investigated this group in depth but it appears that they are doing a good job promoting local food systems.
I went to my local farmer’s market today before picking up my meat CSA delivery for this month then sprinting off to the chiropractor. Sure, it doesn’t have the bells and whistles of the DM farmers market. No jazz musicians or people making fresh sesame balls before your very eyes. But it’s mine, and the connection to the local farmers is something that I’ll always treasure! (Sure wish there was someone there with mushrooms, though…that was awesome.)