Introduced: June 21 2012
A Fresh Look at Farmers Markets
Samantha Wallace is one of those fortunate people whose work is aligned with her passion – and her path toward that role started long before she co-founded the magazine, Edible Upcountry, two years ago.
“It began because I’m a passionate home cook,” Samantha explained. “It’s essential to who I am and to my bond with my husband. We’re the kind of couple when we loll around reading together, it’s likely to be cookbooks we’re reading."
Samantha feels that loving to cook the way she does – and valuing the experience of planning, cooking and then sharing a meal in her own home with people close to her – led her naturally to switching to local, organically grown food for her family.
“The other influence was my interest in sustainability issues and how much fuel is consumed in the ordinary grocery system,” she said.
Most people may be surprised to learn that the typical item in a grocery store travels 3,000 to 6,000 miles before it lands on the shelf to be plucked into your cart. What’s even more important to know is that, in the case of something like a tomato, the tomato is picked bright green and then ripened chemically. Much of a vegetable or fruit’s nutrition is lost along the way.
Samantha says she was “an amateur” studying these kinds of concerns at about the same time she was considering a career change. Since graduating from Northwestern University and earning an MBA at University of Texas, she’d worked as both a business consultant and a yoga instructor. She and her husband have 10-year old twin boys and live in South Carolina, in the heart of a region known as “upcountry. “
Samantha thinks that for people who want to eat more locally, summer’s farmers markets are a “no brainer.” In addition to the better tasting, more nutritious food options, farmer’s markets offer other real benefits.
“For one thing, you’re helping someone to earn a decent living, and if those people are from your own community or nearby, they, in turn, are going to spend what they earn right there, too,” she said.
Another advantage Sam pointed out is that “proximity breeds transparency.”
“When you regularly visit a farmer’s market, you begin to develop a relationship with the producer, you can ask questions – there’s a sense of honesty and accountability there.”
She cautions that occasionally people who sell at farmers markets don’t actually grow the food, but pick it up at a wholesaler and re-sell it at the market. The sponsors of the market can limit that by designating it a “producer-only” market.
“When I started plugging into the local food system, I began meeting some incredible people,” she said. “Eating locally isn’t as easy as eating the other way – it takes some learning and a decision to live with certain principles. Once you start to move in that direction, a shift takes place – and it can lead to more authentic, thoughtful living. Meeting these people has definitely enriched my life.”
Eating locally also leads to eating seasonally, so it means giving up foods for the parts of the year when they’d have to be “trucked in” from far away. To use the tomato example again, Sam says she doesn’t expect to eat fresh tomatoes except from about July to September.
“But there’s some beauty to eating seasonally,” she said. "There’s a sense of anticipation and you avoid this sort of generic, always available, always the same type of food way of eating. I try to approach it by treasuring something that is present and precious and at its peak.”
When asked what resources someone might use to learn more about this type of eating, Sam suggested two books by Michael Pollan: The Omnivore’s Dilemma http://michaelpollan.com/books/the-omnivores-dilemma/ (which Sam says is just an overall wonderful book) and Food Rules, http://michaelpollan.com/books/, which she describes as more like “marching orders.”
I admitted to Sam that talking to her made me regret every box of macaroni and cheese I’d ever served my children. She laughed and admitted there’s a package of Cheez-its in her cupboard.
She continued that the same Michael Pollan who wrote the books she recommended previously has cautioned against something he calls “American’s unhealthy obsession with healthy eating.”
Samantha agrees: “Eating healthier is not meant to take away the pleasure of the ritual of eating together – it’s just meant to enhance it.”
Sam writes a column for her magazine http://www.ediblecommunities.com/upcountry/
and here are some links that go directly to her columns. Some of the content has a local focus, but her observations are universal.