The Farmer's Market

This is really a post Jana should be writing as she's the one at the center of the story.

For my part, I've been slow to learn about issues related to food justice, agriculture and sustainability. But through my friendships with people like Jonathan McRay and reading some Wendell Berry I've begun to take note.

A part of my slowness is that when you start talking about food you start talking about how your family shops, cooks and eats food. And when you aren't the person shopping and cooking you don't want to start throwing around your opinions. I tend to keep my radical ideas to myself, insulating my family, protecting them from myself.

Not, to reiterate, that I had any big or radical ideas on this subject. As I said, I've been pretty uninformed about all this.

But Jana recently read the book Eat With Joy and it's allowed us to talk through some of these things that many of you are experts in, in both knowledge and in lifestyle. What Jana liked about Eat With Joy was that in addition to talking about the big picture and big changes one could make the book also offered smaller, entry-level recommendations.

And one of those recommendations was going to your local Farmer's Market and having one meal a week with food grown by local farmers.

So last week Jana went to our local Farmer's Market. It was on a Tuesday so there were only eight vendors there. Saturday is the bigger day. Jana decided to visit each vendor, to talk everyone and buy something from each.

Jana, my extroverted wife, had a blast visiting, learning and making new friends. Jana always makes new friends. She's sort of amazing like that.

Jana came home with ground beef from cattle that ate grass and roamed freely on a farm. She bought squash, watermelon, cantaloupe, and tomatoes. 

She handed her cash directly to the farmers.

And then she came home and cooked us a delicious meal.

And during the meal she told the boys and I about everyone she had met and about the farms where our food had come from. The boys were impressed that Mom knew the lady who picked those tomatoes directly off the vine.

And so Creation groaned a little bit less that night around the Beck dinner table.

This is such a small thing. A tiny little baby step. One locally grown meal a week at your house. So I write this not to pat the Becks on the back as so many of you are so much further down the road on this journey than we are.

And yet, there are also many of you who are just starting out, like the Becks are, or are waiting to make the first move. I'm writing this for you. To encourage you to make a start and to say that making a start doesn't have to be overwhelming.

It's as simple as going to your local farmer's market once a week and then enjoying the food grown by your new friends.

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22 thoughts on “The Farmer's Market”

  1. A recent story for me:
    Some friends recently were discussing bananas, and how frequently slave labor (or something nearly equivalent) is involved in their production. It does seem that a lot of highly exploitative working conditions are involved in banana production, and I've known this for a while. But having them point this out has made me feel disgust at the notion of bringing bananas into my home. I realize, intellectually, that my purchasing decision alone isn't an adequate response to these sorts of issues. At the same time, concerted group activity in this area would likely have a real impact on peoples' lives. So this "irrational" disgust response (I'm not going to pollute my home with slave bananas!), drove me to buy fair trade bananas from my local coop last week. That decision, alone, probably won't do much. But sharing that decision and transferring the highly contagious disgust response to others? That might be an important component of organic collective action that is not centrally coordinated. So: maybe we should be grossed out when we think of transferring labor abuses into our homes, through our food.

  2. Dr. Beck, for a short but well articulated introduction into the "why" behind much of the new agrarianism farming stuff, I would highly recommend Ragan Sutterfield's Cultivating Reality. Being a devoted reader of your books and blog I can at least say with some modicum of confidence that you will appreciate the existential connections. If you are interested in cracking the door to this movement that goes beyond food a bit more, this a great place to start.

  3. I can appreciate this. It is one of the reasons I hunt. I enjoy harvesting an animal which will feed us for quite some time. Expending my own time and energy to brings more value to the food on my table. Now, I will have to go check out our farmers market. Thank you for the push!

  4. I love this... the thing that Jana did, meeting the people who produce the food is such a community thing... I commented a couple of weeks ago about the community supported farm that I'm able to be a part of - and the amazing thing, besides getting wonderful organic fruits and vegetables, is that I feel a real sense of community around this farm. You see the same folks week to week, basically, people are friendly and TALK to each other. During work hours (there is a small work requirement associated with being a part of the farm - something else I also love) you are out in the fields, chatting with other workers and the folks who run the farm. You get dirty, and sweaty, and it's awesome. It's been a really amazing experience, and so incredible to have a sense of community around it. I know myself that I spend so much time in front of my computer - and there are good things about that in terms of communications - but the act of being WITH people and working on something as a community- that personal connection - is really priceless.

  5. Everything is interrelated, but people tend to get particularly energized by one part of the problem. Some of my friends are very focused on animal suffering. Some of my friends are focused on the environment and the land. Per your comment, I'm very much moved by the labor issues involve.

  6. The chapter in the book that really affected Jana was the one about the meat industry. Not just the animal suffering aspect but the horrific work conditions in meat processing plants. Hunting addresses both those issues.

  7. The relational aspect of the Farmer's Market is pretty amazing. If you're looking for a place to reconnect with your city and neighbors it's a great place to start.

  8. Here's a highlight to wet your appetite (and a great connection to your own work): "The denial of shit is at the root of unreality - all illusions begin with the inability to deal with shit."

  9. While you're at it, in your planning for next steps, you might consider visiting someone who owns a cattle feedyard and get to know a bit about the human side of cattle feeding, the risks these guys take, their vulnerability to extremes in weather and commodity markets, etc. Then visit an open-lot dairy. These guys are all humans too, and they have families, and they work their @$$es off just as much as vegetable farmers, ranchers, and all the rest.

    Oops...they also feed a lot of corn, so I guess it wouldn't be on the part of "food justice" or political correctness to engage someone so deeply embedded in the C4-grass-based rape and pillage of the earth.

    [Here's a tip: per pound of beef marketed, fed cattle emit significantly less CO2e than their 100% grass-fed equivalents. Eat grass-fed beef, and enjoy it; I'm not suggesting otherwise. But let's disabuse ourselves of the "grass-fed is vastly more environmentally benign than corn-fed" myth.]


  10. That's my Jana. :) We're strongly considering starting a small garden in our back yard flower bed that's not currently producing. Without making it into a community garden ( way too small), we could share the produce ( hopeful planters indeed!) with our neighbors that we need to get to know better.....while at the same time going ahead and visiting the little farmer's market down the street on South Treadaway. Thanks for the nudge to more consciously engage the food experience.


  12. Takin' a risk here, but why wouldn't it be part of food justice to engage those folks?

    Also, you're last point is pretty contested in various research. Recently, WSU researcher Judith Capper suggests that CAFOs use less land, release less methane (which is a bigger concern than carbon with cattle), and require less water than organic grass-fed systems. Other research on agroecosystems argues differently, such as the worse water and air quality on feed lots, as well as the ability of grass-fed systems to sequester carbon in pasture rotations. Capper's research doesn't take into consideration that feeding lots, as you mention, are dependent on vast tracts of corn, so arguing that CAFOs use less land (or water and produce less carbon) can be pretty misleading. Eating lots of cows either way won't save the earth!

    Also, good post, Richard!

  13. The farmers market is a place with great potential. A couple years ago I found out about a wonderful program run by Catholic Charities at our local market What a great idea. A wonderful idea like this that I would've never thought of makes we wonder what more can we be doing?

  14. i visited a farmers market for about 5 years (altho sadly i moved about 6 months ago and it's no longer convenient). Quite the education!! and the food is way more tasty.

    think talking about the weather is boring and wonder why it's such a topic of conversation? comes from agrarian roots. i listened to one farmer describe the 1-2 hours of work it took to cover all his plants overnight if he was expecting frost. or listen to the cattle farmer talk of how long it's been since it rained, and how much and when the rain is most critical in making his meadows most productive for his grass-fed beef.

  15. Excuse me? Capper's whole POV is life-cycle emissions, and CO2e includes CH4's 21-25-fold potency as compared to CO2 per se.

  16. Capper's most recent work, distilled for public audiences:

  17. qb, you have a fairly strong and recurring tendency to come across as dismissive. Good reasons exist to take Capper's research seriously, and good reasons exist to question it.

  18. My 19 year old son and I go every Sunday.We talk and look forward to it every week. We have decided to buy from the farmers that are kind and nice to us even if we pay a little more. This will sound silly but we have good thoughts associated with tthe food we have bought each week We've been doing this for about the last 3 years. I love buying right from the farmers and buying in season. We like to try one new veggie every week too. And be sure and try some Kerrygold Butter. We get ours from Trader Joes or Costco -it's from grass fed cows and it's a rich yellow color and delicious :)

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