The first time I spent a few hours at a community market, it was the easiest, most enjoyable morning I’d had in a long time. I thought I was there to buy some fresh produce, maybe pick up a few homemade treats, support the local farmers. Sure, I did all that. But along the way something else happened that I wasn’t expecting. I shook off my urban habit of moving quickly through a day, I smiled a lot, and I left with a light heart.
Every purchase you make goes directly to what you believe in.”
A community market is a joyful place. There is a wonderful abundance of color, texture, aroma. The kids are happy, the dogs are happy, even the adults who have to tend them are happy. People of all ages are making a direct connection with their food and feeling better for it. Fresh fruit and vegetables; meat, eggs, and cheese from animals raised traditionally; baked goods and preserves that aren’t mass produced…it’s all there. During my last visit I discovered a gnarled red-orange mushroom I’d never seen before. It not only looked like a lobster, it smelled like one. “What is this?” I asked. “That’s a lobster mushroom,” the vendor said, and who wouldn’t be delighted by that?
Food has a serious side too, of course. In the past few years, like most of us who are caring more and more about what we eat and how it comes to us, I’ve bumped into all kinds of interesting and transformative ideas—sustainability, community shared agriculture, organic farming, the 100-mile diet, food security, food safety, slow cooking. It’s wonderful, but sometimes it can feel like there’s a lot to learn, a lot of work to do. Where to begin?
People of all ages are making a direct connection with their food and feeling better for it.”
It turns out that visiting a community market can be a great place to start. For one thing, you can literally reach out and touch the fruits of the big ideas that are changing the world of food, in fact you can take them home and eat them. You can talk with farmers and learn why they are persisting and often pioneering in an incredibly challenging undertaking. Many will give you cooking tips or a favourite recipe if you ask. If you have a commitment to organic farming, you’ll find people at the market who have the same goal and are actually making it happen. Every purchase you make goes directly to what you believe in. And when you get home and unpack your shopping bag, you can cook something exceptional, taking the time to savor what you’re doing.
Whenever I visit a community market, I keep a few simple guidelines in mind:
- start with a stroll through the market for the sheer enjoyment of it
- buy something best eaten raw
- ask one good question about food
- buy something for a dinner with friends
- look for something unfamiliar… like a lobster mushroom
- be grateful for the food and the people who grow it
There’s one more reason why visiting a community market is special for me. As a little kid I avoided vegetables whenever possible. I truly would have sacrificed my allowance for a secret vegetable hiding place under the table. To escape green peas, which I dreaded, I convinced my mother I was allergic to them. Well, I gradually made my peace with vegetables. The raw tomato was my longest holdout. It was my dad who turned me around. Over the years he had become a pretty good gardener, and one day he proudly set a great red beast of a beefsteak tomato on the kitchen table. He cut a slice with his pocketknife and the magnificent scent of sun-drenched tomato pervaded the room. “Eat that with a bit of salt,” he said. I did, and I have never looked back. It’s this memory of my father handing me something he grew himself that I love to recapture at the market, especially in late August when at last the local tomatoes come fresh from the fields.