During her set at the ROMP Festival last week, Rhiannon Giddens reminded the crowd that “everybody has a story” …. and the more we know about each other, the better we can connect. Food is no different! Regardless of where we purchase food, all food has a story, but we find the story more directly when we visit farmers’ markets in our respective areas during the growing seasons.
For some areas of the country (California-envy) and around the globe, local outdoor air markets are a way of life, but for others like us in Kentucky, the growing season is limited so the opportunity to meet the producers and farmers face-to-face arrives in the spring and continues through late fall.
What are the stories behind the produce, baked goods, meat products or flowers you may purchase? Have you ever wondered how much time and planning goes into the vegetables, steak and fresh bread you are selecting for the evening meal? We may make your dinner or weekly menu preparation based on the availability of goods at the time of purchase but for many of the vendors, making food convenient for us to purchase has required more than a year of planning and production.
Recently, I connected with two vendors at the Owensboro Regional Farmers’ Market to ask about the “back story” of their vendor booths.
Suzanne Cecil White with Cecil Farms Produce stated it takes close to 80 hours of labor to be ready for a Saturday morning farmer’s market. (And that’s just the hours to harvest AFTER the vegetables are produced.) Due to the variety and amount offered, six workers pick for 12 hours on Friday followed by Friday night vendor preparation and a 5:30 a.m. Saturday start by Suzanne and vendor booth crew.
Is it worth the time? As Suzanne stated, “Regardless of your profession, you are always asking yourself that question. I did when I was teaching as well.” However, the return on investment with Cecil Farm Produce is the time spent with her children and the ability to work with her father, following the footsteps of a progressive farmer who has always looked for opportunities to produce food that meets the needs of the consumer.
While Hill View Farms Meats may not require as much actual preparation time weekly for the farmer’s market (less than four hours), the preparation is in the planning of the production. In order to have the quality of meats desired, the process begins at least a year and half in advance, according to owner Jim Gilles III. Jim states that the process starts with the breeding of the beef cattle for desired marbling and the selection of a variety of chicken based on known egg production and meat quality. He then provides a nutritionally planned diet for the animals during their life cycle. Once the animals are ready for the consumer market, only USDA certified meat processors are used to ensure the highest food safety standards are followed. For Jim, Hillview Meats has been the opportunity to expand his father’s initial offering of “sides of beef” to a year-round business of supplying local animal protein options for the community.
So, what are the stories behind the vendors in your community? Seldom do I miss an opportunity to explore a new town, city or country without seeing it through the lens of a local market. To find a market in your backdoor or while traveling in the United States, visit the USDA website. Supporting farmers’ or roadside markets not only benefits a community’s economy but we all get to know each other … a little better.