Why Shoppers at Farmers’ Markets Know More About Their Food

Today, as I was picking mushrooms, I realized that I wasn’t going to be harvesting many of our special varieties this week, ie. yellow oysters, cinnamon caps.  Why not?  Well, we have had a bitterly cold week, and the growing rooms were about 5 degrees cooler than ideal.  The cost of heating the rooms to “push” them along a bit faster did not outweigh the luxury of having them ready – although one of my restaurants may think differently tomorrow…You can see the blue oyster mushrooms a bit “bluer” than usual…the cold really intensifies the colour.

DSCN8684DSCN8678      Here on the farm, I’ve learned that growing food is a dynamic process.  That is to say, there are many factors that influence the way things grow – or don’t grow.  Weather is an obvious example.  We grow things outside in fields.   Too much rain, not enough rain, too much heat, not enough heat – can greatly affect the end result.  Indoors, the cold can change the conditions in which the mushrooms grow.  In the summer, if it’s too hot, we are struggling to maintain a cooler temperature, which the mushrooms prefer.  If shoppers are only buying mushrooms at a large grocery store, they won’t have a clue about any of this.  My market customers, however, will comment on the unusual colour this week, and I will tell them why the mushrooms grew like that.

Another example that comes to mind is the cucumber beetle infestation most organic farmers in Ontario experienced this summer, around early June.  One day, the cucumbers and squash were fine, the next, their leaves and blossoms were literally covered with these nasty insects.  The insects chewed holes in the leaves and damaged the blossoms, where fruit would later be emerging.

cucumberbeetle

I was a bit late dealing with them (I tried an application of Neme Oil, unsuccessfully).  The net result was that I lost all my beautiful pie pumpkins, my heritage watermelons, and many of my cucumbers.  For the next week, I was talking with other vegetable growers, trying to learn what they were using as an organic treatment.  A neighbour told me of a vanilla extract spray she makes, so I’m going to give that a go next spring.  Again, if you shopped at a farmers’ market or roadside vegetable stand, you may have become aware of this issue.  However, if you purchased your veggies at a large grocer, it wouldn’t even have blipped on your radar.

This was a hot, dry summer in our area.  I have never had so many beautiful green beans, with such a long harvest.  The tomatoes had an intensified flavour from the abundant heat and sunshine.  The basil was spectacular.  On the other hand, spinach (traditionally a cool season crop) went to seed very quickly.   With one variety, after only two or three harvests, I saw that they were starting to bolt (ie. make seed).

There is a standing joke among farmers, that no matter how good or how bad a season is, “there is always next year!”  We are an optimistic lot.  We try to learn from our mistakes, and are constantly sharing our experiences with other growers, to improve our own projects.

The whole point of this is that if you only buy your food from a large chain store, you will always see the produce bins full.  No matter what the harvest is like here in Ontario, you will be able to find all the beans, peppers, and tomatoes you need.  Sometimes, the price may be higher, which is when consumers DO notice.   You will not understand what kinds of  struggles or challenges there were in the food “trenches”.  I feel that my customers at the farmers’ market have a greater appreciation for what we do here, because they see the results of our labour every week at my stand.  My customers are always free to ask questions about why the tomatoes are so tasty this year, or why I wasn’t bringing salad greens in the middle of the summer (when it was so hot).

My suggestion to you is, if you would like to be more connected to your food, learn more about it.  I would go so far as to say it will even taste better, because you will know more about it.  Come on out to a farmers’ market this summer.  I am at the Elora Farmers’ Market every Saturday, from May until March.  There are more and more markets and roadside stands popping up every year.  Take the time to visit one this summer.  Talk to the growers.  Learn about what happened on their farm and follow your food, from their field to your table!  Trust me, you’ll love the experience!

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4 responses to this post.

  1. Farmers are full of fun knowledge. Just like you Julie!

    Reply

  2. Julie!! Just love to hear about these beautiful mushrooms, how intricate they grow! I’m going to try some aeroponic gardening this year in Chicago! nice to think of growing all year with grow lights:) strange weather this year here too….below zero temps, no snow for 332 days! and next tuesday 51 degrees! Picked rosemary from my outdoor garden on Christmas day for dinner, that’s a first!!! parsley still showing itself too…love from the city farmer to you! Margaret:)

    Reply

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