Friday, October 8, 2010

Stepping Away From Supermarkets

Local Farmers Market gives Knoxville residents a healthier choice

We’ve all heard that old adage, “You are what you eat.” It has been spouted at us by mothers, aunts and everyone else that ever thought they knew better than us since we were young enough to get away with turning up out nose and rolling our eyes. As children these words would bounce right off of us with little to no meaning what-so-ever as we crammed another cookie in our mouth and made ourselves another Fluffer Nutter sandwich. (Aren’t they just the best?!) But now we’ve grown up; well a little at least and it has come to our attention that we just can’t do that anymore. Maybe we came to that revelation after yet another all night binge, hung over and weak we realized, “Ugh I really need some REAL food.” Or maybe it was after we were a little broke for a week and survived on HoHo’s and ramen noodles. I’ve been there.

For me this revelation came a little slowly. It was like puzzle pieces falling into place. Maybe you are on the cusp of this revelation as well. My first puzzle piece was finding that I just didn’t have as much energy as I once did. Another puzzle piece was finding out that Tennessee was the second fattest state in that nation. I’ve also been in on the media food hype; the movies (Food Inc, Super Size Me, Fast Food Nation, etc) My tipping point though was one day standing inside my local chain grocery when I could not find what to make for dinner. I wanted something simple and somewhat healthy. I thought a bagged salad might be nice, until I remembered the recent E. Coli outbreak. E. Coli, salmonella in the eggs, this is getting crazy! At that moment I vowed to change the way I look at food.

Enter into the Farmer’s Market in Market Square. I had heard about the Farmer’s Market for a long time. I have to admit, it was years before I finally made my way there. Once I did it was like beams of sunshine raining down from the Heavens saying, “WELCOME! Come and enjoy the bounty!” Okay, maybe I’m stretching it a little but it was pretty obvious I should have been there years before. I can’t even begin to list the numerous amounts of wonderful vendors that can be found there. I now try to go a minimum of twice a month; which is easy because it is every Saturday and every Wednesday. My goal I set for myself was to shop first at the Farmer’s Market, then our local Co Op Grocery, next Earth Fare and last a major chain. I rarely end up at a local chain grocery.

Why have I made this goal? First, I’m a paranoid kind of person and buying local is safer. For one, I can talk to the farmers that grew the food I plan on consuming. I can ask questions about their pesticide policy, the way they keep the cows or chickens. If it is a premade jar of salsa or freshly baked loaf of bread, I can see the person that made it and ask them how it was made. You can not do that anywhere else. It is also so much fresher than what you are used to buying at a chain grocery. You’d be amazed you really can taste the difference. On an honest note, another big reason is because it’s cheaper. I know you think I’m crazy. I promise you, if you change the way you eat a bit you can cut your food intake money down by a huge percentage. Buying a few crookneck squash to dice up and pan fry with your next meal is going to be much cheaper than buying a package of frozen whatever. Not only cheaper, but of course much better.

I have a few favorite vendors. I must admit that Ms. Cock-A-Doodles has a Basil Artichoke Chicken salad that I am literally addicted to. I could eat it daily. As a matter of fact, I do eat it daily. Up until that moment, about Tuesday or Wednesday when I run out. Then I anxiously await the next Saturday I will go and cross my fingers that they will be there with more. They have an assortment of wonderful chicken salads that I have no idea what sort of magical secret they know that I don’t but this is not an ordinary chicken salad. I don’t even like chicken salad and I can’t get enough of this.

Another local vendor I typically buy from is Strange Honey Farm. I have started using honey as a natural sweetener and this honey is a great local find. They offer a few different variations and great prices. They also offer Bee Pollen, and don’t worry if you don’t have any idea why they would sell Bee Pollen or what to do with it; they are also full of information and very helpful.

Colvin Family Farm is another favorite of mine. Their produce is always very good quality, great tasting and fresh. I actually discovered them at Earth Fare and signed up to receive their monthly emails. They were part of the reason I decided to check out the local Farmer’s Market because the emails were full of so much tempting food! They always have wonderful prices and I really like that it is a whole family operation. There are normally several people at the booth and they are all very friendly and knowledgeable about their goods.

Speaking of family operations, I’d also like to give a shout out to Cruze Dairy farms. I started trying to buy local milk after reading a rather disturbing report about the amount of puss and blood found in traditional store bought milk. (Go ahead and Google that for fun, guys) They not only offer milk but also buttermilk, ice cream and beef products. I love the family atmosphere of this booth as well. It just always seems very fun and makes me want to run away to start a dairy farm.

When I’m craving a wonderfully sweet snack or a deliciously carb filled delight I head over to Cheesecakes by Rick. I can’t even describe the wonderfulness that is a cheesecake made by Rick. It is beyond words and descriptions. One can only cut out so much sugar after all. Rick also makes wonderful breads. I rarely leave the market without at least one sort of bread freshly baked to bring home. There’s enough variety at this booth to keep anyone happy.

Jessica from Organicisms Farm from Blount County is probably one of my favorite vendors. I discovered this booth when passing by and seeing what I thought were bean sprouts. I had been planning on making a stir fry so I stopped only to see that they were not indeed bean sprouts but Sunflower and Radish Sprouts. I had another one of those moments we were talking about before. A light popping on over my head and a ‘Doh!’ type moment when I thought, “Wait, you can just eat any kind of sprout!?!” So in my ignorance Jessica explained to me all about the wonder of sprouts. I left with a new found knowledge and new found culinary delight. I adore sprouts far beyond typical bean sprouts. Amazing, I know! She also has amazingly wonder pepper jellies and a personality that begs for you to at least stop and say hi.

The freshest salsa I have ever tasted comes from Sherrie’s Garden Style who has been in business for over ten years. The difference in this jar of salsa and the one you find in Food City is dramatic. It’s like a whole different genre of food. It is amazing. There are so many varieties that no matter what type of tastes you have from Pineapple Mango to a traditional Spicy salsa, you’ll find something. They also offer an amazing pasta sauce and Chow Chow. I’d never had Chow Chow before, but I’m sure now I will not be able to really enjoy any other.

I can’t mention each vendor by name although I wish I could. The most I can say is for you to go yourself. I’ve only touched on a small percentage of the local vendors and I only mentioned food. There’s such a collection of food, wares and talent at the Farmer’s Market that no matter which day you do go you are bound to have a great experience. There is always an assortment of entertainment from street magicians to guitar players. On one Saturday I found a duo singing and playing an accordion while on stilts!

The holiday season is coming up and there are many vendors there with wonderful gift items. From homemade soaps, candles, lotions, tie dyes, baby clothes to gourmet dog treats there is something for everyone.

To summarize, maybe we really are what we eat. Maybe we need to look a little more into what we are putting into our systems and body. Some of my friends would say I’m turning into one of those new age hippie dippy types. I don’t think I mind. I’m proud to say I’ve been shopping locally for months now. I’ve had more energy and felt better than I have in a long time. I’ve not been in a Wal-Mart for years and I know my money is going to support local people I can see and talk to. I know there are no chemicals being put into my food to keep it fresh because I buy it fresh. Maybe it’s time we as Tennesseans stand up and say we are going to make a change for the better. We are going to look at the way we eat and the way we shop and make it better. What better way to start than by taking a visit to the locals Farmer’s Market.

Knoxville’s Local Farmer’s Market is in Market Square on Wednesday from 11am to 2pm and Saturday from 9am to 2pm until the last weekend in November.

This article was written for Blank Magazine