It’s Saturday morning and that means I get to sleep in, if I’m lucky.  The dawn’s sun filters in just before 6 a.m., and the birds make chattering noise before that.  Only a force of will keeps the dreams going.

With busy kids, there is always something on a weekend calendar, besides the necessary shopping, catch-up cleaning, and needed relaxation.  But, one weekend agenda item that rarely is missed is a trip to our local, non-profit farmers’ market.

It’s not a huge, spread-out center.  Rather, it is compact and walkable within minutes — year round, rain and shine, from 8 a.m. to just past noon.  And, all the delightful products are certified in-State, regionally grown, with the vendors donating their booth fees to a community hospital foundation that benefits the uninsured.  Truly locally run, uniquely locally beneficial.

Local food equals ‘place’

For me, there’s story goodness at every booth – a story of the vendors, access to food information, and sustainability in action.

Also, the market is all about finding “place.” Place matters to me because that means I have a relationship with my community, culture, and lifestyle – starting with my food.  I’m not just a number in a sprawling metropolis.  This is where the economics of happiness can be found.

As I walk down the aisles with reusable bags in hand, I run into friends.  We chat.  The social connection is worth the trip.  The food and the people represent home.  This is romanticizing with reality as I purchase in-season, fresh veggies and fruits (most of them organic), fresh fish, organic cheese, dried fruits and nuts, bread, hummus, flowers, eggs, honey, tamales, and more.

Keeping the story goodness alive

Unfortunately, the love of local isn’t all well in the world.  Having experienced consistently masterful, local/regional food and culture for several years now, it both saddens and invigorates me to read Emily Badger’s well-written piece at The Atlantic Cities about the local food debate.

With food, on one hand there is an argument for bigger-is-better but that often comes with sparse attention to the environmental, small-farmer, cultural, or food quality and taste effects.  Then, the other side of the coin is the passionate local movement that identifies with local economies, good taste, and people-centric motives.

Says Badger “If our industrial food system does such a good job of feeding ever more of the world’s population at ever-lower prices, with a growing mastery over seasonality, why is it so hard to find a tomato in July in Detroit? Why is it easier for a shopper on food stamps to purchase 1,000 calories in candy bars than 1,000 calories in canned soup? These are the unanticipated consequences of our food system that some locavores think they can address.”

Making food a community experience

In a world in which global barriers are being torn down at an escalating rate, more than ever before we have a need for “place.”  Who are we?  Who can I connect with on a traditional, person-to-person basis?  What is my culture?  The story of our food – knowing where it comes from and having a nearby connection – brings us some of this needed community experience.  It can come in the form of farmer’s markets, food cooperatives, urban farms, community and backyard gardens, and some grocers that buy from local, seasonal vendors.

When is the last time you went to your contemporary grocer and were met with a smile from the same person each time who recognized you, could talk with you about the food displayed, and would give you a tip on what is ripening in the next two weeks?  For me, it was just a few days ago.

“Pomegranates are just about ready,” said my fruit farmer.

If you’d like to find a farmer’s market or local farmer near you, check out localharvest.org.

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