The Land of Goshen Community Marketmy farmers market—has been open two weekends already! Even though we’ve been lucky enough to have that once-a-month winter market during the off season, nothing beats hopping on my bike and riding “home” to the real deal. I smiled so much my face hurt that first Saturday.

In past years, I’ve usually done a market “spotlight” post at the peak of harvest, reminding everyone that there is never a better time to shop local and eat healthy. I make a huge plea to support these small farmers and independent vendors by doing holiday shopping early and giving one-of-a-kind, handmade items instead of mass-produced stuff. But this year, I thought we’d start the season with a spotlight post because my market has done nothing but grow over the past few summers. There’s never a time without bounty of some sort all the way from the first Saturday in May to the last one in October. By next week, there may even be broccoli for my Vegan Broccoli Salad. So let’s do some shopping, shall we?

Familiar Faces

Me and Bruce Haas at market

Photo courtesy of Darlene McGee

Yep, that’s me with Bruce Haas, my CSA farmer. I handed Bruce his first check of the season and a jar of my homemade Harissa, and he came right back with a gift for me–my very own Daydream Farm T-shirt! So what did the people at the big box store give you, just for being a loyal customer? Ok, I don’t mean to be snarky, but there is a magical relationship you will develop with the food you eat and the people who grow it, if you shop at your local farmers market or join a CSA. Do it!

If you are unfamiliar with a CSA—or “Community Supported Agriculture” program–you can learn about how they work from a previous post I did nearly three years ago, and you can read about my recent visit to La Vista Community-Supported Garden in Alton, IL. CSA programs are the backbone of small farming in the USA. The benefits to you and to your growers are immeasurable. It’s the ultimate win-win. So take a look and consider becoming a subscriber to a CSA near you.

John A at marketI was also happy to see my friend John Accornero and his golden jars of honey—I was down to my last half-jar by mid-May! John has a beautiful little farm and apiary just outside Millersburg, IL. You might recall that I visited him last September and then made my now-very-popular Caramelized Onion, Roasted Garlic and Honey Spread. I just served this spread the other night with crusty bread and goat cheese, and it remains a Green Gal favorite that takes me back to John’s farm every time. John is every bit as sweet as the honey he sells; his friendship is just as golden. But his jars don’t last long, so be swift! His honey makes a honey of a gift, too.

John Boss Pottery

Of course, I had to stop by the studio stall of John Boss. I could not help myself, and now I’m making my gift list (and, yes, of course, I’m on that list!). His new pitcher design caught my eye immediately. You won’t find a million of these anywhere–no two will be alike, either. But I’m pretty sure one of them will end up in my house. His enchanting Christmas chimes were the hit of holiday gift-giving last year, and many of my friends are beginning to expect their annual piece of “Boss-ware” in their packages. Seems my friend John has grown from local potter to an exclusive artisan brand in the short few years I’ve had the pleasure to know him. He’s brilliant, kind and a great hugger, too.

New Friends

As I said, each year, our market grows a little—just like a tall oak from a little acorn. This year I have been getting to know Tom Shirrel, who grows and sells native Illinois prairie plants, grasses and wild flowers. This summer, he is helping me and my daughter create a new pollinator garden in my front yard. When I see Tom at the market, he gives me the biggest smile from under his signature broad-brimmed hat and says “Hi, Toni!” Yes, he already knows my name and remembers without prompting what I’m doing in my yard. Tom’s Green Thumb Nursery is located in Godfrey, IL, but you can find him most Saturday mornings in the Land of Goshen. You can also email him at swt12greenthumb@gmail.com. He brings a wide variety of plants each week, all in healthy condition and at remarkably reasonable prices. What is priceless is his expertise and his willingness to have a serious discussion with every wannabe gardener. Super customer service here.

Tom Shirrell at market

The Next Generation

Kieth and Allison Biver at marketThe future belongs to the young, does it not? And if my market is any indication, the future looks very bright. I am a loyal customer and CSA dinner regular at Biver Farm, located just outside Edwardsville. Frank, Keith and Rosi Biver are so much more than just the people who grow my food. They are friends-going-on family. And Keith’s daughter Allison is now working with her dad at the market. It’s quite thrilling to watch a legacy in the making. Allison is bright, beautiful and always helpful. She is the perfect face for the future of sustainable small farm America.Tracy Riddle with grandsons at market

And then I stopped by The Shepherd’s Wife to check in on Tracy Riddle’s newest “little lamb”. His name is Christopher, and he and his big brother were helping out at the market this week. Well, I believe Christopher was napping mostly. As I posted last month, Tracy and her husband Steve own a sheep farm just outside Hamel, IL. Tracy is both farmer and artisan, producing hand-spun, hand-dyed yarns, and sheep’s milk soaps and lotions. Most Green Gal readers know that my daughter Heather and I swear by her jewelweed soap for all the summer itchies. I learned Saturday that supplies of our favorite soap have gotten low, which means word has gotten out about the amazing effectiveness of this soap to combat poison ivy and other warm-weather rashes. Again, time to buy!

 

The Market Sprouts program is also back. It is, I think, one of my favorite parts of our market. The program not only offers a wonderful learning experience for children—reminiscent of Alice Waters famous Schoolyard Garden project in California—but fosters gratitude for the food we eat and the people who grow it. Here is a great opportunity to introduce your child or grandchild to the world of gardening, and food production, not to mention afford them the opportunity to taste foods they might not otherwise try. Farmers at the market donate a different crop each week for taste testing, and it might surprise you that most young sprouts decide healthy fruits and vegetables are really way-good to eat! Sprouts also tend their own garden plots and decide what they’d like to grow. What better way to spend a Saturday morning than learning to grow the food you are going to eat?

Market Sprouts: child planting in the garden at market

Lady Farmers

I must admit, I have so much respect for the women who take on a still-male-dominated industry like farming. My first glimpse into their unique struggle came when I worked at the University of Illinois in Agricultural Communications. I met a lot of highly talented, super-smart women there, who were experts in field crops, soil science, livestock and horticulture. And I always wondered how they kept going because, in all honesty, they just weren’t treated the same as their male counterparts. But they did what they loved and that, apparently, was enough (even though it shouldn’t be).

At the market, I think it is kind of interesting that all the meat I buy for Don–in fact the only meat I will allow him to eat (The poor guy is married to vegetarian-me, after all.), is raised on farms where women either run the show or have a lead role in the operation. He’s got them to thank for putting something other than kale and radishes on his plate each evening. Just kidding…I serve a lot of squash and beans, too. Smile.

Jackie and Debi at market standWhile everyone helps out at The Family Garden, Jackie Mills directs all the planting and harvesting, does more than her share of fence-mending and fieldwork, and oversees every chicken on the farm. Her daughter Debi is right there by her side, and, to be fair, her husband does his part, too. It is the family garden, after all. All the chicken Don eats is raised by Jackie.Dara at market stand

Then there is my friend Dara. She and her husband Scott raise those beautiful and graceful Longhorns on their farm in Medora. I visited them back in the fall, and learned that Scott is an expert on this sturdy breed’s genetics, while Dara is both farmhand and business woman. Dara makes sure their enterprise is humanely sustainable and profitable. I always enjoy our market conversations, which tend to be more about our husbands than farming. Well, in Dara’s case it’s kinda the same thing, I guess. In my case, it’s about how much Don loves their beef. So, yeah, it’s about husbands and farming.

 

Finally, there is Blaine, who is the one-woman show at Papa’s Pasture. Blaine took over her family farm and is slowly but surely bringing it back to a native state through regenerative agriculture. She raises stunning Heritage Berkshire hogs, the only pork Don will consider eating. If you remember my post on Papa’s Pasture from last October, you know how impressed I am with Blaine and her commitment to doing farming right. Her farm is just breathtaking, her hogs enchanting and her work ethic impeccable.

Blaine at market stand

So that is the first Green Gal of the Midwest market tour for the beginning of the 2018 season. I am so glad you joined me! I think we should do this again, don’t you? There are still so many vendors to meet and so much product to explore. And believe me, market shopping is way more fun in person than on this blog. Going to the market—getting to have that conversation with the people who grow your food or create the special gifts you plan to give—is what we are all about at Green Gal of the Midwest. So shop local, eat healthy and be brave in that kitchen. I’ll see you Saturday at the market!

And don’t forget to bring your own reusable bags! There’s some really classy ones out there, like the one in my bike basket. Make that green fashion statement! And thanks to Darlene for my cover photo.

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