As we approach the opening of market season across Northern Virginia, I want to devote this post to issues that directly affect the success of farmers markets all over Virginia and the country, and that in a variety of ways also affect the farmers that come to our markets. There will be no test on this information, but I hope you will follow these links, read the material, and absorb what you feel you need to make you a better shopper. And of course, we always encourage grass-roots activism because we know it works and because it is good for the soul.
When I rant about something, which in my house we often refer to as “Nanna Losing her Mind,” I do try to inform myself from several sources about the topic at hand. I am less educated about the following topic than some others, mainly because there is a lot of science involved that is usually not explained well in alerts I receive or even in newspaper articles I read. This latest alert from the producers of the movie Fresh! is worrisome, though, for two reasons.
Dow Chemical is developing a new genetically modified seed because of problems with the previous one, and they seem to be putting the new seed on the market soon after those initial problems presented themselves. So how much could we possibly have learned from the initial failure? It also worries me in the same way that the original Roundup-resistant seed bothered me: No long-term studies have yet been released on the effects of these food crops on the animals and people that ingest them. We just need to know more.
Secondly, I want to refer you to the latest update from the Farmers’ Market Coalition, a great Virginia-based organization devoted to supporting farmers’ markets of all shapes and sizes across the country. Evidently, the grass-roots effort to influence the Farm Bill legislation has had an effect on the Senate, and I agree that we need to thank those Senators who led the charge for the small farmer. But we need to say and do more if we want more of our government’s resources to support sustainable farming. This is good information and a great summary of the bill, and FMC has made it easy for you to express your own feelings and opinions.
Thirdly, I invite you to visit the Jamie Oliver Food Revolution website, especially if you are concerned about what children are being fed at school. You can learn everything you need to know about putting together a successful campaign to change the menu. You can also sign up to receive a regular newsletter. If you really want to be inspired, watch Jamie’s speech at the 2010 TED awards.
I take this approach because I realize how much these resources that come to me almost every week keep me motivated and inform not just what I say and write but what I do through our markets to pass along what I learn. And they often provide information that can lead to better farming practices or access to financial help or expertise for our vendors. Just today I sent Max Tyson of Tyson Farms and Orchards an alert about money to help farmers who want to begin using more sustainable and organic farming methods. I do not expect you to find all of this information inspiring or even helpful, but I hope that you will blaze a trail of your own — in your own kitchen, in your child’s school, or in a political campaign.
In the meantime, join us at Reston to support your local farmers and your own neighbors who bake and cook wonderful food for your table so you don’t have to. This week we will welcome the most energetic and creative baker we have — she is always trying something new and a new way to display what she brings. Hers is the fun tent at the market, and she hands out samples for kids of all ages.
Cakes by Shelby is the name of her company, and Shelby brings to market cupcakes, cake pops, mini-tarts, and inventive push-up concoctions as well as lovely and delicious little desserts that taste as good as they look. Not many store-bought baked goods can deliver on that promise. I asked her to make up her little chocolate and vanilla mini-bundt cakes to sell as the foundation for your own strawberry shortcakes — made of course with local berries and that amazing heavy cream from Heritage Farm and Kitchen. And remember — don’t over-beat. This cream is not ultrapasteurized and whips up in about two minutes. She will sell them in boxes of four, and they are worth whatever she decides to charge.
Also this week, look for our new vendor Whim Pops, bringing the first of their seasonal healthy-for-you popsicles. She has been a hit at our Oakton market.
The bread from our new bread bakery, Atwater’s, is the bread I have been seeking for four years; bread made as you would make it at home if you were so inclined. The sourdough was just that — a true sourdough bread with that thick crust and chewy interior that actually tastes a little sour. They also have a small whole-grain loaf with seeds, dense and rich and a healthy foil for pimento cheese. I have also been told by one of the great guys who works with me at FedEx that their granola bars are particularly tasty and also vegan. We will have to try those next. I am hoping to see challah this week — we are handing out a great strawberry bread salad recipe for your next Sunday dinner or bridge lunch. And we have all the main ingredients you need at the market now — except the pecans.