Now, don’t worry. I am quite aware that it is March. I tried to start this personal challenge of eating locally, responsibly, and deliciously in February, but I’ve had some false starts, or as I like to call it “practice.” I had realized that it would be impossible to eat completely locally. It’s been a cruel winter in Tennessee so there has not been much has been in season. I ate a lot of sweet potatoes and greens for a couple of weeks because they were the most local things I could find, but even they weren’t from Tennessee. It also occurred to me that you just can’t everything from middle Tennessee. Olive oil, dried spices, sugar, coffee…not quite indigenous to Tennessee. I revised my “rules” to be less militant (see previous post or About.)
One thing that I have been consistently doing during my “practice,” is eating locally and naturally produced eggs and milk. After all that I’ve learned in my Southern Foodways class, which inspired this challenge by the way, I have not been able to consume mass-produced eggs and milk without thinking about the horrible treatment of the animals and the antibiotics and hormones they are pumped with (another post about that later.) I have found that local, natural eggs and milk are not only karmically pleasing, but they’re also tastier.
I began practicing, if you will, by visiting the Nashville Farmer’s Market one frigid Saturday morning in February with my roommate. The temperature made my expectations pretty low, but once I entered the enclosed awning, I was surprised to see all sorts of fruits and vegetables, even tomatoes. I had previously assumed that farmer’s markets only sold seasonal local produce, but I learned that this is not true. At one stand, I asked an elderly Southern woman if any of her produce was local. “Nothing’s local right now, honey,” she said. She explained that much of the produce comes from California, Texas, or Florida in the winter. She got her tomatoes from Florida, she said, before their unexpected chill wiped out a large portion of the crop. I unfortunately failed to ask how she gets the produce to Tennessee. Even the sweet potatoes I purchased from one vendor weren’t from Tennessee. The young guy wasn’t exactly sure, but he thought they were from Mississippi. The sweet potatoes were absolutely gigantic, and I loved that they still had some mud on them. Unlike the individually shrink wrapped sweet potatoes I see at Kroger sometimes, I knew that these had a short trip from the earth to my hands.
I bought mustard greens from another vendor, a large middle-aged man with a red trucker hat, who got them from a farm in Georgia. My roommate asked him how to cook them, and I was thrilled when he started detailing the traditional Southern way: boiling it down with ham hocks until the water is reduced. I had learned about cooking greens in my Southern Foodways class, so it made me smile to see my coursework come to life. The man knew his greens; he described to us the taste of each green from the mustard greens to the collard greens and kale. He described the mustard greens having a crisp, spicy taste, and since I couldn’t imagine a spicy vegetable, I bought some to satisfy my curiosity.
I bought some free-range eggs that were collected only two days before from Walnut Hills Farm, a farm in Bethpage, Tennessee that is known for their excellent grass-fed beef. Doug and Sue were very personable and were really open about their farming methods. (I’m hopefully going to be visiting their farm and interviewing them soon, so stay tuned.) I also got some delicious whole wheat bread from Shrock Family Bakery from Wildersville, TN. These two foods comprised my very first completely local meal, a fried egg on toast. It’s simple, sure, but it’s one of my favorite things to have for breakfast and when made from local, fresh ingredients it’s even better. I could tell the eggs were different. Sue had told me not to try hard-boiling them for a few days because fresh eggs are much harder to peel when boiled. Just hearing this little difference made me feel happy about the eggs. The taste was also so pure. It’s a strange adjective, but I’ve always gotten a strange, almost metallic aftertaste from mass-produced eggs–which may be my imagination or unique to me, I’m not sure–but this egg just tasted like an egg. The bread was soft, sweet, and airy. I liked that I had to slice it myself because it forced me to establish a relationship with my food. The list of ingredients was also refreshingly short.
Another great thing about the farmer’s market is free samples. I had a delicious ginger cookie from Dozen. Claire Meneely, the baker, makes an effort to source local ingredients, which I was happy about, of course. There were also free samples of a locally produced goat cheese, which I unfortunately missed out on.
I left the market with 2 gigantic sweet potatoes, a large bushel of mustard greens, a dozen eggs, a loaf of whole wheat bread, and two onions, all for $12.70. What I enjoyed most, even more than that ginger cookie, was being able to talk to the people producing my food. It felt better, cleaner, to know where it was coming from. I can’t wait to visit the market in late spring when the local options will be more diverse.