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North Asheville Tailgate Market, Nov. 1, 2014

North Asheville Tailgate Market, Nov. 1, 2014

Brrrrrr. Fierce or crazy? As farmer Tom Elmore put it…”either these farmers are very committed or they need to be committed!” Snow coated every tree branch on Saturday morning. Temperatures were bitter with a biting wind chill, but the roads were fine. I arrived at the North Asheville Tailgate Market bundled in a wool coat, wool socks, hat and scarf. After about an hour at the market my hands and feet were freezing; farmers had been exposed to brutal temps since early morning. I heard Asheville City Market was also up and running too, and I bet the Madison County Farmers & Artisans Market and others were too.

The Holy Trinity - Onion, Green Pepper, & Celery

The Holy Trinity – Onion, Green Pepper, & Celery

Despite the cold, the farmers were admirably jovial. I stocked up for dinner and the week ahead. My newlywed niece, Cecile, and her husband were visiting – which motivated some cooking to stave off the frigid outdoors. Isn’t that one luxury of cold wintry days? They inspire cooking cozy foods and drinking lots of tea (wine, beer, cider…).

A perfect bread making day, I baked mostly-local multigrain loaves that included flours from Carolina Ground and Steadfast Farm, and a secret stash of cornmeal from Bee Tree Farm. The coarse dough was surprisingly receptive as I kneaded. Cecile concocted a salad with local greens, Bill Whipple’s pears, walnuts, and Kalamata olives. While the bread baked, we nibbled on an hors d’oeuvre of Carol’s mushrooms sautéed in butter and served on toasted pita points. Then came supper – hot bread and butter, salad, and a hearty soup made with many homegrown and local ingredients. The ingredients included carrots that were gifted to me by my sister-in-law during her recent visit. She grew them behind the flowers in her front porch window boxes.

Meals cooked with love from ingredients grown with care nourish us on so many levels. Thank you fierce farmers!

Market Finds on A Freezing Saturday

Market Finds on A Freezing Saturday

Saturday Morning at B & L Organic Farm,

Saturday Morning at B & L Organic Farm

Bread Dough

Bread Dough

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Gaining Ground Farm

Gaining Ground Farm

Spring and summer have been ultra busy with teaching a few classes, my niece’s wedding, my daughters graduation from Chapel Hill, a trip to Italy and France, the busy season at work, and my daughter starting her post-graduation job – thus my market visits this season have been sporadic or a quick dash before work.

Today was my first leisurely Saturday in quite a while. My Saturday plan? The tailgate market of course. So…rain happened…the kind of rain that my friend Stacia would call a “lady rain” – slow, steady, and penetrating.

No. The rain wasn’t going to stop me. I got my raincoat and my wide-brimmed hat (umbrella-like) and set off for the beckoning market. Despite the weather, the parking lot was surprisingly full of customer vehicles. LOVE the hard-core customer base of each tailgate market, because all the farmers/bakers/ venders were there rain or shine – waiting for us to show up.

I had the luxury of visiting with some of my vendor buddies this morning, ate an entire sticky bun (made with Carolina Ground flour), and gathered delicious goodies for the coming week.

Full Sun Farm’s lettuce mix has been addicting. Their mix dramatically contrasts the listless mixes from the grocery store; Vanessa’s mix isIMG_3936 vibrant and fresh for many days. It’s full of life. This is true of other lettuce mixes at the market too. Get the lively stuff! A customer in Gaining Ground’s booth was rhapsodizing about the red onions and how beautifully they cook up. Anne also had sure-to-be-tender baby eggplants. Gorgeous tomatoes splashed their reds across the market, including heirlooms and cherries. Even though I still have a couple of tomatoes from the West Asheville Market on Tuesday, I got a couple more to make sure that my lunch sandwiches have sunshine-y tomatoes as a main feature! Mountain Harvest Organics had ‘Red Gold’ potatoes which I wanted to plant those this year (but didn’t)…so I going to taste them courtesy of Julie & Carl’s farm.

Three Graces Dairy let me sample some of their hard cheese and “Pas de Trois” was my choice – a cheese made from cow, goat, and sheep milk. The amazing cheese shops we visited in Italy and France left a lasting impression – so many choices, so little time. I pray I never have to give up dairy products.

I ate my entire sticky bun while I was at the market. I confess that I intended to cut it into fourths and eat it in parts over the next day. Ha. Plus, from Cathy Osada, I have one slice of the-real-deal pound cake waiting in the wings.

What was most impressive about today was the number of customers who did show up. I heard one farmer say they would probably only make one-third of their normal income because of the weather, but all were in good spirits and the sky even looked a little brighter as I left. Once more, I must underscore how very blessed we are to have beautiful markets so accessible to us throughout most of the week. Giant gold stars to those who are out supporting the farmers and vendors on inclement weather days. If you stayed home and cozy this week, think about grabbing your umbrella next time to ensure these farmers will keep bringing their beautiful foods to our markets and making our dinner tables shine with something money can’t buy.

IMG_3942

Pas de Trois Cheese, baby eggplant, lettuce mix, paste tomato, pound cake, red onion bunch, tomato, lettuce mix, ‘Red Gold’ potatoes

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Rain is a good thing, but so is sunshine. For a while we seemed to have the perfect balance of sun and rain that really got things growing. But folks, we have had some serious rain lately. Creeks have been edging up to the top of their banks, and in some cases…badly flooding the fields of farmers. Last week in Madison County, most (all?) of the bottoms on Lower Brush Creek had been badly flooded. In some fields, the wet ground had been swept completely bare. Other fields showed flattened crops beyond repair, or only little bits of the crop were still standing.  Further down on Sharp Hollow, the creek had laid a cover crop down flat across the whole wide bottom.

With rain, more rain, and more rain still – farmers were cringing and helpless against the weather, and just trying to make the best of a bad situation. The weather seems to be breaking, but it hasn’t been without some serious suffering and losses by local farmers. So. People who love local (that’s you isn’t it?)…let’s step up to the plate and show a little extra support right now.

Check out some sadly flooded fields on Tumbling Shoals Farm: http://www.tumblingshoalsfarm.com/blog/19851

Greasy Beans

Greasy Beans

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Last week torrential rain poured down on the Wednesday markets.  Every vendor at the Wednesday French Broad Food Coop Market (in the Build It Naturally parking lot) was pretty much soaked to the bone.  Here’s my point ~ as far as I could tell every vendor was there, all in full measure.  Vegetables had been harvested, bread was baked, pastas produced, and ice-chests were loaded.  Dark clouds still loomed when I arrived, but the rain had temporarily stopped.

My heart goes out to these farmers and other vendors whose very existence and bottom line depends on these summer markets, rain or shine.  Most of them do at least two markets weekly, on Wednesday and Saturday.  That means that the better part of the day before the market was spent harvesting and preparing.  They have to pick, wash, bunch, cool, and box each different vegetable.  Or maybe they stay up until the wee hours finishing a bake, only to rise a few hours later to get to the market in time.  Vehicles must be loaded…with tables, tablecloths, ice, pop-up canopies, displays, shelving, signs, bags, money boxes, change, scales, and water & snacks for the kids.  Oh yeah, and a friendly attitude with a smile to boot.  Maybe they didn’t have time to eat breakfast or lunch, but there they are with all that good stuff we love to eat.

OK.  So it does take a little more organizing to hit the tailgate markets rather than the grocery store. Ingles is open 24 hours; the tailgate markets offer a limited-availability window.  If the weather is challenging, you can bet the market vendors suffered that day.  These are the same people who were down on their hands and knees digging potatoes, or up to their knees in mud slogging through a field, or spending entire days hoeing weeds.  I am trying to underscore the valiant effort that has gone into producing the beautiful things we are able to buy at our favorite tailgate markets.  Next I hope to encourage each of us to push through the weather and our busy schedules, and show up for the farmers, bakers, cheesemakers, craftspeople, and vendors who make these markets the gifts they are.

“Set your navigation on authentic”.
This quote from a billboard promoting Cherokee applies to us as well.  Our farmers are the real deal.  The fact that we know who grew those green beans is actually pretty meaningful.  To be able to name the person who provided us with a certain food brings them into the circle of our dinner tables.  Our kids may not have seen the carrots being pulled up, but at least they have met the person who pulled them up…and it wasn’t a machine.

I guess right now I’m really just preaching to the choir, so maybe you should forward this to somebody else who loves good food.

Hope you are enjoying summer!
Ruth Gonzalez

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