Real Food Revival

Visit your local farmer's markets and roadside stands and join the Real Food Revival for great home-grown food.

| April/May 2004

Remember your mother's warning, "Never take candy from strangers"? What about sirloin? Or squash? How much do you know about the celery you crunch, the peanuts you munch, the salmon on which you lunch?

When we buy supermarket products, we are basically buying our food from strangers. We risk eating toxic pesticides and preservatives. We risk being experimented upon by companies selling unlabeled genetically engineered foods. And we are supporting a dominant food production system that gives us cheap food but at a very high cost — bland flavor, too much sugar and salt, and a host of problems including pollution of our air and water, inhumane treatment of farmworkers and animals, deadly E.coli outbreaks and threats of mad cow disease.

Real Food Revival

Happily, the Real Food Revival is flourishing. More and more growers are moving away from agribusiness-as-usual, shifting to organic methods, diversifying their crops and setting up stands to sell their goods directly to those of us seeking sustainably produced fresh food and organic products. Now, even those of us who don't raise all (or any) of our own parsley or pumpkin can enjoy fresh food, seasonal food, Real Food. We can, face to face, ask the grower about what, if anything, was done to the colorful eggs and fragrant bread, luscious butter, sweet pears, honey, melons, creamy milk, tangy smoked fish and meats before we take them home. We can put lunch on the table having seen the field in which it was grown and having met the farmer who planted, tended and harvested the zesty rhubarb, glowing tomatoes and nutritious squash. Almost everywhere across the country these days, finding Real Food is practicable. And fun.

Living in Berks County, Pa., in the 1990s, I made my rounds of nearby farm stands a highlight of my weekends. Berks County is home to many Mennonite farmers who raise food for their own families as well as to sell at their farm stands. With a car full of friends or alone, I'd drive the curvy roads and rolly hills past contoured fields, the soil as rich as chocolate cake.

My first trips in the spring were to Asparagus Lady, whose hand-painted sign at the end of her driveway announced when there was or was not asparagus available. I drove in past the horse in the stall and the buggy nearby, knocked on her back door, requested a bunch or two of her asparagus, remarked upon the beautiful weather and asked how her later crops were coming along. Then I paid the modest price for the crisp green spears and continued my afternoon drive through the countryside.

Next stop was the rhubarb stand: A card table next to the huge roadside garden was usually loaded with bundles of rhubarb, and a jar in which I left my dollar. Children waved if they were weeding nearby. If I needed more rhubarb than was on the table, they would pull what I needed. I cooked rhubarb into sauce to spoon over hot biscuits — a year's supply into the freezer in less than an hour.

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