Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Shopping in Season

If there is one thing that gets predictable when presiding over a seasonal and local selection of vegetables and fruits, it is the customer habit of seeking what is missing. No matter the time of the season, it is noticed and questioned that items long passed or weeks away are absent from the current selection. What about all those things that are present, fresh and in season?

We have been conditioned in the grocery store scene for years to expect everything at all times. More so now, there is focus on seasonal highlights. People at least seem to realize summer is for tomatoes and cucumbers, but for a local production they often come seeking too soon. One day of hot sun and swarms of harvest season produce seekers are wandering the farm stands.

We started running out of strawberries by the end of the day this week, leaving the end of the day customers out of luck. Often, a strawberry seeker comes no further than the entrance of the stand and then quickly retreats in disappointment when the fruit they came for is no to be found. Other times, people come wandering with an eye only for tomatoes, corn, beans.....you can tell something is wrong and when starting into discussion on the topic it is a great challenge to get them to recognize all of those wonderful things that are there right before their eyes. Sure there are not a lot of tomatoes yet, no cucumbers at all, corn is a few weeks off at least.....but I stood in that farm stand all winter when we had no onions (now there are tons of freshly harvested and wonderful red onions), we had run out of winter carrots, committed weekly customers and I were experimenting with things like cardoon and trying a new dry bean each week. My point being, it could be a lot worse than it is right now as we wait for the summer bounty to kick in and have the full array available to our fingertips at all times.

There is a technique to shopping from farms and farmer's markets that defies expectations. Your experience will be so much more fun and rewarding if you enter these food outlets in search of what they offer rather than what you are expecting to find. You are certain to encounter something unique, likely to not find something that your predetermine recipe calls for, and it should not really bother you. Realize that what is on the shelf today may be gone tomorrow.

The seasons move on fast and crops pass us by more quickly with each year I work with this stuff, much like the years of life. Recently, I have been anxious for the end of peas. We have seen some incredible Asian greens come and go in recent weeks. As the strawberries respond to the weather and season, I anticipate the favored Chandler variety passing for the season and the permanent switch to the Seascape berry.

These are the small details of seasonality. If you are a hardcore farm stand customer who enjoys the detailed fluctuation of what Tierra brings to the table you are likely to notice these small shifts and also have confidence that one day the summer bounty will be there with plenty to enjoy in the meantime. There really always is plenty to eat, I have been with this farm long enough to know this fact for sure.

The message here.....when you come in search of a specific item, please don't neglect to observe all those other things that are available at a particular moment in the seasonal farming scheme. It could be that the item you come looking for next time was right there in front of you. It makes a lot of sense to adapt your cooking and planning around what is harvesting...this is absolutely how you ensure you ingredients are at the peak of freshness and flavor and offers a creative challenge in the kitchen.

If you MUST have fresh peppers in early summer, you can go to your local grocery big box source and find some that were grown hundreds of miles away down in the desert. The difference includes a lack of freshness, perhaps flavor and the fun of finding the seasonal diversity of those peppers and chiles found on your local farm.

How many weeks until all the other stuff is ready? Always hard to say, a couple of weeks (depending on weather)? What is coming next? I think the answer is tomatoes....keep your fingers crossed that this warmer weather holds out. Maybe a better question is "what won't be here anymore next week?"

Enjoy your seasonal and local bounty, whatever your shopping approach.

A late spring, early summer array during a tough season to get things going in farming....recent weeks have featured great seasonal products like peas, carrots, rhubarb, cabbages, abundant lettuces and other greens, strawberries and much more!


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