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Farmers’ markets are more than food

First We Eat: When I take my aging mom it’s a slow, social event as she carefully examines everything and talks to everyone

We’ve finished our coffee, and I am helping my mom into my car for our weekly trip to one of the local farmers’ markets. She has her green corduroy tote bag over one arm, her purse holding its little zip-up change purse on the other, her favourite feathered hat on her head, her cane in one hand. From where we live, it’s a short drive to one of several small-town markets, plus several of varying size in the nearby city of Saskatoon. If I ask, she’s quick to tell me what she wants to buy today.

Back in the day, Mom was a farmers’ market vendor, selling her farm-grown produce, and later, dozens of styles of practical fabric goods, from farriers’ aprons and gun wraps to saddlebags and berry bucket holders. She could tell you all the good reasons to shop locally and buy from a farmer, reasons that remain as true and self-evident now as they were when Mom was a spry sprat of 50: keep your cash in your community; fresh-picked food is fresher and more nutritious; local food is unprocessed, seasonal, diverse, and delicious even if it isn’t durable enough to ship to Delaware.

But Mom and Dad are in their 80s now, and they no longer sew or keep a garden. Nor does Mom bake the dozens of loaves of bread she made weekly when I was a kid growing up with my four siblings.

Mom’s reasons for going to the market have changed, and now include the social and sensory elements that as a busy farmer and mother, she never really had time to appreciate back then.

Today, I know our trip through the market will be slower than if I was there on my own. Mom will stop in front of each and every booth and table. “What do we have here?” she’ll say, even if we were here a week ago. Then she’ll scrutinize the wares as closely as any French-born chef. When samples are offered, as they often are, she tries everything, scrunching up her nose at pungent breakfast radishes, smacking her lips over fresh Okanagan apricots from the fruit truck. Then she’ll ask the vendor how sales are, how the weather is, how the bees are keeping, how the farm is doing. Eventually she’ll ask the baker if there are raisin tarts today, and the gardener for more of the yellow plum tomatoes she enjoyed last week.

When it’s time to pay, she will set down her walking stick and her tote bag, get out her wallet and her coin purse, and count out loonies and quarters and dimes. She laughs when I tell her I always feel like I’m getting something for free if I can pay for it with coins. Sometimes a few nickels escape, and I scuttle around on the grass at her feet, looking for them as if they were the Holy Grail. Eventually her coin purse will be stowed, her expanding tote bag safe on her arm, and we will move on to the next vendor. There’s no rushing her, and I have accepted that it’s pointless to think I should want to. I am hanging out with my mom, and that’s a good way to spend my day.

I’ll be older eventually, and I’ll want my boys to take me to the market, too. I’ll still want to cry over the perfect peaches, smell the caramelized cinnamon buns, and admire the pink blush on new-crop apples. And I won’t want anyone rushing me, either.


Summer Market Garden Salad

Salad as supper during summer is dependent on the garden — or the farmers’ market. Don’t try to get the whole garden into the bowl. Be selective: several salad greens, a fruit or berries, a seasonal vegetable or two, and a protein, maybe left over or cooked in advance or on the grill. And olives, of course, and a handful of fresh herbs. Then instead of making a vinaigrette, choose a good oil — I am partial to olive, but you may like Canadian-made camelina or cold-pressed canola oil — and an even better vinegar. Make it pretty on the platter or toss it all together.

  • Arugula
  • Red leaf romaine or other greens Radicchio leaves, torn or chopped
  • Olives
  • Grilled chicken wings, steelhead trout, chickpeas, soft-/hard-boiled eggs or tuna
  • Sweet bell peppers, diced
  • Cooked potatoes, cooled and cubed
  • Sugar snap peas, steamed and cooled
  • Watermelon, diced
  • A handful each of tarragon, chives, cilantro, basil, parsley
  • Olive or other good oil
  • Fruit-infused, balsamic or sherry vinegar
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Arrange all ingredients on a platter and drizzle with oil and vinegar. Season to taste and serve.

photo: dee Hobsbawn-Smith

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