I can tell it’s almost spring, though continuing snowfalls are no indication that this is so. But these days, the birdsong is all about spring, the sandhill cranes and red-tailed hawks are returning, and the inner time-keeper that heralds earth’s green abundance is causing me to shift from soup-making to craving salads and fruits and icy teas.
This is the time of year I countdown the days to the opening of farmers’ markets, in our local communities and in Madison, where the largest outdoor producer-only farmers’ market in the U.S. will open on April 20th. My own garden’s vegetables and fruits, local CSA’s’ offerings, and all these glorious farmers’ markets…such lovely, healthy bounty, and it’s almost here, near enough to smell!
The first 20 years of my adulthood were spent in Milwaukee, which is not a huge city, but at a population of 600,000 or so, the largest in the state. And since it’s the home to several universities and colleges as well as (still) many ethnic communities, shopping for produce, spices, and groceries was always a possible adventure. In the early 70’s, the first “health food” stores brought the additional availability of whole wheat and other grains still absent from grocery store shelves. We could prepare and eat healthy meals, and fairly cheaply.
Then I married Phillip and moved to the “country.” I couldn’t adjust to the scarcity of fresh produce and lack of ethnic foods and spices. I drove 40 minutes to Madison to find healthy ingredients. I remember an older teacher sitting beside me in the staff lunchroom and commenting on the “funny-food” I brought for my lunches (probably something with garlic and spinach). It all brought home to me that a move of 50 miles had brought me back to the wretched dietary habits of the 1950’s and 60’s: better eating through chemicals, processing, excessive sugars and fats, and meat, meat and more meat. It really made the newness of the community and our marriage all the more challenging not to be able to cook, bake, and eat foods that fed our spirits as well as our bodies.
The Farmers’ Market in Madison, and growing and preserving as much food as we could, helped a lot every summer. And, as the years have passed, an increasing awareness of the health benefits derived from fresh, organic foods and ingredients, as well as a shift towards greater variety and sophistication in tastes, has altered the local food landscape for the better. Several community farmers’ markets are close and affordable, and also provide wonderful opportunities to connect with friends and hear updates on everyone’s stories.
And when the cold winds do blow and shut down access to fresh garden produce, local groceries now stock organic choices. A few years ago, a woman opened a wonderful bulk goods store in our area, working with local and Midwest Amish and Mennonite suppliers. A short, beautiful ride in the country and I can stock up on inexpensive organic grains and spices that keep our meals varied and healthy all winter. I’d never tried some of these before (spelt; kamut; rye berries) and have enjoyed experimenting with new recipes.
This week I met with a friend at the indoor Milwaukee Public Market, a place I’ve enjoyed visiting since it opened in 2005. While not the most affordable place to shop, it’s a wonderful resource for specialty “treats,” people-watching, and to pay homage to the history of Milwaukee’s Third Ward. Years ago, when I worked downtown, I’d walk to the Third Ward over lunch break just to watch men unload crates and crates of fresh produce and fruits. It’s always good for my spirit to be back in Milwaukee and to share a meal with a friend, but now it’s also good to come back and cook up a healthy meal from ingredients I can buy here, at home.
Time to bake some whole-grain organic soda bread for our St. Patrick’s celebrations…Joy to your first day of spring! May it bring a season of fresh and blessed health to your mind, body, and spirit, and may there be enough green in your pocket, on your plate and outside your window to make your life rich and your spirit merry!