Try it. Who knows, you may even like it.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Cabbage, anyone?

By Dick Hirsch
The tomatoes are piled high. The Swiss chard is bundled and banded and standing in pails of water. Cabbages the size of volley balls are carefully arranged. The peaches, oh, the peaches; just picked in Niagara County, they’re blushing, looking delectable and tasting even better. If you are ever going to take the time to go to a farmers’ market, now is the time to do it.
As September comes, we can reap the results of a fabulous season, a temperate summer characterized by enough sun and warmth and enough rain to result in an abundant harvest. It doesn’t always work that way. So many things can go wrong with the weather; a late spring sleet storm, for example, can ruin emerging peaches or apples. Sometimes the summer is too dry, sometimes, too wet, sometimes too hot or unusually cool.
The career of the farmer has never been easy. The days are long and exhausting, and the issues that every small business person faces also confront the farmer. They are heavily invested in land, have a single productive season, and a cash flow that dribbles for much of the year.
The emergence of the additional farmers’ markets has been a very positive development for the farmers. They can increase their profits by selling directly to the consumer instead of wholesaling their products to chains or independent grocers. Today there are markets in many communities.
We drive to the market on Robinson Rd. in North Tonawanda much of the year, but enjoy it the most right now, at harvest time. I’ve grown to know farmers there. But do they recognize me as a regular customer? I’ve often wondered.
Consider Carey. We have been buying from him for years. Carey is very good-natured, a burly man with a beard. He raises green beans, cabbage, tomatoes, peaches, and beets, all of which we have been buying. For years he was accompanied by Dawn, who took the money, made the change and put the receipts in her apron pocket. Then we didn’t see Dawn anymore. One day I asked the farm lady at a neighboring stand about Dawn. “Oh, she died,” the woman said. “Heart attack. No warning.” Another woman has been working with Carey for several years, but we don’t yet know her name.
We used to buy those tiny potatoes from Dan. He grew potatoes in various sizes but we favored the smallest ones that could be sautéed in a skillet with butter, chopped fresh dill and Kosher salt. When I asked why they were more expensive than the larger potato varieties he explained: because they had to be dug from the mud individually, tedious, backbreaking work. Dan hasn’t been there in at least three years, but someone else is selling potatoes at Dan's old location, using the same speckled gray-blue steel containers for display that Dan always used. I haven’t asked about Dan because I fear the news might be bad.
Yes, there are stories to be found at the market, in addition to fruits, vegetables and flowers.
For example, we went to the market yesterday morning and what a day it was. Even by 7:05 AM there was a traffic jam developing as folks tried to get a close-up parking space. We chose the lot across the street and hurried to see what we could buy. What about peaches? They were first on the list, because we expected it would be just about time for the ripening of the popular freestone varieties, the Red Havens, Hale Havens, Lorings and others. We bought a four quart basket. I had to restrain myself and wait to try one until we drove home. This region’s peaches are spectacular, the season is short, and we wait patiently for them.
I won't bore you with a detailed report of the whole expedition and what we bought, but, as near as I can calculate, we spent $37, that is about a dollar a minute.
The big bargain appeared to be the acquisition for $1 of a cabbage that must have weighed close to 10 pounds. When we started working to make cole slaw later, however, we found some mud and other unsightly black spots that had to be excised. It was still a bargain, but it needed surgery. We also bought dill, beets, two kinds of tomatoes, Swiss cheese, goat cheese, green peppers, scallions, zucchini and cucumbers. Coming soon: squash, apples and cauliflower. Do we save any money at the market? Are you kidding?



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