14 May 2011

To Market, To Markets

Posted by annmcolford

Spokane Farmers Market in May

The downtown Spokane Farmers Market opened for the 2011 season this morning, in the breezy May sunshine. I arrived within the first hour and had a great time catching up with my pals from Tolstoy Farms and other vendors. Everyone made it through the winter, although Tim from Tolstoy noted that the growing season has indeed gotten off to a slow start this year. A lot of plant starts were available, and just a few early-season vegetables. I picked up some salad mix (baby lettuce and other green leafy things) and baby bok choy from Tolstoy, along with a beautiful bunch of asparagus and some plump green onions from one of the Yakima-area vendors.

The first baby greens of the season, from Tolstoy Farms

Speaking of growing things, I sowed some herb seeds in a container on my front porch the other day, so now I’m waiting to see if anything actually sprouts. There’s a metaphor in there, one that could be applied to plenty of other areas of my life as well. I feel like I’ve been mucking around in the dirt, preparing the earth for the seedlings of my future, but so far all I’m seeing is a well-worked, well-watered patch of soil. I could really use a glimpse of something green and fragile emerging.

On the plus side, our temps hit 70 degrees this week for the first time this season, and it even approached 80 today. Granted, tomorrow it’ll be back in the 60s with more rain, but today’s hazy sunshine sure felt good on my bare arms.

In other news…  Last weekend, I was craving a roasted chicken (that’s before the weather warmed), so I stood in the Rosauers meat section for several minutes, debating which chicken to buy. My choices both came from Draper Valley Farms, a Northwest producer that uses no hormones, antibiotics or animal-derived feed, but one was free range ($2.39 per pound) and the other ($1.69 per pound) was not. All of the chickens were right around five pounds, so the cost difference between the two was about $3.50. My budget is tight enough at the moment that $3.50 makes an impact, especially during the week that rent is due. That $3.50 could buy me close to a dozen eggs from my local Egg Man, a week’s worth of greens, or nearly a pound of grass-fed ground beef. Or a three-ounce bar of high-quality dark chocolate, if my life needs an infusion of joy. (And whose doesn’t, I ask you?)

I hemmed and hawed. I checked out what other meats were on sale. I checked the freezer section for bargains (and didn’t find any). Finally, I walked to the other end of the store, picked up the rest of my items, did a little math in my head, then walked back and picked up one of the standard chickens.

Now, I feel bad that my little chicken didn’t get to run around in the fresh air like its free-range brethren (although the USDA definition of “free-range” might not translate into the bucolic scene I’m conjuring up; see this discussion on the Serious Eats blog). On the other hand, it’s not shot full of hormones and other crap, and it didn’t grow up eating the remains of other chickens or other animals. Nor did it have to travel far from its farm home to my grocery basket. And I had that $3.50 to spend on other needs.

Today, I returned to the meat counter hoping to pick up a pound of ground beef from Painted Hills Natural Beef, another Northwest meat producer that raises its stock without hormones or antibiotics, using vegetarian feed and pasture grazing. But the ground beef wasn’t on sale, so I expanded my scope and found a bottom round roast, just shy of two pounds, on sale for $3.49 per pound. Despite the warmth today, I decided that braised beef was in my future; back at home, I followed the suggestions of a recipe for Armenian lamb stew (Tass Kebab) and adapted it for my beef roast.

Armenian-influenced Braised Beef

Think onions, red wine and tomato paste, seasoned with an aromatic blend of Hungarian paprika, allspice and a touch of cinnamon. The thick, fragrant sauce is enriched by the flavor of the meat (whether it’s lamb or beef); the onions caramelize and practically fall apart in the long cooking time, and the whole thing is rich and heavenly over brown rice. (See Recipes tab.)

I hope that someday I can afford to buy only pasture-raised meats and sustainably grown produce; I hope that the honorable people trying to farm in an ethically and ecologically sound manner can access markets and get a fair price for the products of their labors. I hope that the immigrant moms who live on my street will always be able to afford nutritious food for their children, who are playing outside my window as type this.

But we’re not there yet.

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One Response to “To Market, To Markets”

  1. Mouth-watering recipe for the beef and extremely thoughtful comments on sustainability and organic grown food. Dan and I continue our quest to be more thoughtful regarding our food choices as well as hopeful for the future of those with less advantages than us. Thanks for your wise words, Annie. ~Jani


    Jan Myhre

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