Market Letter June 20 2009 (Part ONE of many)

I don’t know how to start this.. There are so many things to say that
they are all piled up in my brain waiting to burst out.

Maybe I’ll start with- WOW! Whoever wasn’t at the Market dedication this
past market really missed out on something so motivating, wonderful,
honest and exciting that it was (almost) as good as a nice swim in the
Little Sequatchie River after a long hot afternoon of picking
blueberries. The amount of people that piled up before four o’clock
hungrily eyeing the blueberries from Sequatchie Cove and the green beans
from Williams Island was enough to get ANYONE fired up. (and there was a
lot of firing up- Miriam was a little worried there might be a market
brawl over the blueberries- fortunately there were only a couple and
they produced no visible wounds). And then Bill rang Nathan’s alpine cow
bell and Jim Pfitzer gave one of the best little speeches I have ever
heard. Seriously. I felt like jumping and cheering about six times in
the five minutes or so he spoke- just to shake off my goose bumps and
get out some the pure joy I felt. Of course since he is a professional
story teller he is able to condense all of that into a little story
about Chattanooga complete with facts, history, problems that have been
faced before and now being faced again, and a very very simple solution.
That solution was- shop at the farmer’s market- of course! (and other
stuff) I guess we all have been talking about the economy and there is
no straighter way to fix it than create your OWN- to buy directly from
the farmers or bread makers or tortilla shops or grocery stores that are
RIGHT here. Unfortunately I cannot use my words like Jim can and what I
really want to say is- well if you weren’t there then you shoulda been.
Go buy a cucumber from Williams Island and know that the dollar bill is
going to go a few miles away and almost literally get planted back into
the Island’s ground again. It could possibly be that exact same dollar
you spend that will buy the seed for next years cucumber crop. Or maybe
it will buy a jar that later cucumber pickles will be put in.

And THEN (this has been a very full week of more to come of
community-food-social interactions), after that wonderful market my
parents and I went up to Sewanee to hear Frank Stitt talk. He is a
restaurant owner in Birmingham. I have never even been to Birmingham
much less eaten in his restaurants, nor do I have any of the cookbooks
he’s written but I can still say that he is an awesome cook, a great
writer, and a wonderful person. I can just TELL by the way he talked-
his enthusiasm and love for good food, and his very solid view on the
world in general showed that. Here I was, a little tired as usual from
the market sitting down and listening to a man talking to us about the
same thing I just experienced. He is a huge supporter of local farms. He
buys the produce and meat from them not to look good or because he CAN
but because he KNOWS it’s better- it tastes better, sells better, and
creates such a better dining experience- from the taste on down to the
very fact that his customers are in part as engaged in the food as he is.

I’m telling you- whether or not you think you can actually taste the
hard work and love that the farmer put into the food there is no doubt
in MY mind that you totally can. It is a different experience
altogether. I have been around good food long enough to taste when it is
NOT good food and there is no tablecloth, fine wine, great service, or
good music that is going to cover it up. In fact, if it’s bad food and I
get All That it tastes even worse.. It is true that three quarters of
what you pay for when you go out to eat in a nice restaurant is for the
whole EXPERIENCE. I LOVE that experience. I love to cook and eat and
clean up the kitchen and listen to good music and make sure my guests
have their glasses filled with great beer and nice wine. But sometimes I
like to be treated myself. And I have no problem paying for it. When I
DO have a problem is when I am promised something that I am not given.
There is this terrible trend going on where it is so chic to put local
food on the menu and kind of cut corners because a lot of the public can
read that and just believe it. Snob that I am (and being fairly well
connected with all the local farmers) I always make a point to ask- what
local farm are you buying from, what did you get, and are you SURE that
what I am about to eat is from that farm? And trust me, I can taste it
if it’s not true. Not that I meant to go on that rant at all- there are
a nice handful of restaurants in Chattanooga who do a very good job
sourcing their food locally. But after purchasing food for the kitchen
at Greenlife I know how HARD it is- it is not this easy romantic thing
to do. And at Greenlife I didn’t even have to worry about linens and
equipment and all that jive. All I had to do was buy food. And we buy
from plenty of companies already. We had to get beans, rice, potatoes,
spices, onions, sour cream, vinegar, shrimp, flour, sugar, olive oil,
tahini, tamari, and TONS (literally) of other things that are totally
impossible to get locally- especially on that large of a scale. Of
course we did a very good job at getting ‘clean'(none of those nasty
things like msg, sulfites, high fructose corn syrup, and a HUGE list of
other chemicals and whatnot that are snuck into processed food products
very easily) products, and organic, and all that but in the middle of
winter there are STILL peppers to order and THOSE are defiantly not
local (to go off track a bit- I was at a restaurant in February that
claimed to have ‘fresh local’ red peppers on the menu- I asked the
waitress where they were from and she answered, ‘o. a lot of different
farms.’ COME ON- maybe if somebody had some crazy superheated greenhouse
or if Florida could be classified as local THEN I’d believe it). But
once the growing season rolled around the phone rang off the hook with
farms and their produce. And I KNOW how hard it is to juggle all that. I
already had ENOUGH orders to place- why bother with five MORE (or maybe
even ten)? I could get organic produce from California year-round that
usually was gorgeous and consistent (and sometimes a lot cheaper). Of
course I know that answer- I’d get disowned if I didn’t buy fifty pounds
of cucumbers from Sequatchie Cove Farm THAT DAY and maybe a couple hogs
on top of that (and beef stew bones?-they’ll make a great soup stock..).
Of course I was willing to juggle all those farms and other orders
because that is what Greenlife stands for and there was simply that
obligation. (that should be one of those RULES for all local stores and
restaurants- if you can get it local, then do. Just like it’s a RULE to
wash your hands all the time. You can’t argue and say your hands weren’t
dirty- you just DO it). But I also did it because I truly believe in the
whole shebang. And whether or not you ,the customer, or you, the
business owner, really knows it- real food tastes better and therefore
SELLS better.

Another little side-note to those restaurants and businesses who want to
go local but just can’t seem to make it worth their while- farmers
called me because they KNEW they could sell (a lot) to Greenlife. They
learn who to call when the first tomatoes are in or they have some
really gorgeous basil. -What? Drive across town with a fifty dollar
order of salad greens twice a week? Nah, we’ll just feed it to the pigs
and hoe the beans instead.- Of course Greenlife has the advantage of
having a produce and meat department, along with the deli and kitchen so
it is a nice one-stop-drop for farmers. But sometimes I hear people who
own a business who WANT to buy local but they don’t know who to call and
when they do no one takes them seriously. But farming is serious
business- like all businesses.

So. Anyway. Frank Stitt was an awesome and amazing way to end a
wonderful day at the market- talk about a Stimulus Plan. He knows how
important it is to create a wonderful EXPERIENCE- from the very building
on upward and he takes great care in making sure all of that is the best
there is. It was SO refreshing to hear him say- I can get a nice case of
kinda red tomatoes from wherever that a lot of people would eat and not
even notice for fifty cents a pound but when a farmer calls me and says-
hey- I’ve got some Cherokee Purple tomatoes fresh off the vine and still
warm from the sun for three dollars a pound- he says bring it on.
Because (one) they’re just plain better, (two) he knows the people who
grew them, and (three) that is what makes people happy and that is what
makes him happy. So simple.

(I also want to add as an afterthought of restaurant thought- It is just
as important for us, the customers, to be aware of what we are eating
when we go out to eat. It is OUR responsibility in a way to make sure
that when a menu claims to use local food to follow up on it just as
much as it is their’s. That is why it is important to get to know your
farmers. It is really great to go to some place like St Johns and see
the NAMES of the farms they buy from- that is a really good sign. And if
you shop at the market you will know most of them and be able to connect
yourself directly to the food you are eating.)

So. Back to the market. When we were driving home from this talk Bill
said- I wish I could make more of an EXPERIENCE at the farm- one people
would want to bring their family out and have for the day (which happens
all the time for free for all sorts of people and I think that is fine
for now- some day I hope to be an ‘Experience Creator’ at the farm, like
Nathan is now cheese maker and Padgett gardener) And I said- but it’s
already THERE. If the place is right people just create it THEMSELVES.
They can create it in a simple gravel parking lot on Main Street. One of
the amazing things about the market is that it is not just a place to go
shop but it is an EXPERIENCE worth paying for. I don’t see any way to
make it better (unless there was a waiter wandering around with a tray
of cold margaritas). My favorite moment last week at the market was when
we were busybusy and I looked up and someone was talking to Miriam about
blueberry plants. He had a whole line behind him and he STOPPED and
talked about plants. And the line behind him was not checking their
watches or sending iphone emails. They were chatting happily amongst
themselves about this and that- probably food and cooking. No one seemed
the least concerned that the line was at a stand-still. And that is
where we move from ‘shopping for food’ to this whole new great thing
that ‘shopping for food’ is also creating a culture and community. If
you want to get in and get out, clothe your entire family, buy the whole
week’s dinner, get a movie, a pack of chewing gum, a fishing pole, and
still get back in time for the evening news then I could think of a
couple places to go. But really what kind of time and money did you
save? And what for? This whole thing of time is so strange. I understand
it completely but the only time I feel in a HURRY is when I am in the
line at the gas station and I just want to GET OUT OF THERE. There is no
reason to not set aside thirty minutes or more once a week to go shop
and talk and learn at the market. And even no reason to set aside a
couple hours to go help hoe morning glories out of the peppers at
Williams Island Farm.

Lord a mercy. And this never stops. This is a great week. I still have
the Main Street Movie Night to talk about and the Community discussion
at GreenSpaces and even the play (Southern Connections- what a perfect
play for this week) my mother and I went to right after that to talk
about. Not to mention the awesome patty pan and kale slaw I made with
(awesome) empanadas the other night.. So I think this newsletter is
going to have to be in installments this time. I know how hard it is to
read everything at once but expect a good bit more on down the road.

Good eatin and thank all of yall who have been coming to all the New
Food Economy Week events- it is great to meet new people and listen to
what they have to say. I feel like Chattanooga has grown this week and I
am proud to be a part of it.

-Ann Tindell Keener