We have several reasons to be excited about the May 11th Janesville Farmers Market. We will have our friends from the Janesville Renaissance Fair in front of Firehouse Park with their fun costumes and artifacts. Janesville Transit System will also be there to offer Bike on Bus training as part of Bike to Work Week. Just look for the big city bus parked on the 100 Block of Main Street. Of course our favorite fresh baked goods will still be there, as well as assorted brats, jams, cheese, honey, eggs, meat, kettle corn, maple syrup and un-popped popcorn. For your yard and garden, you will find hanging baskets, garden plants, herbs, flowers, bird houses and yard ornaments. Craft lovers will find crocheted and sewn items, soaps and body care products, birdseed wreaths, pottery, lamps and more!
Still, it will always be the fresh produce that brings the most people down to the market. Thanks to some warm days and clever farmers, I can promise that we will have a nice variety of spring produce at our second market of the season. You can expect to see Asparagus, Rhubarb, Spring Onions, Lettuce, Endive, Cress, Arugula, Mushrooms, Kale, Swiss Chard, Radishes and even Yellow Cherry Tomatoes. Of all of these early season vegetables, I think asparagus is the most anticipated. Here is a little asparagus history and a recipe to get your mouth watering.
As a member of the lily family, Asparagus is related to garlic and onions. It’s a perennial plant that produces for several years once it is established. Young stalks may grow as much as ten inches in a day. For tender, edible asparagus, they must be harvested before they start to form ferns and go to seed. Humans have been growing asparagus for over 2,500 years, starting with the Greeks and Romans. Early colonists brought asparagus to the US, where it can be now be found on farms, prairies and even in roadside ditches. According to Barbara Wood in The New Whole Foods Encyclopedia, asparagus is good for female hormones, fertility and lactation. It contains the anticancer substance glutathione as well as rutin for blood vessel health. It’s been used traditionally for gout, rheumatism and edema. Of course, most of us crave it for its unique taste and texture rather than individual nutrients like folic acid, zinc and vitamin E.
Asparagus is easy to prepare and cooks very quickly. Choose stalks that are tender and not limp, with tight heads. To store, wrap the base in a wet paper towel and keep in the refrigerator for up to three days. To wash asparagus, swish the spears around in a bowl of cool water to remove any sand or dirt from the tips. Snap off the tough bottom and discard it or use it to flavor soup stock. You may snap the spears into bite sized pieces or cook them whole. They steam or grill in just a few minutes. For stir-fry, add them near the end of cooking. For the ultimate comfort food, try this creamy asparagus and potato soup!
Creamy Asparagus and Potato Soup
2 Tablespoons Butter or Olive Oil
1 1/2 cup chopped Onions
1 Bay Leaf
1/2 teaspoon dried Thyme
2 cups Potatoes, peeled and cut into half-inch chunks
2 cups Asparagus stalks, snapped with tops removed and reserved
1 quart Vegetable Broth or Chicken Stock
1/4 – 1/2 teaspoon Black Pepper
Salt to taste
In a soup pot, saute the chopped onion in the butter or oil until it becomes translucent, about three to five minutes. Add the thyme, bay leaf, potatoes and asparagus stalks. Set aside the asparagus tips for later. Pour in broth or stock to cover the vegetables. Bring the soup to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer uncovered for about 15 minutes or until the potatoes are tender. Discard the bay leaf. Puree the soup in a blender or with a hand-held blender. Add the asparagus tips and heat gently until they are cooked through. Add salt and pepper to taste. You may add water, broth or milk if the soup is too thick. This soup is wonderful served with shredded Wisconsin cheese!
When people find out that our first Janesville Farmers Market of the season is May 4th, they often wonder what kinds of things they will find at such an “early” market. I’m putting early in quotes here because many farmers’ markets have already started their season or are even year round now. I’m also remembering that last year, with our unusual March warm-up, the first weekend in May was a rather late start for favorite crops like asparagus.
This year is already proving to be very different from our last. Many farmers who got an early start last year may be planting later this year due to cool, wet weather. Asparagus is barely poking through the ground and may be scarce at the first market or two. Then again, our ingenious farmers may surprise us. There are many clever ways to extend the growing season, including row covers, hoop houses and even heated greenhouses. With this knowledge, I can assert with confidence that the market will have another strong start.
You can expect to see most of your favorite bakeries, cheese, honey, meat and eggs at the first market of the season. You will also find early green onions, radishes, salad greens, rhubarb and herbs. There will be jams and jellies, baking mixes and pasta. Early May farmers markets are also a great resource for gardeners. There will be vegetable seedlings, herbs, flowers and even perennials. Then there are the crafts. Approximately 25% of our vendors will be selling hand-made crafts and one-of-a-kind gifts that are made right here in Southern Wisconsin.
It’s not a bad idea to start your Mother’s Day shopping early. You may purchase hanging baskets, bird houses and feeders, purses, jewelry, pottery, soap and more. For moms who love to shop, there are Janesville Farmers Market gift certificates that may be redeemed at any vendor stall. Stop by the Janesville Farmers Market booth to purchase a gift certificate and check out a cookbook from our lending library to make your mom breakfast in bed with local ingredients.
Of course, the Janesville Farmers Market is also a social destination. The first few markets of the season can feel like a big, fun family reunion between vendors and customers. This year you will meet some new farmers and artisans while catching up with many friends from last year. Browse through the vendor pages on our website and then come see us at the market. Bring your shopping bags and your appetite. You will not be disappointed.
I recently visited the Milwaukee Public Museum with my family. I enjoyed the displays showing the many various cultures of the world. From the Masai of Africa to the Inuit of the North, many successful cultures have had many different traditions and diets. This fact shows the incredible adaptability of humans to their local environments and available food choices. Is there any other species who can thrive on such a wide variety of foods? In the Native American display, I was struck by the abundance of foods from the Americas or “New World.” The display below shows corn, tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, legumes, squash and other fruits alongside the grains of Europe.
Even this display does not reflect the full diversity of what was once available to nourish human bodies and palates. So many thousands of foods have already become extinct in our current homogenized culture of refined foods and standard varieties of fruits and vegetables. A smaller percentage of people are farming or even growing gardens than ever before. As more people rely on supermarkets for their food, food scientists have stepped in to create varieties of fruits, grains and vegetables that can be mass produced, stored and shipped long distances.
If you are reading this blog, you have probably already decided to improve the diversity of your diet. This is where farmers’ markets can help. Many heirloom varieties of potatoes, apples, tomatoes, etc. only lost favor because they didn’t ship well or store well. Many of these plants were not only nutritious but also tasty and versatile for home use. At a farmers’ market, shoppers can purchase foods that were just picked within the last 24 hours. These products will be at their peak of flavor and nutrition. The market also allows farmers to grow and sell heirloom varieties that may not be found in regular grocery stores.
Another benefit to heirloom varieties, is the ability to save seeds from one season to the next. Heirloom fruits and vegetables come from seeds that have been saved from season to season over many years, rather than hybridized. This gives farmers both independence and cost savings. The direct farm to consumer interface that occurs at farmers’ markets gives us the opportunity to offer suggestions, an opportunity we don’t get at most grocery stores. If you liked that tart strawberry or juicy tomato you got last week, be sure to let the farmer know. You as a consumer can participate in promoting species diversity by choosing heirloom varieties and offering helpful feedback. You can also ask questions. “I like the look of this tomato, but will it make good spaghetti sauce?” “I don’t plan to eat this right away. How long will it keep?” Since most farmers eat the produce they grow, they can be valuable resources for questions related to cooking and preserving food.
With the Janesville Farmers Market less than a month away, I can’t wait to see what kind of variety our farmers will have in store for us this year. Follow this blog for seasonal recipes and tidbits throughout the coming season. See you at the market!
03/19/13 Storing Food for the Long Winter
When the snow and cold just keep coming past the middle of March, it can really feel like a long winter. The sun is shining from that optimistic place in the sky that tells our bodies spring is coming. The robins are fluffing up their feathers in the tree outside our window. Yet we exit the house into bitter cold. It is on days like these, when farmers are just starting seeds indoors, that I really long for fresh food from the Janesville Farmers Market.
Fortunately, I do have stored food. I’ve read and observed that squirrels spend most of their time finding and storing food. Sometimes I think that I must be part squirrel. Throughout the summer, I spend my market days admiring the fresh produce and wondering how much of it I will realistically have time to can or freeze. I then purchase what I believe to be a reasonable amount to eat or store that week. Throughout the week, I cook and eat and store as much as time permits. Hopefully when I do purchase extra, I can find the time to “put it up” for the winter. For me, this usually means a combination of freezing, fermentation (as in sauerkraut), and drying. I especially like peppers, which don’t have to be blanched in boiling water before freezing.
Now that we are in the middle of our fifth month of winter weather, of course I’m wishing that I had spent more time on the storage of local food. I’m looking at my lovely collection of empty canning jars and planning for a summer of bounty that will help me fill them. In the meantime I have some lovely dried peppers (as well as some frozen ones), some home-made pickles that miraculously stayed crunchy, and some fresh-baked bread that represents the last of my locally grown flour.
My resolution, as I enjoy a spiced pickle sandwich, is to not just preserve and store more food this coming season, but also to write about it here. Please feel free to share your own ideas and recipes as well. Happy spring!
Do you suppose the Roast Beast was raised on a farm right there in Who-ville?
What better time than the holidays consider the impact of our food choices on both the natural environment and the local economy? As we partner with Basics Co-operative to bring you a Winter Farmers Market on December 15th, I’ve created a Sample Local Holiday Menu featuring food from local farms and businesses. You may find these foods and more at Basics Cooperative and the Janesville Farmers Market. Support local farms and businesses by sharing a local meal with your friends and family this holiday season. Every little bit helps!
Local Cheese Spread (Kelly’s Kitchen, Kramer, Capital Brewery)
Locally Roasted Coffee (Mocha Moment, Cafe Fair, Just Coffee Cooperative)
When I first took the job of market manager, I was told that I would be the face and spokesperson for the market. Little did I know that I would be doing so many interviews on camera. Nearly every week, Andy Kronquist and his assistant, Leonard, come down to the market with camera and microphone in hand for JATV. We have done our best to interview a wide variety of vendors, customers, non-profits and JFM Board members throughout the market season. Andy then edits each interview into a monthly “Report” to be posted on Youtube.
I have to say that I’ve really enjoyed doing the interviews and getting to know some of the vendors and customers a little better. I have also learned quite a bit about doing interviews and being on camera, both from vendor feedback and from my own critical viewing of the reports. For example, Richard Braun, of Braun’s Gardens taught me to look at the person I am interviewing the entire time they are talking. He has had some experience in doing interviews and is also a former JFM Board member. This was very useful feedback, which has improved the appearance of the videos (though my skills are not yet perfect). Andy has also been very helpful. He knows from experience which vendors enjoy being on camera. He also makes us look much better with his skillful editing. I hope that people find the Janesville Farmers Market Reports to be both fun and informative. I’ve enjoyed helping to make them.
I just love being down at our market on Saturdays. We see almost a thousand people every Saturday. Of these, I think that at least one third are regular customers. This means that the Janesville Farmers Market is a regular destination for hundreds of people every Saturday morning. Why do so many individuals and families flock to our market? There are several reasons. Certainly the sweet treats, the entertainment, and the wide variety of local crafts help draw people in. Still, I think the real strength of the Janesville Farmers Market is the farmers.
This year the Janesville Farmers Market has hosted vendors from thirty different local farms. Not every farmer comes to the market every week. Some farm vendors specialize in certain crops that have a limited season, such as berries or asparagus. Some farmers offer both farm products and crafts. Most of our farmers, however, bring a variety of products that change throughout the growing season. All of our farmers grow the products they sell right here in Wisconsin. Farm sizes vary from three acres to three hundred acres. Growing styles and seed varieties also vary tremendously. Since the vendors actually participate in growing their own products, they can be a tremendous resource for learning and understanding more about the food we eat.
When you shop at the farmer’s market, you can participate directly with your food in a way that grocery stores and non-local markets cannot offer. I take several opportunities to walk around the market throughout the day each Saturday morning. As I walk and look and listen, I often hear customers asking questions about the farm products. How was this corn raised? How can I best cook this meat? What do I do with eggplant? These are consumers who care about how and where their food is grown. The answers they get will help them make informed choices about what to purchase and eat. The questions they ask will help the farmers to understand what consumers want to purchase at the market. When they plan next year’s growing season, they will remember that customers were asking for a certain kind of vegetable or a specific growing method. The relationship goes beyond just supply and demand. The food we buy at the market has a face. The customers have a face and a voice. You can come down to the Janesville Farmers Market and shake the hand that feeds you!