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By Lisa Browdy
I have a confession to make: for my first decade or so in Oak Park, it was not unusual for me to go to the Farmers Market and purchase nothing but donuts. "Produce, shmoduce," I used to say, skirting right past all those fresh, healthy fruits and veggies. Those fried cinnamon-dusted circlets were the main draw, and I'd happily stand in line for 30 minutes to scarf one (usually only one) while savoring the music of the bluegrass band and the enjoyment of bumping into friends and neighbors.
If I purchased anything else it would be corn on the cob, or occasionally some berries. I appreciated the fresh-picked taste, but I found the cost prohibitive, so I largely passed them by. As Oprah used to say, "when you know better, you do better." So for today's Menu Monday, I'll share a little bit of what I've learned about local produce, and give you a reason to go to the Farmer's Market and spend your cash on something fresh and healthy.
I should start by pointing out that eating fresh fruits and vegetables (produce) is better for you and the environment than eating almost anything else. So if you are shopping the produce aisle at the supermarket, then you are doing good stuff. That said, the produce in our grocery stores often comes from very long distances, and loses some taste and nutrition in transit (not to mention the cost to the environment from all that shipping). In addition, non-organic grocery store produce has been treated with pesticides and it's a pretty good guess that the workers who grew and picked it were not paid a living wage.
Our government gives big subsidies to agribusiness conglomerates that grow sugar, wheat, corn and soy products that get processed into things that make us chronically ill and overweight. At the same time it gives almost no support for family farms and the growers of fruits and vegetables that are our biggest hope for turning our national health crisis around.
I can vote at the ballot box and also with my food dollars and my fork. Yes, indeed it does cost a bit more, but I think of it as supporting the small, local (and sometimes organic) farms that will simply disappear if nobody buys their products. My favorite food writer, Michael Pollan puts it this way: "You can pay the grocer, or pay the doctor."
If veggies aren't your thing (yet) then try some berries or apples and enjoy being a locavore for breakfast and snacks. There's also plenty to choose from in other types of food. Vendors there sell artisan cheeses (from humanely raised sheep, cows and goats), freshly-laid eggs (from free-range chickens), grass-fed meats, herbs, honey, and non-edible delights like fresh flowers.
The Farmer's Market is located at 460 Lake Street, in the parking lot of the Pilgrim Congregational Church. It runs from 7:00 am to 1:00 p.m. every Saturday through October 29. The website is www.oak-park.us/farmersmarket. Customers with LINK cards can get coupons for discounts on LINK-Approved food items.
Which is your favorite vendor at the Farmer's Market?