We made the trek to the Fountain Inn Farmer’s Market yesterday morning to pick up our monthly CSA share from Farmer Bill.  This is a picture I made after last month’s trip, showing a mixture of vegetables gotten at the market and from Bill’s farm.  The only thing we grew in this picture is the bunching onions, which I’d put on the counter as a reminder to eat immediately because they were wilting in the fridge.

Many of these tomatoes were purchased from a retired couple who raised them in their backyard without pesticide or chemical fertilizer and proudly told us about their beekeeping hobby and what to plant to attract bees.  (If you’re curious:  basil, basil, basil, maybe a few flowers, some spearmint… and more basil.)

I really like the little bicolored squash Bill gave us, still wearing a bit of mud from the recent rains.  This hybrid is called “Zephyr.”

Our CSA share is different than most.  We did not sign up for the weekly vegetable share, figuring our garden produces plenty and that we could always supplement from the Seneca Farmer’s Market or the various vegetable stands around town.  We have a monthly pick-up that is centered around meat, poultry, milk and eggs.

Bill raises heritage breed pigs.  (Varieties of livestock that are rare and in danger of going extinct if non-mainstream farmers don’t continue to raise them are called “heritage breed.”  This is the animal equivalent of heirloom seeds.)  His Tamworth hogs are so genetically robust they can actually forage for themselves, gathering at least a portion of their diet from the wild, and they spend most of their time roaming the woods, searching for acorns and such, enjoying life and fresh air and a measure of freedom unknown to most pigs in the modern, industrial farming system.  You can taste the difference — although I must be honest here and admit that the first time I tried what F. calls “real pork” I found it so dramatically different from the grocery store version that it was an alarming and off-putting experience.

At that first dinner, I worried I wouldn’t be able to eat any of the meat we had contracted to buy for five months.  But now I think grocery store pork tastes pale and pathetic, pumped up with saline water and with a flabby, sad texture.  I would not willingly switch back.

I love what Bill is doing to strengthen our food chain.  Besides that, he is a genuinely nice man.  I asked him about getting some chicken livers the last time I was there, wanting to make homemade pate for F., who loves the stuff, and also asked what he did with his chicken feet, because I want to make old-fashioned chicken stock heaven.  He said he’d see what he had.  This week, without mentioning it, he’d included large packages of each in our share bags.  Just a little surprise bonus.  I only realized once I got home and began to unpack everything.

I would encourage everyone who reads this blog to support your local farmer’s market, especially the small-scale, organic, humane and/or eco-friendly growers.  Fall is the time to start researching CSAs in your area for next season.  Seek out whatever qualities are important to you, whether that’s food that has a light footprint on the earth or food that is truly nutritious for your family.  The more I learn about these issues, the more I realize the two often go hand-in-hand.

You never know what you’ll find, but it will probably be of way better quality than what you get at a national chain grocery store.  In our case, believe it or not, the produce, meat, dairy and eggs we get are actually less expensive than those at the grocery store.

Plus, getting to know the person who grew your food is a pleasure.  It adds something indescribable, and yet very nourishing, to the meal when you’ve shaken the hand that did the work to put the food on the table.

(You can also order some products direct from Bill at Welch & Son Farm, depending on what he’s got available and what’s in season.)

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