When I was in Oklahoma, I couldn’t help but notice the immense satisfaction Okies have over their food. Restaurants are proud of their locally grown ingredients and, in most places I visited, the menus were teeming with italicized details that included information on the farms from which the meat was obtained or even the harvesting practices involving the vegetables that would be soon be on my plate. I was quite intrigued.
Until now, the only interest I’ve ever really had in my food usually centered around why my local grocer carries oranges from California, not from Florida, or why the seasonal peaches hail from South Carolina and not from our lovely northern neighbors in Georgia. I began to pay more attention to the orange juice I bought when I noticed on the back of a major brand’s carton that the ingredients included concentrated fruit juice from Brazil. Couple that revelation with a good, solid week of tasty eatin’ in Oklahoma and this girl has been enlightened.
So, now what?
Earlier this week, I decided to look up local farms and food networks. First of all, I was surprised to learn that a local food and farmers’ network even exists here in Jacksonville. Secondly, I was happy to find that they are open each and every Saturday from 2-5pm. I’m not a patient person, so having to dawdle around for the third weekend of every month to come around would have just made me crazy. Luckily, I only had to wait for two days.
The Beaches Green Market is located at 3rd Street (or A1A) and Florida Boulevard in Neptune Beach, at the corner of Jarboe Park closest to the beach. This Farmers Market isn’t overwhelming and, in fact, surprised me because there couldn’t have been more than two dozen vendors in total.
Each vendor was distinctly different from the others and I really liked this, simply because there was no competition between them. If I wanted to buy locally produced honey, I went to the honey guy. If I wanted to buy homemade soaps and lotions, I went to the soap guy. And that’s what I did…because, as good as my intentions may be, I didn’t come home with a single fruit or vegetable. I did, however, come home with an ample amount of honey, homemade soaps, pumpkin cinnamon bread, a Cornish pasty, and a Sunset Mimosa Spritzer…all locally made. (I must admit that I never meant to spend that kind of money at the Market but I happened to find a $20 bill just floating above the grass and nobody else claimed it. WAHOO! Then I spent it all…)
The beekeeper at Full Moon Apiary was so much fun to talk to. I am really only familiar with the honey that’s available in a grocery store, usually of the Orange Blossom variety. This man had a table full of so many flavors of honey! Tupelo, Wildflower, Watermelon (I bought one!), Gallberry, and, of course, Orange Blossom. There were others but after my sample taste of Watermelon honey, I pretty much forgot about the rest of the world for awhile and enjoyed the sweetness my tongue had just encountered. Seriously, that’s good stuff.
I moved over to the table with the British Pies, appropriately called The Proper Pie Company. I’ve heard of these things but I’ve never eaten one and wasn’t too excited about the ones available: cheese, potato, and onion; sweet pulled pork bbq; chicken and asparagus. No, thanks. But the British vendor guy noticed my Green Bay Packers hoodie (I swear, I do own other jackets…it’s just that this one is my favorite) and we became instant friends. We discussed the Packers’ undefeated season so far and the different varieties of British pies, mainly how none of them seemed to entice me although they were similar to the meat pies (called pasties) I had eaten while growing up in Upper Michigan. All of a sudden, the British guy got super excited and ruffled around in his refrigerated cubbies until he found what he was apparently looking for and then he tossed me a pie covered in saran wrap. BAM!!! I GOT A CORNISH PASTY!!! It was magical. Also, GO PACKERS.
Next, I met a woman at Culture in a Cup, a tea company that specializes in loose leaf and offers seminars, provides retail and wholesale services, as well as fundraising and special events. There were baskets of loose leaf teas available for sale (the hibiscus one sounded delicious), but I opted to try one of her freshly made Sunset Mimosa Spritzers. It was refreshing although I do wish the weather had cooperated more so that I could have enjoyed a cold drink on a not-so-cold day. The sun was out for most of the afternoon but the gusty winds brought in a chill, although the wind did stop blowing long enough for me to spot and catch that free-range twenty dollar bill.
This whole local food thing has caught my interest, maybe not enough to make any major changes but enough to keep me fascinated by the small things I can do in my everyday life, in my everyday eating. I’m not a big carnivore, but I can tell you that I happily devoured two delicious cheeseburgers (made with…what else?…locally raised beef), and enjoyed the tastiest beef tacos (made by Matt with…what else?…locally raised beef) while I was in Oklahoma City. There’s a much better quality in the food when it’s been nurtured by someone who takes pride in their work and in their product. When you get to know the person who is feeding you on a personal level, then it becomes…well, more personal. And that’s becoming more important to me than I ever imagined.
Another thing that’s becoming more important to me than I ever imagined…this mini-loaf of Pumpkin Cinnamon bread. Hands off, family. MINE. ALL MINE.