It was only a short while ago that I found myself looking up the word locavore. Thinking it was some obscure Italian opera term, I couldn’t figure out why in the world I saw it in an article discussing food.
Upon further investigation, I discovered that locavore was the Oxford American Dictionary’s Word of the Year in 2007. In other words, I’m a little behind on my vocabulary, and there’s no doubt that self-proclaimed foodies would scoff at me for not knowing this ‘basic’ term. My ignorance aside, I realized that I actually live in the midst of one of the most locavorian cities in the country, and I had in fact become something of a locavore as soon as I moved here. If Locavoria were a nation, then Madison would surely be its capital.
Madison also happens to be the capital of Wisconsin, and it helps set the pulse for local-vores in the form of the Dane County Farmers’ Market. Although this market runs year-round, most residents will agree that the best time to go is between May and November, when it’s held on the capital square outdoors. Then, you’ll find the greatest variety of fruits, vegetables, meats and homemade products the Midwest has to offer. My Saturday morning ritual normally involves a trip to this market, scoping out all the wonderful products to be had, and returning home with my perishables for the week.
There are die-hards who maintain that eating organic, locally grown foods is healthier for you. Although I don’t know what I believe to that end, I do find that eating local, organic food not only tends to taste better, but it also is a way to become more connected to your food, your surroundings, and your environment. I tend to go to one farmer for my grass-fed beef, another farmer for my apples, another farmer for my greens – and I know that most of them were in their very own fields that morning picking the fruits and vegetables I’m about to buy and eat.
Many people would prefer to eat organic and/or local, but choose not to because of higher costs. I’ve been surprised to find that buying produce at the farmer’s market can cost as much as shopping at a grocery store; however, it can also be more expensive. And how exactly do we judge the decision to “go local”? Americans only spend about 10 percent of their income on food (which is down from about 20% sixty years ago). A number of us are spending that difference on cell phones, televisions, cars, clothing, etc. I acknowledge that organic food can be simply unattainable for people with lower incomes, but if supporting sustainable, locally grown food is important to you, you can make the choices that allow for these types of foods in your budget. At the very least, I am happy to pass up on buying that eighth pair of jeans in order to spend a extra few dollars per week on food that is fresh, local, and pesticide-free.
One of the biggest joys for me at the weekly market is the simple tradition of going. My connection to food has become much more personal and intimate now that I am directly buying the foods I’m eating from the people growing them. But I also enjoy hearing all the wonderful conversations about the foods that people make with products purchased from the market. While meandering around the square from stall to stall, I often hear friends talking about what to do with purple potatoes, or how to deal with daikon, or what kinds of delicious soups can be made from all varieties of squash. It’s amazing how well a farmer’s market can bring people together to talk about its many food options.
If ever one were to need inspiration for new meals, a fews strolls around the square during the farmer’s market would be the first steps into a whole new world of locavoria.
The Dane County Farmer’s market runs year round.
May – November outdoors, Saturdays & Wednesdays
November – May indoors, Saturdays only.