I am honored to welcome my lovely and talented friend, Keia Mastrianni, as a guest contributor at Real Food Carolyn! Keia is a freelance writer and copy editor for The Local Palate. She lives in Shelby with her farmer love. When she’s not writing, she’s helping out in the field or in the kitchen baking pie. You will want to follow her on Twitter or Instagram. Thanks for sharing your love of real food and local farms with us, Keia!
Before moving to North Carolina, I had attended farmers markets and enjoyed them; the bustle of people in the early morning around lively market stalls filled with tables of fresh vegetables and handmade goods. It was the place where I first began learning about fresh food and a time that coincided with my burgeoning interest to cook at home. Though I’d venture to say that back then, I didn’t grasp the full pleasures of the market. I enjoyed the social atmosphere, but I had yet to invest myself fully in the connection and community a market provides.
When I moved to North Carolina in 2010, I started attending the Davidson Farmer’s Market regularly. It became Saturday morning ritual to venture out early to Main Street Davidson, market bag in one hand and a hot cup of Summit coffee in the other. It wasn’t unlike what I did in my previous hometown, except that I began to take more than visceral interest in the market about me. I began to engage with the farmers, taking interest in their process (by this time, I had started my first vegetable garden), and actually getting to know them.
I met Brad Hinckley from Coldwater Creek Farm, whom I still refer to as my “first farmer.” I respected his growing practices and began to seek out the farmers who were caring for their produce similarly. That one relationship prompted me to engage more with market vendors, to feel comfortable asking questions and to actually learn about each farm. I even began visiting farms when I could, first through the Know Your Farms tour and then on my own. It was a revelation that I could actually know my farmer and I began to see the richness of my region; a place literally surrounded by local farms.
Photo Credit Keia Mastrianni
I also began learning about how to cook with the seasons simply by using the market as my grocery store. I feverishly researched new recipes to incorporate the vegetables I found at market and started to cook with a “use what you have” approach, which helped me grow as a home cook. This was a marked change from my “organic obsession,” a benevolent but thwarted perception that had me so focused on the organic label that I would follow it to the far reaches of California, Mexico, and South America if it meant that I was “eating clean” or getting that perfect ingredient. The farmers market opened my eyes to the flawed nature of my worldview. I never once gave thought to where my food was coming from, and worse, where my dollars were going. What I discovered is that when I took the time to know my farmer, I didn’t have to chase a label. I knew exactly where my food came from and to whom my money was going to. Most of what I needed was at my finger tips each Saturday–produce, eggs, sustainable meats, cheeses, and flowers– and I was connected to the folks who gave it to me.
I eventually moved closer to Charlotte and began doing the same thing, only now I would visit two markets, the Yorkmont Regional Farmers Market and Atherton Mill and Market. Each Saturday was filled with meaningful conversations and meetups with friends. I had discovered a community that provided me with genuine connection, and the ability to support people in my own community. There’s real power in that.
My interests have grown since my early visits to market. I discovered a passion for food that ultimately led me to a new career path, and today I have a taste for fresh food that guides my eating habits. I’ve learned that food and people are interconnected and that when I take the time to engage in the simple pleasures of the farmers market, I get to participate in community and I get to give back. No trip to the grocery store has ever come close to that experience.
Photo Credit Keia Mastrianni
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