Thursday, July 31, 2008

How to Spend Your Dollars

Today is Thursday. It is a glorious summer Thursday, more like June than July with the temperature hovering right at 78 degrees, the sun shining, the skies blue. It is my perfect kind of day. Not too hot, not too cold. Just right.

It is also the day of the local farmer's market in the small community where I work. These days, farmer's markets have become almost cliche. Everyone goes to them, everyone buys more produce than they know what to do with and then scurries home to get cooking. The next day they boast about their epic meals: the amazing things they can do with favas, the most perfect raspberries in the world, a caprese salad with heirloom tomatoes, fresh torn basil and buffalo mozzarella to die for.

The Thursday farmer's market is especially interesting because I work in a rural community that is surrounded on all sides by acres and acres of farmland. The local producers don't have to drive very far to land at my market. Shop here, and it is, in the truest sense of the phrase, eating local.

But sadly, I didn't make it to the farmer's market today. The afternoon spun quickly out of my control and before I knew it, it was time to go. The day had ended, the farmer's market was nearly done too, and I (hungry and tired) wanted desperately to be home. I did not, I decided, have the energy to shop n' gossip my way through this small community market. I would stop at the store.

As I drove I dreamed of the basket of orange baby tomatoes purchased a few days earlier at the weekend farmer's market. They were round and plump, tart and sweet. They smelled like a mixture of dirt and green vine and I ate a few before washing them just because I wanted to taste the sun and the dust. Tonight I wanted a salad with these tomatoes cut into tiny half pieces and pushed up against chunks of avocado and leggy organic lettuce.

Why oh why did I think the grocery store would help me? The baby tomatoes were expensive and plastic looking, just a few shades shy of the vibrant color I needed them to be. The heirloom tomatoes looked a little better, but still as if they had been plucked from the garden a little too soon and tossed into a refrigerated truck. My dinner was losing its oomph and I kicked myself for not remembering how good the local market; how worth it is to stand in line for your fruits and veggies even if you are waylaid for moments by conversation and gossip and invitations.

I can't pretend that the corporate grocery store offered any sort of saving grace at all. I did salvage one small yellow tomato and one small red and orange speckled tomato that were serviceable. And I did find a basket of deliciously ripe raspberries -- the kind that are nearly candy sweet and so ripe that if they jostle together too much they will make jam.

I spent just as much as I would have at the market. And the time spent wandering through the cold aisles was more than equal to the chit-chat I would have endured. My dinner was satisfying, yes, but oh, to think what it could have been.

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