zucchini and tomatoes at a farmers market

Garlic and Farmers Market Shopping


Garlic and Farmers Market Shopping


Shopping at a Farmers Market is a Way to Gain Control of What You Eat.

Garlic Hangs to dry inside the barn at Rosehip Farm on Whidbey Island.

The dump truck was losing its load of garlic a little at a time. Every few seconds a knob would catch the wind and go sailing. One might hit the pavement, smashing in a small explosion. Another might leave the road and go rolling through the California dust.

We were behind that muscular, but ill-suited truck, so that once every couple of minutes one of those knobs of fresh garlic would hit us. They were like giant bugs smashing off our windshield. I wondered, “How could somebody be so casual with… with food?”

I remembered that moment from many years ago as I looked at garlic hanging to dry inside the barn at Rosehip Farm on Ebey’s Reserve on Whidbey Island; carefully tied bunches gently air-drying in the cool dry air of the barn. They’d been harvested, but they needed to dry before they were ready for this farm’s customers.

I was there on a hectic summer’s morning.

Are some squash ready to go? What about the peas? How long before a few tomatoes are ready? Someone is in the lettuce field, of course, plucking individual leaves from plants, choosing, washing, and bagging only those ready to go today. Every summer’s day is harvest time.

“It’s all about quality control,” I was told by one of the farmers after he treated me to a handful of just-picked blueberries. The plants were literally in a giant cage, keeping the birds from getting the berries before they could be harvested. He moved from plant to plant, picking only those berries that were ready. He’d come back in a day or two and again harvest only the blueberries that were ripe.

Farms like these are to industrial food like fashion boutiques are to industrial clothing manufactures. There’s attention to craft, attention to detail, but most of all, a deeper understanding of the product.

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Various shades of carrots are bundled together

Those who shop only at supermarkets might not know that carrots come in different colors!

Colorful flower leaves

Shoppers at Whidbey and Camano Islands often find edible flowers mixed with their greens.

That understanding comes through at farmers’ markets and farm stands, where the customer finally gets to inspect the harvest and ask questions. With garlic, visitors learn that there are hardneck and softneck garlic and they come in varieties such as Inchelium Red or Purple Stripe. Visitors can ask about the differences in flavor and which kinds of garlic are best for roasting. They learn that, on Whidbey and Camano Islands, like much of the rest of the coastal Pacific Northwest, garlic is often planted in the fall, overwintering for an early harvest, but that a second crop might get planted in the spring for a late fall harvest.

Like a fashion-forward designer boutique won’t fill your closet, the farmers market isn’t likely to supply all of your food needs. Even those who live here don’t solely shop farmers’ markets, and certainly no one is going to drive to our islands specifically for a handful of garlic or a bagful of produce.

Yes, when you go home, the supermarket garlic, even the organic stuff will only be labeled, “garlic.” The produce people might not know exactly where the garlic was harvested. And, yes, your garlic might have taken a ride in a dump truck.

But, you’ll know more.

And, when you’re back in your city-clad kitchen, instead opening a jar of industrial sauce, you’ll crush a few cloves of fresh garlic, and as you sauté it for a sauce you’ve decided to make from scratch, a bit of the Whidbey and Camano magic will come back and you’ll remember my farmer saying, “It’s all about quality control.”

by Jack Penland

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