My son and I went on a field trip together yesterday, to a Sunday farmers' market down the road. The morning was bright and beautiful as we drove past patches of bluebonnets and the welcome sight of a full lake by the dam.
We hadn't been to this market before; I usually go to the Saturday one just across the road from our neighborhood, in the mall parking lot. But the teenager knew he'd be sleeping off a full Friday of amusement park fun on Saturday morning, so we hunted down a Sunday location from the list his AP Environmental Science teacher posted on her website.
The market was small, maybe twenty or so stalls. We huddled in the middle of the walkway for a few minutes to go over the questions on his homework, and garnered the attention of one of the vendors in the process, who thought the assignment was interesting.
Some of the questions were easily answered by observation--list some fruits and vegetables and protein sources for sale, find several varieties of a specific produce, list something that seems missing.
Other questions required interviewing the farmers. The first stand we visited had gorgeous tomatoes and broccoli. We eavesdropped on a conversation with the shopper in front of us as the farmer explained how he'd been ripped off by a major grocery chain, who stopped buying from him as soon as they found out what seeds he used and employed cheaper labor south of the border to grow the same crops. He brusquely, but in detail answered my son's questions about tending the soil. We learned that he mixes it with hay, and plants clover to oxygenate the soil in winter. Bugs are tended to with soap and water.
At another certified organic vendor, a young woman was eager to answer more homework questions. She explained how the farm operated and the importance of the location. Situated within 100 miles of our city means that the food is fresh, does not need extra treatment like waxing or chlorinating to extend shelf life, and cuts down on fuel required for transport--which is good for the environment, which in turn is good for the plants. She encouraged my son to pursue organic agriculture, citing a dearth in young people studying that field.
The last blanks to fill had us speaking with a bison farmer. We learned the difference between grass-fed and grass-finished. The latter refers to the practice of fattening up beef just before slaughter by feeding them grains. This does add weight, but also adds fat, which we pay for with our money and our waistlines. She showed us a piece of bison meat, a rich red steak with very little fat, higher in protein and iron because it ate grass to the finish.
One of my goals for the year is to shop the farmers' markets more often, and the education I received yesterday encouraged that resolution. I enjoyed learning alongside my son as much as I enjoyed munching on my purchases afterward. Only produce this time, though now I am tempted to try bison...