21 Sep 2013 Savor flavor of locavore movement
by Jan Spann
You may know terms like carnivore or omnivore, and a new word to try is locavore, a person who chooses foods that are produced locally.
Being a locavore has many advantages: less time in transit not only conserves fuel but also means produce is picked at its height of flavor and nutrition, and it can be a safer food supply. Fewer steps between growers and diners reduce the danger of food safety issues like tainted lettuce or adulterated meats.
You’ll find local foods in community share programs, community gardens, farmers’ markets and restaurants — from the trendiest to the most simple. For the purist locavore, the process means eating only what’s in season. I started this a few years ago. I cooked my first winter squash and found a plethora of produce I had never tried before!
Locally grown food also supports the local economy, as the money spent with local growers is reinvested in their communities. Many local farmers hold farm events and encourage family visits to introduce youngsters to the real food chain.
In the past five years, farmers markets have increased more than 50 percent, and community and school gardens are another growing trend. Unless you have started your own vegetable plot, you’ll need to ferret out the places where you can buy local foods. Farmers’ markets generally run from late April to October, and Central Arkansas also has independent grocery stores like the Argenta Market in North Little Rock and Liz’ Health Market in Conway.
The challenges small farmers face includes the ubiquitous grocery chains. One way to keep a competitive edge comes when small-lot producers provide offerings that haven’t yet made it to the wholesale distribution. Whether a variety grown from heirloom seeds or produce not usually found in Central Arkansas, these unique products give local growers something to offer, along with the guarantee of freshness.
Ever heard of sunshine squash? I hadn’t until I visited Barnhill Orchards in August. The family that runs this Lonoke County farm prides itself on all handpicked produce, which includes staples like potatoes, peaches and peas. But they also offer items like persimmons, kale and sunshine squash. It looks more like a pumpkin, and this winter squash variety is loaded with iron, vitamin C and potassium.
How about the Santa Claus melon? The actual name of this Spanish melon is Piel de Sapo or “Toad Skin,” which describes the mottled and textured skin of this deliciously sweet summer melon I first tried in a July Conway locally grown order. A cousin to the canary melon, it earned the moniker as the Christmas or Santa Claus melon because of its extended keeping qualities — “until Christmas.”
Another challenge for produce farmers comes mid-week, when the fields and orchards are ripe for picking but there are fewer market days. To address this imbalance, Barnhill Orchards has begun to offer weekday “Farm Baskets” filled with fresh, homegrown produce. The Farm Baskets typically consist of a variety of the very best fruits and vegetables among the crops that are available, with variety such as strawberries, blackberries and peaches as well as tomatoes, broccoli, purple hull peas and squash. A handpicked bouquet of Zinnias completes each basket. Late summer baskets may include farm honey and free range eggs. Baskets can be ordered at BanhillOrchards.com and can be picked up at the farm or delivered to drop-off points. Currently, orders are delivered to Prevail Fitness in Cabot and the Argenta Farmers Market.
“I am beginning to reach out to businesses in the Little Rock and surrounding area for their interest in bringing fresh produce via the Farm Basket to their employees,” said Ekko Barnhill. “Community support of the local farms is vital not only to their health, but to our existence.”
Follow Barnhill Orchards on Facebook for weekly updates of produce availability and ongoing farm activities.
If your community doesn’t yet have a farmers market or yours has limited hours, take a day trip to some of the great venues in Central Arkansas. Try the historic urban neighborhood of South Main (southsidemain.org) in Little Rock, where you’ll find the Bernice Garden with a Sunday farmers market from mid-April to mid-November. Mark your calendar for this year’s Cornbread Festival on Saturday, Nov. 2. Learn more at thebernicegarden.org.
In that same area, you’ll find the Root Café, with a deliciously quirky menu and a map on the wall t
hat identifies where its food is grown, whether it’s grass-fed beef or a pure vegan choice. Nearby, you’ll find the Community Bakery, the Green Corner Store and Boulevard Bread.
On the other side of the Arkansas River traveling north on Main, you’ll find yourself in the Argenta Arts District (argentaartsdistrict.org) and more tasty options. The Argenta Farmers Market — the first certified market in the state — sets up across the street from the Argenta Market grocery at Sixth and Main streets. The grocery offers freshly made sandwiches from the butcher’s counter as well as a coffee shop and a deli, all geared to please the palate of any locavore! Look for market events and specials such as tailgate parties at argentamarket.com.
The Historic Downtown Farmers Market in Hot Springs combines music and art throughout the year in addition to the fresh local and regional produce, eggs, herbs, plants, flowers, meat products, honey, jams, jellies, relishes and baked goods. Special events like “Shop with the Chef” or “The Health & Wellness Day” invite folks to stay a while and enjoy the coffee and the activities. Located just a few blocks off Central Avenue at Orange and Broadway streets, the market participates in the Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program where WIC mothers are given vouchers to buy fresh produce for their families (hotspringsfarmersmarket.com).
Large grocery stores will continue to be a partner in our food purchases, but as local growers and marketers become savvier about meeting consumer needs, we as customers reap the benefits of healthier food and a relationship with those who help put dinner on the table. And as farmers like the Barnhills plant high tunnel crops of strawberries and tomatoes for the colder months, maybe I can enjoy these tasty favorites out of season and still locally grown!
A Conway resident, Jan Spann has been gardening for 20-plus years and has been involved with the Faulkner County Master Gardeners for 11 years. She and her husband, Randy, have five children and eight grandchildren.