Monday, September 5, 2011

Meatless Monday: Checking In from the Mid-Section

I’d noticed the small sign in previous years while traveling Route 34 between Galva and Galesburg, IL. FARMERS MARKET, THURSDAYS, 3-6. The town? Oneida, in Knox County IL, population 689. The location? A small parking lot across from DT Sales and Service (purveyors and maintainers of mowers and outdoor power equipment).

This year the timing was right, and we planned ahead to include a visit.

What would a mid-Western farmers’ market be like? Would there be lots of vendors? What would they sell? Many questions came to mind during our 14 mile drive without stoplights, or even stop signs, past rolling fields of lush, green crops, mostly corn. Upon our arrival we spotted a handful of vendors, some under tents, one under a sample double carport, and one with a stand-alone display on the back of a pick-up truck. Decidedly absent were the fancy white tents and the crowds of people milling about which are so much a part of the coastal urban markets.

Most vendors had a specialty, some of which were familiar — goat cheese, heirloom tomatoes, and local honey. The find of all finds was the dazzling array of heirloom tomatoes grown by Tom and Ann Collopy of Hilltop Heirlooms in Dahinda, IL — perfect fruits from black to bright orange at the amazing price of $1.50/lb, mix and match. Yes, $1.50!  We sampled two pounds in total — a large Brandywine and a half dozen smaller varieties including Reisentraube (tasty red ones with a sharp, pointy end), yellow pears, and sweet orange cherry (a marble-sized perfect ball and our favorite). According to Tom, after years of growing vegetables and herbs for their own family’s use, the Collopys expanded their garden and began experimenting with heirloom tomatoes. Last year they had about 80 plants in 15 varieties  for sale at area farmers’ markets and the Local Growers’ Network in Knox County. The Local Grower’s Network offers an innovative program — a  $20 box of produce, filled with a variety of food “at the farmers’ whim,” available by calling in or emailing a reservation, weekly, every other week, or whenever the urge hits, pay upon pick-up.  A CSA without a long-term commitment — I like this!

Our group also bought goat cheese, a crumbly garlic infused variety, perfect for topping a salad; honey from the Murdocks of Wataga, paler and sweeter than Connecticut honey; strawberry jam (sold frozen) which tasted exactly like fresh strawberries (yum); sourdough cornbread; and sweet pickles for my mother-in-law. 

We were clearly noticed as not being locals; a big clue was the rental car with the Minnesota plates. The honey vendors were particularly intrigued about our origins and enjoyed hearing our tales of inner-city beehives and New Haven’s ordinance allowing hens but not roosters.  However, the young boy couldn’t understand what a city would have against roosters. Too noisy? Really? 

Missing were any signs proclaiming “Illinois Grown” or “Organic.” We didn’t ask too many questions. I did inquire at the truck, which included in its display kiwi with stickers clearly marked “New Zealand,” where the grapes had come from. I decided Michigan was close enough. They were delicious. However, the corn at $4/dozen was not as sweet as what I can buy at CitySeed. Maybe that’s because most of Connecticut corn is grown for human consumption, and that’s simply not the case in this part of the country. [That’s another story.]

We also checked out another market in the area’s biggest town on Saturday morning. It was a disappointment — 3 vendors, only one with produce. As it turns out, the Oneida market is a real gem. 

Please check back again soon, certainly next Monday, when I plan to offer some tips to help you meet Slow Food’s $5 Challenge.  

I often blog on food or food issues on Monday in support of Meatless Monday, one of several programs developed in the Healthy Monday project, founded in 2003 in association with Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Communications. Meatless Monday’s goal is “to help reduce meat consumption 15% in order to improve personal  health and the health of our planet.”

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