Saturday, August 06, 2005

Shopping day

"You have arugula!" I exclaimed.

The girl behind the table grinned. "Yes, we do--isn't it beautiful?"

"Mine bolted a million years ago."

"This is a new heat-resistant variety called Astro. It loves the hot weather. Just loves it."

It was 7:45 AM. I was standing in the Athens Green Market, a small assemblage of five organic vendors in the courtyard of Big City Bread. I hadn't shown up at this market much in the last three years, since it's kind of a tall order for me to get into town in time now that I live 40 minutes away. I was glad the Eat Local Challenge had inspired me to come back. I used to live a few blocks from here and would walk over as soon as I woke up.

Despite the market's minuscule size, the bounty was impressive. There were especially a lot of gorgeous heirloom tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants (which, Murphy's Law being what it is, were things I already had at home).

Tim Mills, the miller who grinds Red Mule cereals (with the help of his trusty mule, Luke), chatted with me a while and sold me three of his products: grits, cornmeal, and a mixed-grain cereal called English Porridge. I asked him if the oats in the porridge were local and he shook his head woefully. But then it transpired that by "local" he meant Athens. Much to my surprise and delight, oats are grown on a small scale as close as South Georgia! Apparently I won't have to go through oat withdrawal after all.

Half an hour earlier, I had visited the even tinier Athens Farmer's Market, an ad hoc collection of pickup trucks and vans parked outside City Hall. There were four vendors there this morning. Most of them were hawking pallid hybrid tomatoes. But I was delighted to find a skinny crewcutted boy selling okra and crowder peas. I had never seen crowder peas fresh before and had to ask what they were (my first guess was blackeyed peas).

My lovely local purchases, clockwise from the top: Red Mule grits, English porridge, and cornmeal (all milled in Athens, Ga.); crowder peas; arugula; Italian honey figs; butternut squash; Big City honey wheat bread; okra; and yellow crookneck squash.