I can remember my first farmers’ market. It was 1989 and as I rode my bike through Santa Cruz, California, near where I live, I came upon a display of fruits and vegetables piled high and wide on card tables and the tailgates of pickup trucks—all jammed in an abandoned parking lot. There was a weathered-looking gentleman with a crumpled straw hat belting out folk songs on an old guitar and dozens of earthy-looking farmers, beaming and proud to speak of their work and their land, who encouraged me to sample a snap pea, a radish.
The farmers’ market in Santa Cruz hasn’t changed that much in 20-plus years—but it has gotten bigger and it is no longer a rarity. Over the past decade the number of farmers’ markets across the United States has almost doubled.
These markets are flourishing because they honor the basic premise that our land, food, health and happiness are inextricably linked. The simple act of shopping at local farmers’ markets is profound and one of the best things we can do for our own health and that of the planet. For me it’s my weekly (sometimes twice a week) way to get grounded, reconnect with great friends and get inspired to cook what is local and fresh that particular day.
Take one of my favorite market discoveries, tomatillos. I’ve taken to roasting them on a baking sheet or firing them on a grill: split into halves then blended with jalapeño peppers, a little vinegar and a touch of salt, it’s a great salsa (try Tomatillo Sauce). Or, I make tomatillo gazpacho.
I’ve since started growing tomatillos in my garden; the job of picking, roasting and blending has become a seasonal ritual. The result is dozens of jars of salsa for friends and enough in the freezer to last throughout the year. Come to think of it, that’s sort of how my dad, Paul Newman, started bottling and selling his salad dressing, the one that launched Newman’s Own.
I also try to keep a rotation of salad greens growing in my garden as well as tomatoes, basil, peaches and more. The chickens that run around my yard keep the bugs under control and help elevate the basic omelet to godly status. Between my garden and my farmers’ market, upwards of 70 percent of my diet is local.
As our world has gotten more focused on quick, cheap and easy ways to feed ourselves—and we’ve started packaging and shipping food great distances—our connection to the land has been lost, and a certain social fragmentation has occurred. To me the farmers’ market is about closing the distance between people and places, a way to remember traditions and crafts. It’s a way to put down, quite literally, good roots.
In much the way a seed is the beginning of something wonderful—of, say, a tree that will produce apples—so too is this book a seed to stir your imagination and passion for cooking with the fruits of the land. It’s also about connecting you to the place where you live, helping you to learn more about your neighboring farmers—their long days working the soil, and the choices they have to make to provide for not only their families but also their communities.
EatingWell in Season can be your guide to rebuilding your connection to food and the earth. After perusing these pages and making some recipes, you will want to seek out the local markets wherever you are, visit the farms and perhaps even plant your own seeds.