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a look at market

Megan Betz

Market this week: eggs, asparagus, lettuce, basil, peas, coffee, ramps. ($30)

Market this week: eggs, asparagus, lettuce, basil, peas, coffee, ramps. ($30)

After a class project that had me thinking about my food waste--in terms of compost and cash--I became a little obsessed with what my diet choices meant for my household's footprint, health, and budget. I ended the blog at the end of the semester, but I've kept tracking a lot of that information. I keep asking myself what it really costs to eat the way we want to eat, and how we can even the playing field so the heavy price tags of things like our splurge on maple syrup and bacon in one week are possible for more families.

One of the constant critiques of farmers' markets is that they are prohibitively expensive. In some cases, this is true. In others, like my own community, it's not always. While it's not a solution to a problem, our market has found a temporary tonic for a symptom: They've received funding to double the value of SNAP dollars used at market, helping families make increasingly limited dollars go farther.

There are things I won't buy at market, like a $10 loaf of bread or a $5 head of lettuce I'll forget about in the crisper. There are other things, like a pint of maple syrup for $7 (that would cost $14-17 at Kroger or Marsh), that are hard to pass up. And in spring, there are loads of greens--hearty ones that give you a good few days to enjoy them--that allow you to throw tons of vegetables into your diet for little effort and little more than you would pay at the grocery store. 

We're trying to push more of our shopping to market, as pasta, dried beans, and flours are increasingly making their way into stalls' regular offerings. I'm not yet sure how they compare on price, energy intensity, or anything like that. At this point, I just like the idea of only going to market. It's summer, and I'm feeling idealistic. I like the idea of supporting farmers I've come to know personally. I'm fortunate to live in the breadbasket of America, in a small and intimate community. That means you hug a lot of people at market, and so my sense of loyalty tells me I should at least give all these dried goods a try.

This isn't telling everyone to spend their limited incomes on $7 bacon and $4 mixed greens--or that it's best to "vote with your fork." It isn't asking you to only eat seasonally (though man spring is glorious*). This is just me, looking at my budget, being honest about what things cost, and then sharing that information, lately via Instagram. It's my own effort to create a data pile on what it actually costs to eat, for the most part, locally. Here's a sampling.

 

*I've discovered that all of my favorite foods--strawberries, snap peas, asparagus, and ramps--are spring crops. Maybe it's because after months of butternut squash, I'll eat anything. Maybe it's because their flavors are all delicate, crisp, and earthy. Or maybe it's because the Midwesterner in me appreciates anything willing to burst forth from winter with so much gusto, shivering through a melting frost in a determined stretch toward those first direct rays of sun.

 

Second week of outdoor market: ramps, radishes, bacon, maple syrup, greens ($25--that syrup was $7 less than we'd pay at Kroger).

Second week of outdoor market: ramps, radishes, bacon, maple syrup, greens ($25--that syrup was $7 less than we'd pay at Kroger).

Market this week: eggs, Swiss chard, radishes, tomato, and green onions. Not pictured: 3 tomato plants (black prince), 3 cucumber plants, and 4 marigolds. ($25)

Market this week: eggs, Swiss chard, radishes, tomato, and green onions. Not pictured: 3 tomato plants (black prince), 3 cucumber plants, and 4 marigolds. ($25)

A mountain of greens from outdoor market number 4: arugula and basil, ramps, Swiss chard and baby kale, asparagus. Not pictures: 2 nasturtium. ($25)

A mountain of greens from outdoor market number 4: arugula and basil, ramps, Swiss chard and baby kale, asparagus. Not pictures: 2 nasturtium. ($25)