“Eating is an agricultural act.” So says Wendell Berry in the current issue of edible Piedmont. He contrasts an “industrial eater,” whose palate is abused by poor, paltry fare, with an engaged and informed consumer whose strong connection to food sources enriches the food-buying relationship as well as the menu. Raleigh displays many of the national trends toward eating local, and usually this implies a more sustainable form of agriculture. The enlightened omnivores, vegetarians, and lovers of fresh food in Raleigh have quite a few choices. With planting season at hand, growing your own food should be option number one. But beyond the greens, tomatoes and peppers that almost all of us can manage, the range of foods and purchasing venues available seems to be spreading like dandelions.
North Raleigh is set to get a new farmer’s market May 2. The N & O reported March 18th that the private group putting it together decided on Falls River Center on Durant Road as the location. At least seven farmers will participate in the initial offerings. The Midtown Farmers’ Market at North Hills will operate Saturday mornings from April 11 til November 14. South Raleigh is blessed with the State Farmers’ Market, a huge enterprise which is now open every day of the year. Downtown, the City Market vegetable vendors keep on keeping on after more than fifty years – but just Thursday-Saturday. On Wednesdays, starting April 15, shoppers can also check out the Moore Square Farmer’s Market, which takes place under tents and features a variable selection of local produce, meats and finished baked and prepared foods from local farms.
Community supported farms, or CSAs, are a popular way of distributing food in many parts of the country, and Raleigh is coming into the fold. The Carolina Farm Stewardship‘s Farm Tour, which takes place April 25-26, 1-6 PM, is a great way to see the farms and set up your subscription for a set amount of harvested food over a season. The Cooperative Extension‘s list of CSA farms includes over 50 listings for the Piedmont area, but when I explored the Tour last fall, its list of a dozen or so was far more than I could handle in a weekend. Most of the CSA farms have websites, and many sell at other venues. Check out one of those markets and ask around!
The grocery store can be a great source of high quality local fresh food. Whole Foods is a leader in buying local organic produce, but most stores feature seasonal local offerings and are beginning to recognize and market the organic aspect of much locally produced food. One real advantage of an organic grocery store like Whole Foods is that you can trust you are getting certified organically grown food. Don’t get me wrong – I think buying from local farmers is a good thing, whether or not they qualify as organic. I stop at roadside stands, and have fond memories of the vegetable truck making its way through east Raleigh, selling the housewives good old Southern truck produce, which is anything but organic. But as we all shift our sights toward a better relationship with the planet, grocery stores that seek out local organic produce are doing a favor for the entire food system.
Surely the most admirable venue for local food is the community garden. Many are church-run, and have the additional goal of feeding those in need. Community gardens can be therapy for just about any age or demographic, and can be operated at a wide range of sizes and locations. In our area, the Covenant Community Garden at Fuquay-Varina United Methodist Church is a nationally known model of a faith-based, action-centered agricultural project. We can renew our own lives and literally rejuvenate the planet by making not only healthy but ecologically sound decisions when we choose how to obtain our food.