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Vegetal Grace


I eagerly anticipate the spring startup of the farmers’ markets each year. They begin around the end of April and stretch through to October. There are four in my area, one on Wednesday, one on Thursday, and two on Saturday. I go to the May and June markets more out of hope and longing than expectation. This early in the season the markets are dominated by people selling vegetable “sets” — potted tomato, pepper, and herb plants. Not having a place to nurture these tangible symbols of hope and flavor, my visits are short and disappointing.
Click to view larger versionSadly, the markets begin too late for rhubarb and strawberries, and as much as I love the baby lettuces when they appear, they’re not enough to satisfy the tremendous lust for truly fresh fare that grew over the winter months — a near insatiable desire to tear tender vegetables asunder with my bared teeth. And why is it no one grows English peas? Why does no one collect fiddlehead ferns to sell? Or morels?
Come June, I’ll find more greens, but I’ll still depend on the supermarkets. I really hate that. It won’t be until around the first week of July that summer’s long anticipated sensual delights at last begin to make their appearance. I’m not talking about mere food porn here — porn being a representation of something desired — but food prostitution — the objects of lust available for sale.
Too extreme a metaphor? As I type these words my mouth salivates at the thought of a warm tomato, dusted with sel de mer, juices dribbling into my beard. I long for a baby zucchini, bathed in marinade and then lightly grilled beside a pork chop. I lust, the only word, for a cantaloupe split in half and its raw flesh scooped with a spoon.
I’m sorry. I’m sorry… Sigh. I just learned my favorite farm will not be at the markets this year. I’m distraught.

It was a family operation located about 20 miles south of here. It was a big family, must have been five or six of them at every market manning a huge tent. A good-looking woman in her 40s bossed the operation. And her helpers were all young women hovering around the age of eighteen like flies hovering around a burst honeydew. They would have put that Dukes of Hazzard girl to shame, if she were capable of shame. I’ve been a bachelor for the past 25 years and I like it that way, but these young ladies were pretty enough to occasionally draw my jaundiced eye from the tomatoes.
But not for long. It was the tomatoes I coveted. They were one of the reasons their tent was always packed. As a male shopper I’m somewhat rare at the markets. Most of the shoppers are female, 40+, and couldn’t care less how pretty the person taking their money is. These farm girls always had 8 or 10 different varieties of tomatoes. They had half a dozen different summer squashes. Three or four cucumber varieties. Loads of greens and beans. And when the melons finally arrived… The best-tasting melons I’ve ever eaten.
They were angels, blessing us with extraordinary produce. Perhaps the only blessing that could crack my agnostic heart. I adored them all — and their fruits.
At a class last week, I learned they were gone. No more Cherokee Purple Tomatoes, no more Globe Cucumbers, no more perfect melons. I was told the Lord called them, and the family, pretty much kit-and-kaboodle, packed up and went off to foreign parts to be missionaries.
I’ve taught a lot of classes over the years, and I’m seldom thrown for a loop. The last time was a couple of years ago when someone asked which “cooking” wine I recommended (and yes, it was clear he meant the stuff you find at the supermarket) and I almost spewed the water I was drinking as he asked. But when I learned my favorite farm, the best farm in East Tennessee, wasn’t going to be here this summer I was dumbstruck. I stuttered. I felt like my home had been burgled.
I’m sure they’ll teach the folks they mission to some good stuff. They understand land, and farming, and how to live from the bounty they encourage. They know how to appeal to customers, and they have faith in what they do and their mission.
I don’t mean the God mission, but the human mission of feeding and caring for each other, from one hand to another’s mouth. I admire their decision and dedication. And I envy those they minister to next; I know I was graced by their vegetables. I wish them well, but wish them back, more.

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