Recent years have seen farmers’ markets blossom from just fruit and vegetable stands to weekly street fairs where those same local, organic farmers’ displays are now punctuated with arts, crafts, and food trucks. People don’t just go to farmers’ markets to pick up produce for their meals; people go to farmers’ markets to support local growers, shop, eat al fresco, and meet with friends. For many, a trip to the farmers’ market is a scheduled outing. It’s a weekly party. And, now, marketplaces are taking on another role—education and outreach.
This summer, the Santa Cruz Community Farmers’ Market (SCCFM) kicked off the FoodShed Project that focuses on the connections between farmers, food artisans, and the community inside our local foodshed. All of the FoodShed Project events are free and hosted at the Downtown Santa Cruz Community Farmers’ Market except the special September event – La Comida Del Pueblo de Watsonville – which will be at the Watsonville Farmers’ Market. A foodshed can be defined in a variety of ways. But, most simply, it includes where a food is produced and where a food is consumed and everything in between – the land on which it grows, the route it travels to get to market shelves, the tables on which it’s served, how it’s being prepared and presented, and the waste that is produced.
From its inception in 1990, the SCCFM has had the goal of providing educational programs within the community. With a grant funded by the United States Department of Agriculture under the Farmers’ Market Promotion Program, and in a partnership with the Ecological Farming Association, the FoodShed Project’s series is bringing that plan to fruition.
The FoodShed Project’s monthly events shine the spotlight on seasonal food items, showcasing them with tastings, talks, music, cooking demonstrations, and activities for the entire family. Youth from Food, What?! have been hired to lead educational scavenger hunts and lend helping hands during the mini cooking classes and demonstrations at each event. The FoodShed Project hopes to grow their partnership with Food, What?!— and nurture the local agriculture industry—by funneling young, food‐justice leaders into local agriculture‐related jobs in the coming years.
The FoodShed Project series kicked off in June with their Strawberry Bonanza and continues through October on the first Wednesday of each month.
Nicki Zahm, Foodshed Project Director, recounts how eighty or so people sat, two or three on a hay bale, eyes glued to the preparation of strawberry shortcake guided by Erin Lampel of Companion Bakeshop. Then Sandy Brown from Swanton Berry Farm took over the show, fielding questions about labor, pesticide use, and ecological practices in strawberry growing. After the presentation, the crowd dispersed and the Food, What?! youth leaders led market goers on an informative strawberry scavenger hunt, answering the questions posed on the posters located at various farmers’ market stands. “What do farmworkers call strawberries and why?” read one poster.
Throughout the Strawberry Bonanza, kids and adults alike visited the arts and crafts table and danced to the local bluegrass band Moonshine Jubilee. As the event neared its end Zahm came across her five‐and‐a‐half‐year‐old nephew, a spider man mask painted over his eyes. She asked him, “What did you learn about strawberries?” He folded his small body over at the waist, mimicking the action of picking berries, “Farmworkers call strawberries ‘la fruta del diablo’ because they work long days and have to bend over like this when they are picking.”
The second FoodShed event, Livestock Lowdown, revealed some interesting food shed facts to market goers: chickens raised in feedlots have so little room they have to take turns laying down; pasture‐raised livestock is higher in vitamin E, beta‐carotene, vitamin C, and omega‐3 fatty acids; green pasture draws greenhouse gases out of the air and stores them in the soil where it increases soil fertility benefiting the environment. Local butcher Chris LaVeque of El Salchichero and Chef Brad Briske treated the crowd to a barbeque demonstration and tasting.
The FoodShed Project’s August event – Peach Partay – is this week. Wednesday, August 1, from 3‐5pm, at the Downtown Santa Cruz Community Farmers’ Market. Don’t miss the opportunity to celebrate peaches, those voluptuous, luscious gems whose flavors just scream “summertime!” Make ice cream and learn peach grilling skills from Kendra of Penny Ice Creamery. Listen to a guest from legendary Frog Hollow talk about fruit tree care and history. And follow Food, What?! on an educational stone fruit hunt. I’ll be there, picking up peaches, learning from experts, tasting delectable treats, and supporting local growers. I hope you’ll join me.
For information about the FoodShed project: www.santacruzfarmersmarket.org or 813.454.0566
Photos courtesy of the FoodShed Project