Erin Turner of Turner Farms welcomes the fresh eating that comes with spring
With the longer days and warmer temperatures I am starting to crave fresh food. I am no longer hungering for the heavy comfort food of winter. Bright green lettuce heads, crisp radishes, and succulent peas fill my mind. While we are still a few months from feasting lavishly on fresh- from- the-garden produce, I have been busy getting my seeds ready, studying my garden layout plan, and even planting a few hardy crops that can endure Montana’s tumultuous spring weather.
Farm-to-table is a relatively new term. My grandparents would shake their heads and chuckle at it. For their generation, farm-to-table was everyday eating. It was not novel to step into one’s garden and pick that evening’s fare or stop by a farm stand down the road to pick up whatever had been harvested that day as well as some fresh farm eggs. Not so long ago, this is how most of America ate.
Shortly after World War II, the U.S. began embracing the commercial production of food. Suddenly, farm fresh was for the poor and country folk. Now, “hip” food comes in packages and is “made” instead of grown. While it was an exciting time for our country, it didn’t do a lot for our health or our sense of being connected to our food.
The 1970s saw a resurgence of getting “back to basics,” and fresh food once again gained the limelight. But the majority of people still sought the convenience of packaged food. The next two decades saw a shift in society in which it began to rely heavily on prepared food with just a side of veggies—usually from a can.
The modern concept of farm-to-table started to take form in late 1990s and early 2000s. Chefs and farmers began collaborating in areas of California and Colorado; eventually, it spread throughout the country. This movement grew out of concern for food safety, food freshness, food seasonality, and the major decline in small family farms. Farm-to-table pioneers also began making a connection between a person’s health and what was being served on his or her table. Today, while still not mainstream, farm-to-table eating is on the heels of commercially prepared food. The options for eating fresh, local, and seasonal farm-raised food are abundant.
We are extraordinarily blessed with a very vibrant local food scene. Many restaurants, grocery stores, and other local food establishments support local farms and do miraculous things with the fresh produce grown here in the Garden City. Farmers Markets will be starting up this month and that means an onslaught of the freshest vegetables, fruits, grains, meats, and so much more.
Many people enjoy browsing and visiting with friends, but I encourage you to take the time to support the local farmers and ask them what they recommend that week. Every farmer has their favorite crop and their favorite way of preparing it. I love when customers ask me how to prepare a vegetable. It delights me to share with them my failures and my discoveries about a particular crop. Probably my favorite part of farming is educating and sharing information with my customers. As a farmer, I have carefully nurtured and raised these crops, harvested them with the utmost care, and now as I place them in the hands of the consumer, I want him or her to get the fullest benefit possible from this vegetable or fruit. It’s an added bonus when the consumer feels as passionately about these crops as I do. That, for me, brings farm-to-table full circle.
The idea of farmer and consumer connecting and sharing over food brings me lots of joy. Over the years, I have made some terrific “market friends” who come every week to pick my brain and share with me their recipes. Food miraculously puts people on common ground and unites them. This connection among the food, farmer, and consumer is a principle our country lost with the advent of commercially produced food. It feels good as a farmer to share my harvest with people I have met face-to-face and to know my food will be on their table that evening.
When my husband and I were first starting our farm in 2006, we delighted in having at least one item on our plate that we grew. Eventually, our goal was to fill the entire plate with food that we had grown, hunted, gathered, or raised. The day we hit that goal was glorious. Nowadays, it’s rare for us to have “outside” food on our plate at any of our meals.
The other night at dinner, a guest asked, “Oh, this corn is good. Did you grow it?” Everyone stopped and looked up at her with amazement. Embarrassed, she then laughed and said, “Well, that was a silly question! Of course, you grew it!” Yes, yes, we did.
If my Depression-era grandparents were still here, they would chuckle at such a concept and ask me to pass the bowl of mashed potatoes and platter of butchered pork—assuming, naturally, that the potatoes were homegrown and the pork freshly butchered.