By: Alex Powell
I’m not from the south. The humidity, the bugs, none of this is for me. However, between college and career, I did little jaunts along the coast where I was introduced to a dish called shrimp and grits. At approximately 1 pm on a sunny day in May, at the Full Moon Café in Manteo, North Carolina, my life changed. This food! It goes down as one of the most memorable meals of my life. I wish I could tell you my next course of action was carefully thought out, and I did a thorough job search and cost of living estimate, but this is not so. In less than three months after this life altering meal, I traded in my yinz for y’all. I moved to the south in large part because I was charmed by the cuisine.
Once settled into a life in Olde Towne Portsmouth, I devoted my Saturday mornings to coffee and a stroll through town. I stumbled into the farmers’ market, and immediately felt lost among a sea of greens and vegetables I kinda knew, but had certainly never tasted. I was embarrassed by what I did not know. One weekend, I saw Brussel sprouts. I think “I know what those are! I’m going to get those, even though I’ve never been successful at cooking them.” As I’m paying, I say as much to the woman, Lisa. She tells me, “Look, I don’t know what to do with half this stuff. But I do have a really good recipe. I’ll bring it next week.” And she did. I was amazed she remembered. From that day forward, I was a loyal customer. Bobby would see me coming and say, “here. Try this.” Showing me some random greenery. He would tell me the way to prepare it, and I would take it home and report back. I know he was amused by my comments, “This is a turnip, right?” and the fact that I had never had greens aside from spinach. It quickly became the highlight of my week.
When they announced the following season they would be starting a CSA program, I jumped at the chance. I was absolutely giddy to see what was in the basket every week. I discovered a love for parsnips; mashed turnips are amazing, and radishes! Sautee those suckers in some butter and it is positively decadent, melting in your mouth. I became acquainted with produce I would have never bought in a grocery store. Relying on Lisa and Bobby to provide for us has created a relationship beyond friendship and more like family that continues despite our move to Nashville. Yes, we are in a sense business partners, and I am financially invested in their success. But that is a secondary concern for me. Not only do I know where my food comes from and have walked on the land that grows it, I know the hands that pick, pluck, and bundle it from start to finish. I know exactly where my dollars go. It was harder leaving my farmer than it was leaving some neighbors.
The first thing I did when I got to Nashville was try on the local markets. This one was too big, that one was a little heavy on the man buns. (Not that there is anything wrong with man buns but a friend hit that nail on the head when she said, of this neighborhood “it’s almost aggressively hipster”) These were not for me. A neighbor told me about the Nolensville market, so off I went. It wasn’t huge, but still bigger than my home market. It was bustling, but not so much that I couldn’t talk to the vendors. I was on a mission. I had to find a new farmer. It was clear I had found my tribe here. I walked out that day with eggs, veggies, and a pledge to sign up for both a produce and a meat CSA. Before I had a Tennessee driver’s license, I made sure I was feeding my family, and supporting local producers.
I’ve come a long way from my first farmers’ market, but I know it can be a daunting experience when you feel like you don’t know the difference between a carrot or a parsnip, or how to prepare any greens, let alone tell them apart. The beautiful thing is, almost any grower or producer here at the Nolensville Farmers’ Market is happy to help you. All you need to do is ask. Or, just swing by the information booth, and leave your question in the “ask a farmer box”. I will do my best to get it answered for you here on the blog!