Nature Notes – From the Backyard to the Biosphere. To Market to Market: Bringing Organics Home

Nature Notes – From the Backyard to the Biosphere. To Market to Market: Bringing Organics Home

Thursday afternoons have become my favourite time of the week over the last year. This time has come to symbolize for me abundance, freshness, flavour and friends. Thursday is market day in our neighbourhood. The sounds, smells and smiles market are like nowhere else. We are lucky enough to have, within a quick bus ride or bike trip, an organic farmers’ market full, throughout the growing season, with the tastiest, freshest, and most beautiful local food our region has to offer.

Peas give way to tomatoes; spinach and plums to broccoli and peaches; and then corn and onions to the apples, beets and squash of late summer. The ever-changing selection of food on offer signals the passing of the seasons, reminding us in this global economy that productivity does indeed follow the cues of the local climate. Growers stand behind their stalls, stocking and restocking the table. Produce is piled high in the back of the truck used this morning to ship the produce to town.

As of this time last year, I was but a novice market-goer. We had always tried to eat as much organic food as possible, knowing that the healthiest way for us to nourish ourselves and for the planet to deal with agriculture was via this method of growing food — food free from toxins and full of goodness that only well-cared for, well-respected soil can provide. But in our busy lives, eating organically grown food had meant having an organic food box delivered to our home each week.

During maternity leave this past year, my schedule was suddenly flexible enough to allow me to make it to the awkwardly-scheduled Thursday afternoon market. A few visits and I was hooked. The guitar guy crooning away on a bench in the background; the magical transition from city hubbub to, only a few steps from the bus stop, the serene bustle of the market; rows of stalls lining the winding park path; elbows bumping sides, arms crossing arms as all, eager to get that fresh fix for the week, carefully choose this, inspect that, and pop the best the market has to offer into bags, baskets, buggies, strollers — whatever comes in handiest.

The market has become a sort of weekly ritual, a time to not only gather that which will sustain us for the week, but to connect with those who have toiled for its creation, to have those hands which picked the lettuce this morning pass this bit of sustenance on to us directly.

The term organic has at the same time concrete, definable meanings, and also those that are more subjective, personal and ephemeral. The word carries with it binding principles and practices to which farmers must adhere, if they are to tout the organic label. Strict avoidance of synthetic pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers; an emphasis on building healthy soils as the backbone of wholesome produce and healthy agricultural environments; and the cultivation of organisms that have not been genetically modified — these are just a few of the reasons why organic has come to be seen by many as the way to eat, and the way to produce our food.

But our local market has illustrated to me that the term organic can encompass much more holistic a meaning than simply the way in which food is produced. Organic has come to me to mean a way of thinking about food and a way of relating to that which sustains us. When my young son leans over the table to grab a fresh pear from the fruit bowl, I realize that, as he happily munches away, I am unconcerned about toxic residues on the fruit’s skin. I can remember the exchange with the farmer from whose trees this very pear came. I can picture in my mind the road an hour away where the orchard can be found. I know the river that runs near that farm is free along that stretch from toxins and nutrient overload so commonly associated with agriculture. Food is the basis of life. Our local organic farmer’s market, like so many across the country from Halifax to Vancouver, provides a chance for a new (or is it old?) type of consumerism, one based on direct relations with, and a deeper understanding about, what it is that we are bringing home. Thanks, Thursday market; I’ll see you again next week.