Saturday, August 13, 2011

Summer Saturday notes on gardening and farmers' markets

I woke up today thinking about the Saturday farmers' market. Was I imagining this, or could I smell Hatch peppers roasting? Probably just my imagination. It may be too early in the season for those fine crops from New Mexico.

Corn is what I'm really interested in. Some corn vendors will be up from Colorado. I will be looking for other things too. Peaches from Utah and Colorado. Too far away to be considered local (grown within 150 miles) but juicy and delicious, far superior to the shipped-green varieties at the grocery story. Since my tomatoes may never come in due to hail and Cheyenne's short growing season -- I may have to buy some. I have plenty of herbs, sheltered as they are under my porch roof. But I may need to find some other ingredients for marinade for the grass-fed beef I'll also be buying.

One bit of news for shoppers at Cheyenne's Saturday market -- credit, debit and EBT cards now are accepted. Community Action of Laramie County, which runs the market, applied for and received a $1,500 grant for the service from the Wyoming Business Council. According to a story in this morning's Wyoming Tribune-Eagle, the grant will pay for the cards' fees.

The Cheyenne farmers' market and the People's Farmers Market in Jackson Hole are the only two in the state taking the cards. The Cheyenne market is the only one in the state to use a grant for the service, says the WBC's Kim Porter.

Looks to me like a great public-private partnership. Taxpayer funds helping people to eat better. People in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program run by DFS can use their EBT cards to buy fruits and vegetables to supplement grocery story purchases. This part of the program may take awhile to catch on. SNAP clients may think (and rightly so) that farmers' market goods are more expensive than those at Albertson's and Safeway. It may take a new forays to the market to find the bargains. When I'm down there today, I'm going to check out the prices and see how far $50 could go. I'll take notes.

But that's only part of what a farmers' market brings to a community. Local vendors have a place to sell their wares and find new customers. Shoppers get the opportunity to find good food and even get a few tips on cooking and grilling. It enlivens downtown on sleepy Saturday mornings. Some people hang around to eat lunch at the brewpub or the Albany. The local galleries will be open. And the staffers at Ernie November know their music CDs.

In other food news -- the South Cheyenne Farmers' Market opens this weekend from 11 a.m.-4 p.m. in the Outlaw Saloon's parking lot on South Greeley Highway. This one is free to vendors, for now, at least. It will be open through mid-October.

And don't forget the Tuesday market at the Depot Plaza. I was there this past week and the fresh food offerings were a bit sparse. Let's hope things pick up as the harvests come in. I did buy some nice cherries, though, which I shared with my work colleagues.

Speaking of colleagues... We were in Lander this week for the Wyoming Arts Council's quarterly board meeting. On Thursday evening, we ate at Cowfish. This is a Lander destination, located strategically as you enter town after those long drives from Muddy Gap or Farson. Often the first stop is the brewpub next door, but once you're eating, it's usually a fine experience. Cowfish has its own garden. The veggie d'jour was zucchini, cooked nice and crisp with herbs. The zuke is kind of a workingman's veggie -- easy to grow, easy to cook, easy to overcook. Cowfish chops theirs into thumb-size chunks (no thumbs in mine, thankfully) and probably steams them briefly. They were as good as the trout, as refreshing as the Hefe and the Rye brews from the bar.

On my way out of town the next day, I visited the Cowfish garden. Surprised there wasn't a menacing cowfish sculpture in the middle to ward off crows and other pesky critters. The restaurant's logo is the skull of a cow with the tail of a fish. There's a big metal one hanging in the front of the place and I have one on a T-shirt. I get lots of comments about the shirt and often people just see it and nod wisely, as if they remember their most recent Cowfish meal. The restaurant's garden takes up a city lot. Looks as if the Cowfishers have harvested most of the early stuff with bushy zucchini plants erupting at the far end and rows of onions in the foreground. Be well, mighty zukes. Live long and prosper. I don't need to say the "prosper" part, as they mighty zucchini is prolific.

On a final note, my garden is still struggling post-multiple hailstorms. I am going to get some tomatoes -- already harvested a few with many more on the vine but time drawing short. Lots of snow peas and beans. Summer squash waiting for tonight's barbecue. Not much, but O.K. considering our summer weather. I keep telling the tomatoes -- one more month, one more month. Not sure if they're listening.

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