Parsnippet Back to school to farm

Kids, babies, and pregnant ladies. Saturday’s Cortez Farmer’s Market was in full flower – abuzz with barter and banter and lots of children with their parents in tow.

I watched kids doing cartwheels on the shaded courthouse lawn adjacent to the market while an elderly woman sniffed one garlic bulb after another before making her choice. Another younger woman smiled broadly as she loaded her produce onto the back of her baby’s stroller. An older couple held hands as they ambled through, stopping at each stand, taking notice of what was there, before heading on to the next stand, smiling all the while. Several sets of grandparents and their grandkids added to the generational mix. And I wondered: What message are these children getting by being at a local farmers market early on the Saturday before school starts?

“Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them.” So says author James Baldwin. Could a trip to the farmers market with grandpa and grandma lead to long-term food choices? Are kids more likely to return to local markets as adults than if they had never been exposed to them in the first place?

When we expose children to cultural experiences, like a farmers market, senses are stimulated and memory takes root. Matching food with the faces of people who growit deepens the eating experience and influences the understanding of how food happens. Education through direct experience may help them to make lifelong healthy food choices. And learning about how our community connects back to itself through the medium of food is real-life education.

Tyler Hoyt was recently at the farmers market selling produce grown at the CMS garden and educating passers-by about the Montezuma School to Farm program. He is the coordinator of the program and has been newly hired as the farm to school teacher for Cortez Middle School. He will be teaching six classes a semester, all garden-based, experiential, and outdoors as much as possible. The program’s long-range goal is “to produce as much food as possible for the school district.” Hoyt and his students will take the outfield of the old baseball field, a 2-acre parcel, and turn it into a commercial garden and orchard. The food grown there will be served in the school cafeterias. Eventually, they hope to outgrow the district and become a producer in the larger community and beyond. If their five-year plan is fully implemented, Hoyt says that Montezuma School to Farm will be one of the largest farm-to-school garden-based programs in the nation, on par with the Green School in Denver or the Edible Schoolyard in Berkeley, developing curriculum, staying heavily connected to the community by coordinating with local farmers and meat producers. The money they make by selling produce at the Farmer’s Market all gets funneled back into the local school programs.

Tomatoes. Maybe you fondly remember the taste of a tomato from your grandmother’s garden and wonder whatever became of them when you bite into a one that has the taste appeal of compressed sawdust. If so, then you’ll want to get to the farmers market early, because these beauties go quickly.

Many stands are putting out a variety of commercial and heirloom tomatoes with delightfully descriptive names like Pink Brandywine, Old German, Nepal, New Girl, Martha Washington, Burbank, Sungold cherry, yellow pear, Black Krim, Roma, Cherokee. Song Haven Farm features supersweet green Zebras with yellow-striped accents, pear-shaped Japanese Black Trifle, Pink Brandywine that are fat, squatty and meaty, orange and pink saladette-sized and deep purple plum tomatoes, and a roma variety, San Maranos, excellent for making tomato paste.

So how do tomatoes and children intersect, besides through catsup? Not all kids enjoy the taste of a fresh tomato, but I have yet to meet a child who doesn’t like tomato-based meals like spaghetti or pizza. Here’s an easy basic tomato sauce recipe that is a good starting place to add your own culinary expression to it. It will make your kitchen smell heavenly and just might help to re-educate the palate of your favorite short person.

Easy Tomato Sauce

From The Vegetarian Feast by Martha Rose Shulman

PEEL, SEED, AND CHOP: 4 pounds fresh tomatoes (16 medium). (To skin a ripe tomato, simply dip it for a couple seconds in boiling water. The skin will slip right off.)

HEAT: 2 tsp. olive oil in a large, heavy-bottomed nonstick skillet.

COOK: 4 or 5 large cloves of minced garlic until just starting to brown.

ADD: The chopped tomatoes, a pinch of salt, a pinch of sugar, and 1 tsp. dried oregano and/or thyme.

STIR AND COOK: For 20-30 minutes until the tomatoes are cooked down and beginning to stick to the pan.

ADD: 3 tbsp. slivered fresh basil and fresh ground pepper to taste.

PULSE: In a food processor if you want uniform consistency. Otherwise, keep it chunky.

Next week: Broccoli, corn, squash, peppers, cucumbers, tomtoes, turnips, onions, cabbage, eggplant, okra, green beans, potatoes, bok choy, kohlrabi, radishes, pea pods, lettuce greens, herbs, apples and melons.

The Parsnippet and its roving palate will be appearing biweekly throughout the summer. It is meant to tantalize and motivate you into joining the parade of locals who love to eat and who congregate every Saturday morning in the name of homegrown food.