Thanks Local Farmers!

Last Saturday, at the indoor farmer's market in Madison, Wisconsin, I bought 100 butternut squash and hauled them to a local church so a group of parents could cut them up and cook and serve them at school.

The smell of the squash cooking made the kids who came to the church kitchen want to eat it then and there.

As the weather turns cold, and local produce gets scarcer, it's a good time to appreciate how lucky we are to have so much fantastic food growing so close to home.

Local farm-to-school advocates at REAP worked around the clock on Monday and Tuesday polishing apples and making raw sweet-potato sticks to serve to the kids in the local schools on Wednesday.

On Thursday, a lot of us lucky enough to live in this agricultural center will feast on turkey, sweet potatoes, and pies made with local ingredients so much better than anything shipped for hundreds of miles to the local chain store it is hard to overstate.

The only way to keep that going is to support our local farmers. As the REAP web site explains, "The current national food system is dominated by very few large corporations which are forcing farmers to accept lower prices, grow only 'travel-tolerant' varieties, grow bigger, use more chemical inputs, or leave the farm altogether. When farmers sell directly to their neighbors, fewer middlemen cut into their profits. Farmers can afford to stay on their land producing an abundance and variety of food while being good stewards of the land."

Appreciating local produce--and the natural ebb and flow of the seasons--is a good antidote to the nationwide consumer frenzy that officially kicks off this week as Americans line up outside big box stores for Black Friday.

As the Reverend Billy Bulletin, who is leading an annual "Buy Nothing Day" Parade on Friday in New York City puts it in a sermon to shoppers: "Actual life must again be how we experience our time on this Earth. Can we imagine turning away from the shopping? - that fake revolution. Turning away from the holiday sale. Turning toward the Earth that waits in the doorway across the highway. And waits within our body and soul."

How about hitting the farmer's market instead of the mall this weekend?

My friend Jessica Prentice, chef, author, and local food advocate who coined the term "locavore," has just created a series of local food wheels, handy gadgets that show what's in season throughout the year in the San Francisco Bay Area, the New York Metro Area and the Upper Midwest.

(Here in the Upper Midwest, where it just started snowing, we can still get local sweet potatoes, cranberries, cauliflower, carrots, and, of course, foods that are grown indoors.)

Jessica hopes people will stick the wheel to their refrigerators and think about shopping at their local farmer's markets. But, in a fine-print clause on the wheel, she cautions that weather conditions and produce availability may vary. "The only way to know what is in season is to go to the farmers' market and shop. Talk to vendors, ask questions and learn more; there are bound to be some surprises, and that is part of the joy of eating locally. Happy Foraging!"

Sounds like the perfect greeting for the season.

If you liked this article by Ruth Conniff, the political editor of The Progressive, check out her story "Race and Crisis in the Schools ."

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