The temperature is dropping. Winds feel more brisk, day by day. Leaves are scarce, and snow and ice are well on their way. This time of year brings snow shoveling, winterizing the house and those famous Michigan road conditions. Don’t get me wrong, I adore Christmas songs, winter sports and Thanksgiving turkey, but something else has been on my mind. The Kalamazoo Farmer’s Market on Bank St. is closing for the season soon. Instead of dwelling on this, I choose to relish the remaining days of this place, filled with wonderful people and the beautiful things they create.
I first stepped foot in this market on a rainy day during the spring of last year, meeting my chef to pick out food for the restaurant. I had been to other markets before, but on a different child-like agenda. He walked me around and introduced me to several farmers, while pointing interesting things out along the way. I saw the abundance of asparagus and the first morel mushrooms appearing. I fell in love with Michigan ramps. These farmers were interesting people, with unique food. The rain-clouds couldn’t shadow over that morning. I have barely missed a Saturday there ever since.
So I was quickly swindled, but material love comes easy anyways. I am a young cook, eager to learn and hungry for inspiration. Every stand had something new and exciting I had never seen before; I was hooked from the start. Then I started tasting the food. It was a culinary affair with every ingredient I had ever used. The flavor was more vibrant. The freshness was unmatched. Even the aesthetics were beautiful and unique. The separate ingredients correlated in a seasonal harmony, bringing a special awareness of the earth with them. I noticed how the food had a shelf life twice as long and how much more affordable it was than the grocery store. I was officially in love.
As I got to know the market better, I got to know the farmers encompassed within. I’ve become acquainted with some of the friendliest, honest and hard-working people I have ever met. Like Pat Smith-Kirklin of Kirklin Gardens, an eccentric and majestic woman who grows the most delicious heirloom tomatoes and has even convinced me to take home a cat. Among several other types of produce and aromatics, she is also known to grow some of the most intricate and gorgeous flowers in the area. Gary Otto, a cheerful man who always has a smile and the best tasting chicken I have ever had. If you haven’t tried Otto’s chicken, let it redefine poultry for you. There is also Dennis and Shawna from Blue Dog Greens. With a happy baby strapped to his back, Dennis sells the most perfect and peppery arugula. I could write this entire blog about all the farmers I have gotten to know. I felt the sense of family and community almost instantly, which apart from flavor makes the food amazing.
I’m not trying to completely divorce from the grocery store. I am guilty of utilizing the convenience, even though the product comes from who knows where and when. I just choose to eat locally and seasonally as much as I possibly can. It keeps more money in the community. It keeps our soil fertile. It tastes better. If you haven’t made your way to the Kalamazoo Farmer’s Market, go and fall for it yourself.