Thursday, October 14, 2010

Field Report: Nashville Farmers Market

While in Nashville for an extra long weekend I had the pleasure of indulging in great local barbecue, burgers, frozen yogurt, and plenty of southern hospitality. I also visited the awe-inspiring Nashville Farmers Market this past Monday afternoon.
The Nashville Farmers Market is a sprawling year round market that sits on 16 acres, including 2 large open air structures home to local farmers, produce re-sellers, food producers, and an indoor Market House with eateries and specialty food shops, as well as a weekend Flea Market. The Market was severely impacted by the devastating floods of this past spring. With the market closed well into June, and the indoor market house closed until early august many farmers and vendors missed out on their peak selling season. As a result of the floods and a slow clean up efforts the market is still working to regain its pre-flood strength and success.
Gail and I visited the market early on a Monday afternoon. We found nearly two dozen farms, specialty producers, and vendors set up outside along with 2 specialty vendors (an Indian grocer and a hot sauce vendor) and 8 restaurant/prepared food vendors inside.
What really struck me was the wide variety of produce available in comparison to the markets in Boston which are well into mostly fall products. We saw an abundance of fall goods such as winter squashes, pumpkins, onions, garlic, carrots, apples, lettuces/greens and dry beans as well as a ton of warm season crops like okra, hot peppers (at least 12 different kinds), sweet peppers (pimentos!), dozens of varieties of tomatoes, collards, lima beans, mushrooms, pecans, sweet potatoes, summer squash, peanuts and an impressive array of canned and prepared goods.
In talking with a few of the vendors we learned that the majority of the canned goods sold at the market are not produced by the farmers selling them, but they are local produced about 65 miles away in southern Kentucky. There are 4 or 5 rather large canning production facilities operated on the farms of Mennonite families in the region. It is a large source of income as well as a way the families are able to get themselves through the winter. Along with canned jams, jellies, relishes, and chutneys there was a variety of light and dark honey, molasses, and sweet sorghum. Gail and I did not have the opportunity to purchase much produce as we were returning to Boston the next day. We did manage to try a few different kinds of apples, as well as making it home with a few locally produced goods:
  • A bottle of "Historic Lynchburg Tennessee Whiskey Worcester Fire steak sauce" produced 90 miles south of Nashville in Lynchburg, the home of the regions favorite distiller Jack Daniels. This is not one of the 'Jack Daniels' brand BBQ sauces you see in super markets. The Historic Lynchburg line of sauces list Jack Daniels as an ingredient in each of their sauces.
  • Spring Valley Farms Pepper Relish & Sweet Potato Butter. Spring Valley Farms products are all natural, home-style, old fashioned canned products produced by one of the aforementioned Mennonite farms. Their ingredients are all natural and simple- The ingredients on the Pepper Relish read red & green peppers, vinegar, sugar, onions, mustard seed, salt. All easily identifiable!
  • Sweet Sorghum. Produced by another branch of the same Mennonite family in the Spring Valley, the sweet Sorghum was hand harvested, ground in a horsedrawn mill, and boiled down over a wood hearth. Like the potato butter and pepper relish nothing unnatural can be found in the product.
  • Mexican Chiapas Nashville Roast coffee. While the coffee beans are clearly from the Chiapas area of Mexico they are rain forest certified coffee, fair trade certified and USDA organic and roasted in Nashville's cannery row.
  • The fall issue of Local Table the food and farming magazine/guide in middle Tennessee, similar to the Edible Communities publications (no Nashville edition, though there is one for Memphis)
We might be home in Boston but I look forward to enjoying a little taste of Nashville in the coming months!

No comments: