Get back in touch with seasonal produce

Buying fruit and vegetables at the grocery store each week, I’ve lost touch with knowing what’s in season. Berries, squash and lettuces are there for me regardless of the calendar or the weather.

I don’t plant, weed or pick what ends up on my table and my attitude toward buying fresh has been just hoping for the best at the in produce department.

My recent experience opening the farmers market in Montevallo has given me a new perspective on what it takes to grow those vegetables I take for granted. With serious coaching from staff of the Alabama Farmers Market Authority and the support of the Montevallo Chamber of Commerce, Leanne Reed and I recruited and enlisted farmers to be vendors at Montevallo Monday Market this summer. Many people have contributed to the success of this first year market, but the farmers are the stars.

Leanne and I have visited the farmers and have learned so much. They come from varied backgrounds, but are without exception committed to bringing the highest possible quality fruits and vegetables to market in our community. Farming is risky business. Weather can be friend or foe, pests want to invade, and costs for equipment and supplies go up.

So here’s what I’ve learned.

They are brave. They invest financially and the future of their investment is uncertain at best. Crop insurance might recover their expenses, but it doesn’t compensate for the lost income. The whole family is in the business, even if they are employed off the farm. Some vendors are retired, but there’s a teacher at one of the tables and a heavy equipment operator at another.

At several farms I met young people who were glad to be at work helping making the crops happen. They weren’t whining or rolling their eyes. They were proud of what they were doing.

I’m not energetic enough to preserve these fine locally-grown vegetables for my family to enjoy when the season is over, but I will be buying fresh and buying local this summer. This week I have enjoyed Chilton County grown peaches, tomatoes and potatoes. I added squash from Bibb County to the plate yesterday. Next week, I’ll set out a new basil plant from east Shelby County and get some Shelby County honey for the weekend waffles I’ve promised to make. It’s going to be a fresh, locally-grown summer at my house.

Mary Lou Williams, president of the Montevallo Chamber of Commerce, can be reached by e-mail at montevallocc@bellsouth.net