Creating Community Through Healthier Eating, Supporting Area Farmer’s Markets

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In the US early grocery stores evolved from trade posts.  Prior to that food came from forests, bodies of water, gardens and fields. Vegetables were harvested and either consumed immediately, preserved by cooking or kept in cool, dark storage. Meats were cured and stored for winter months. Grains were ground and used to make breads, porridge and sometimes desserts. Nothing was effortless. Nothing was wasted. Planning and budgeting goods was key.

Today’s supermarkets offer an overwhelming experience of choice. Fruits and vegetables are imported from around the world, baked goods are mass produced and meats are fed antibiotics, caged to limit activity and genetically engineered to to increase volume.

Obesity exists in epic proportions, diet related issues like heart disease, diabetes, cancer and tooth decay plague the nation. With great misfortune it is largely the nations poor that suffer most from these preventable diseases.

The USDA has begun issuing cash vouchers for Farmers Markets to supplement low income nutrition programs, they however,  are not offered in Missouri and only to a limited population in Kansas.

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Perhaps it was Bérénice Chouteau, also known as the “mother of Kansas City” who blazed the trails for early food purveyors in the KC area. After husband François died at age 41, Bérénice was left to support their five children by managing the family farm and operating an early retail business.

Kansas City is entrenched in its agricultural history. Our abundance of farmland and history of food production have earned us the ready image of the nation’s breadbasket. It is in fact those remaining family farms that have sustained time and the onslaught of commercial farming that deliver us back to our roots.

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Area farmer’s markets offer not only a great sampling of locally grown seasonal produce but also a lovely palate of color in the form of plants and flowers. Our cultural heritage is proudly displayed with providers from our Mennonite communities, vendors from Latin America, Asia and Africa, to the brave young urban farmers who in many cases have put their university degrees aside to nurture the culture of creating more sustainability.

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This summer I’ve become acquainted with a hand full of area farmers markets and food producers that have left their mark on me. Several of them are certainly “off the beaten track” but well worth the trek.

The Atchsion, Kansas Farmer’s Market offers an assortment of locally grown produce, baked goods, natural meats,  handmade tortillas and even lovely, goat’s milk soaps. On many occasions robed monks from the local abbey gently meander through, neighbors gather to discuss events and often new friends are made.

I was especially happy to meet Gunther and Betty Fischer of Long View Farm. The Fischers offer chemical free vegetables and flowers in addition to breads and jams. It’s hard not to appreciate their delicious foods with the image of their little farm nestled into nearby, green pastures. While Gunther who immigrated from Germany in his childhood, will capture you with his welcoming smile and friendly demeanor, Betty’s wonderful, more mild mannered charm will leave you longing for the next time you see both. Make your visit to Atchison a day trip and explore the beautiful bricked streets, impressive historical homes and area museums. Don’t forget a cooler to keep your market items fresh while you explore.
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 The Lee’s Summit Farmer’s Market located on the corner of Second and Douglas is a nice sized market. The City of Lee’s Summit has done an impressive job of maintaining its historical downtown. The bricked buildings, big shady trees and friendly community offer the perfect early morning backdrop for this dog friendly event. Community members and many from outside the Lee’s Summit community gather on Wednesday afternoons and Saturday mornings to admire and purchase the goods available.
Theses are two of my favorite Lee’s Summit Farmer’s Market vendors –
Susie McMillin formerly “At Your Door” offers breads and pies that leave you longing for more. My 13 year old son and I have been on a mission to find the perfect Cherry Pie. I took a chance on Susie’s and was delighted by its tart filling and flaky crust. I’m impressed by a baker who can find the perfect balance of sweet and tart. Susie hits it perfectly. If you want to try Susie’s Pie, get there early. Evidently I’m not the only one who spends the entire week dreaming of it.
Dragonfly Farms from Garden City offer produce at the Lee’s Summit market but they really had me at “Mushrooms”. The Kansas City area is not abundant in mushroom growers. It’s my understanding that mycology involves a good deal of patience, experimentation and knowledge. Creating the right environment and the finding the right substrate (the material in which mushrooms are grown) is no small feat. There is something pretty damn sexy about someone who is getting it right. Dragonfly Farms is apparantly getting it right. My children have discovered that the Lion’s Mane Mushrooms (not pictured) that I’ve conveniently not been sharing with them, is really delicious. It’s also not a bargain. Now I have to budget for Lion’s Mane for three.
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The Gardens at Unity Village is more of a “vegetable stand” than an actual Farmer’s Market. Located on 1508 Northwest Colbern Road in Lee’s Summit, the gardens are run and maintained entirely by volunteers. When Unity was in its youth, the area was used to grow vegetables for the Unity Employee Vegetarian Cafeteria on 901 Tracy in Kansas City, Missouri. The Gardens at Unity was founded in 2009 as what is truly an outdoor classroom. The 501C3 corporation teaches environmental and sound growing methods. Though the selection of vegetables is not huge, the grounds are absolutely stunning and the volunteers are knowledgeable and have fun doing what they do.
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 The idea of shopping the “perimeter of the grocery store” where produce, dairy, meats and fish are generally located has become a popular new method of more health conscious shopping. Our area farmer’s markets provide a much closer tie to our community,a connection to the outdoors,  a place to meet with neighbors and  new friends but perhaps most importantly bring us closer to who we are and where we come from.
Most area Farmers Markets are in operation until the end of October.
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