I Know Where You Came From

Rain and muskeg. Noseeums and rain. Rain and skunk cabbage. Rain, rain, rain. Wet canvas sneakers, sopping socks, yellow rain slickers and wet wool that smelled like a sheep draped around your shoulders. Salmonberries, gooseberries, and rhubarb were the only fresh edible things I can remember. The rhubarb leaves were as big as my torso. That was Prince Rupert.

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Then we moved south to Comox on Vancouver Island when I was 10 where there was sun and rain. My mother said “You could shove a twig into the ground in Comox and it would be 100 feet tall the following year.”

Farms surrounded Comox. Not big operations with miles of corn fields, but mixed farms growing cucumbers and pumpkins and squash and tomatoes and beans galore. And strawberries. Lots and lots of strawberries.

There were no farmers’ markets. Farmers sold their produce from wooden stands at the entrance to their driveways. Rough hand lettered signs told passers-by what was on offer that day. Mason jars held tall stalks of dill weed and dahlias. The bees could hardly keep up with their job and from April to September the air smelled like honey.

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Food growing from flowers seems miraculous, doesn’t it? Almost something you might read in science fiction. Beans emerging from red scarlet runner flowers. Honestly, what a crazy invention!

In Comox, salads suddenly appeared with dinner. No more canned vegetables and mushy peas. We picked fresh strawberries in June from Farquharson Farms pick-your-own fields. I willingly crouched in long rows of neat strawberry plants with a bucket beside me plucking fruit, a happy labourer working for nothing except the taste of a warm berry in my mouth.

But then I grew up and moved to a city and I forgot what real fresh food tasted like for years. Grocery stores suck the fun out of food. Everything looks the same and nothing has any flavour. How can a bag of romaine trucked from a California factory field taste like anything except the inside of a truck and maybe some exhaust sauce? Grocery shopping is like going to a mall in Toronto or Vancouver or Halifax or Milwaukee or Denver. Same stores, same colours, same smells. Even the fruit and vegetables have labels, like underwear.

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Thank the stars for farmers’ markets. Foraging among the stalls sniffing and sampling local cheese, jams, sauces, baking and wine is so fine. Expensive, though. You’d have to be Bill Gates to buy all your groceries from local growers because cheap it ain’t. But the food has flavour and brightness you don’t get from a basket of blackberries from Columbia or an avocado as hard as a Toronto Blue Jays baseball.

I like the tiny act of rebellion against the food giants, too, although it probably has the same effect on the big store chains as an ant kicking my shin. Nevertheless, once a week, I head to a farmers’ market and bring home a few items for Sunday supper. I feel all plumped up with virtue for supporting local farmers and I can say to the food on my plate “I know where you came from.”

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22 thoughts on “I Know Where You Came From

  1. Fabulous post. I’ve just come back from a place I can’t stand, but I’ll tell you this: One of the highlights of my trip was buying cheap fresh peaches. When I lived in Georgia for seven years, I had cheap fresh peaches all the time, and lemme tell ya, there are NONE of those peaches here. Bite into a Georgia peach in Georgia and it’s like you’re climbin the tree. You can smell and taste the earth, the dirt, the flowers, the bark. Nothin like fresh.
    The garden is one of the few things I love about summer.

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  2. I’ll need to make more of an effort to track down locally-grown food here in Las Vegas. There’s not much of it – the desert isn’t particularly hospitable for the sorts of crops people generally eat! – but I know local food exists here. There’s a winery out in the desert that grows some of its own grapes (!) and there’s a nearby chocolate factory that offers prickly-pear chocolates (I believe they harvest their own prickly pear!). Surely there’s more to be found.

    That was something I loved both in Wisconsin and in northern California. Such a wonderful treat to enjoy something absolutely fresh and lovingly-grown.

    Thanks for the reminder!

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  3. After reading and seeing your pics I had an immediate desire for eating a crisp crunchy green salad 😊. And strawberries! That brought back memories of my Dad’s homegrown crops, so sun-filled with taste. Favourite taste experience at the moment are the little cherry tomatoes growing wild on my garden fence. The seeds were brought by the wind? Who knows, maybe the birds? It’s all heady alchemy.

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  4. I love this post!!! Thank you so much for writing it! I share your feeling about Farmers Markets. The one here in Vancouver WA is full of fresh yummy things. And we have “U-Pick” farms here in Vancouver where you can go and pick your own berries or veg. I never knew food could be so fresh back when I lived in Oklahoma where everything was trucked in. Now I know what “fresh food” means and I’m never going back! Fresh is so worth it!!!

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  5. You’re so right about the virtuous feeling one gets from the farmers’ markets. I don’t go as often as I should because it means milling around with other people and I object to that. (Going to the grocery store does, too, but my husband does that!) I like farmstands by the road–at one place they will go out and pick the apples when you get there! And our neighbors grow corn and I can knock on their door and buy a few ears . . .

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  6. Beautifully said. I didn’t know about fresh food until very late in life. Never lived or experienced anything farm grown. Now it’s all I want. Our farmers market is small and our winters long in the PNW. The ground is still growing mushrooms at a rapid pace we are so wet. But when it dries! I’m so ready.

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  7. ❤ ❤ ❤ This is how I grew up too, especially when visiting my grandma with relatives on farms. Those yellow cakes from eggs of healthy happy chickens, everything full of taste, how it's supposed to be. We are going back to that.

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  8. I loved this. Your way of working sensory words into your writing is superb and brings your memories to life inside my suburban Georgia brain. That’s no easy task. So, thank you, m’dear. Now get to work on that dadgum novel!

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    • I love that word “dadgum” though it is not one you often hear in Canada. It is quintessentially American and delightful, like most Americans I’ve met. As for the novel, that remains to be seen. Maybe when I retire. Maybe a memoir. Maybe an epic poem. Who knows. The muse will advise. We’re working out together regularly and soon the mission will be clear. I hope.

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  9. Lovely. Just lovely. Can’t wait till our village’s weekly farmer’s market opens again for the season, and the local farm market store I pass every day on the way to work becomes fully stocked with fresh produce again.

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    • The farmers’ markets in SW Ontario are to die for. anytime we’re within shouting distance of St. Jacobs in the summer we stop. The farmland in that part of the province is so friggin’ productive it is awe inspiring.

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  10. This post brings back my own memories. My dad always had a large vegetable garden in the backyard like my grandfather before him. During the summer we ate from that garden and the food was glorious. That’s probably where my lifelong long of vegetables came from. As kids we walked into the backyard to pop snacks off the vine – like peas and beans – to crunch on after an afternoon of swimming at the lake.

    Ahhh – on wet and soggy Sunday morning, thanks for those great memories.

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    • My folks had a back yard garden in Comox, too, and it seemed like from the beginning of August to mid-September everything we ate was fresh and what we couldn’t eat my mother canned. I love the smell of dill because it reminds me of her homemade pickles.

      Sun is coming out here, Joanne. Maybe blue sky in Toronto after the Raptors win last night?

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      • It was a glorious day here yesterday and the entire city is buzzing with Raptor fever. Even people who aren’t basketball fans can’t help but get caught up in the excitement. After all, this is a city known for its losing sports teams. We NEED this 😏

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  11. This line is brilliant: “Even the fruit and vegetables have labels, like underwear.”

    I love the local markets and get excited to hear of new ventures – unfortunately, they don’t survive in our area – just not enough population to support them. That, and sticker shock!

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    • Yes, the sticker shock is shocking which is why I only buy a few things. But I do so enjoy the experience of a farmers’ market. Everyone is so darn happy.

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  12. The produce in your prose tumbles over itself in this gastronomic romp. One of my sons here in England once went shopping with an American friend who would not buy avocados because they bore no sell-by date

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