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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