Farmers Market Beans (and social change)

Last month I had the opportunity to attend two amazing conferences:  one on farm-to-school education and another on hunger and obsesity.  I don’t know about you, but the amount of scary statistics out there overwhelms me.  52% of fourth graders in the United States now qualify for subsidized lunch?!  1 in 3 children in the United States is obese?!  In United States over the last 30 years, the prices for vegetables and fruit have increased 120% while soda has only increased 20 – 40%?!  The U.S. is now raising the first generation expected to have a shorter life expectancy than their parents due to diet-related diseases?!  All I can say is Holy. Crap.

If this bums you out as much as it does me, I think it’s time to make a change.  There are a lot of messages out there about how to fix our food system and I think it’s natural for us to feel overwhelmed.  But, the reality is that change starts with us.  I was inspired by one of the speakers at the conference, Ellen Gustafson, founder of The 30 Project and Change Dinner. I appreciated her message that we can make an impact each and every day and the place to start is our dinner table.

In her speech, Ellen talked about using dinner as a time to reconnect with loved ones over a homemade meal.  How many of us enjoy this each night?  I can say for myself that I don’t even own a dinner table and although I do make the majority of our meals from scratch, most of our dinners are eaten in front of the computer, or worse, on-the-go.  By bringing our focus back to dinner and eating together with ones we love, we can make a change in our family and social structure.  We can use dinner time as a place to have meaningful conversations – whether that is about our food system or simply daily life.  It all makes a difference.  The more we bring people together around food and create these connections, the more we create a pathway for social change.

Ellen also talked about the importance of buying locally.  I strongly support buying locally as much as possible so this point really resonated with me.  Her suggestion is to make sure there is one local item on your dinner plate every evening.  I really like this idea because I think it is a great starting place for people that are new to shopping at the farmers market or those who might not have as much access to local products.  It also seems like a great solution to the argument that shopping at the farmers market is too expensive.  If this is something that you are passionate about and want to do, it might not be possible to buy every single item in your household locally, but starting small is doable.

It also got me thinking.  As much as I love shopping at the farmers market, to be honest, spring is my least favorite season to buy locally.  In Washington, there isn’t much available this time of year except for some baby greens and teeny-tiny leeks.  And with the constant drizzle the market experience isn’t always enjoyable.

When I went to the market this past weekend, I made it my goal to buy something that I had never purchased before.  I thought it might be fun to try an artisan bread or maybe even some sauerkraut. To my surprise, I ended up buying beans.  I don’t know why I had never previously thought to buy beans from the farmers market, but these were beautiful as well as delicious.  The farmer said this bean mix is called “the kitchen sink.”  Love it.

I have been thinking about this idea of changing dinner more and more and I feel really inspired.  Even though I know there are a lot of problems with our current food system and legislation, it is helpful to remember that I can do one small thing each day to make an impact.  It might be as simple as sharing food with those I love or sharing food that I love here with you.  Or it might be as simple as buying beans from the farmers market. 

How you can help change our food system

  • Start in your own home- at dinner, with your family, and with your community.
  • Buy local and support organizations and companies who are working to create an alternative food system.
  • Stay up-to-date on policies that impact our food system.
  • Be patient.  It took us 30 years to get our food system into this mess and it will probably take another 30 years to get out.  Don’t give up hope and don’t give up. :)
How to cook beans
Yield: about 6 cups 
1 pound beans (about 2.5 cups uncooked)
1 strip kombu (optional; great for adding trace minerals and making the beans easier to digest).

Soak the beans overnight.  Drain the soaking water.  Add the kombu and beans to a large stock pot.  Cover with double the amount of water.  (This doesn’t have to be an exact science because any extra water will be drained at the end.)  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a very slow simmer.  Simmer for 1.5 – 2 hours until beans are cooked.  The beans are done when they are chewable, but not mushy.  If there is any extra water, drain from the pot and remove your kombu.
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