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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  1. Sharon says

    Oh my gosh, I agree that those statistics are SO shocking and frightening! Even worse, I can tell you that I work in a public K-2 school, and I am SICKENED every day by what many kids’ parents pack them for lunch and snacks. The cafeteria food (which is not as awesome as I would like it to be, but does have baked beans frequently, and always includes several different fruits and veggies presented in kid-friendly ways) looks fantastic in comparison to the lunchboxes I see, loaded up with processed, sugary, fat and chemical-laden, completely nutrient-free junk as the ENTIRE “meal.”

    It is so sad, especially since 1) these are families that can afford better, because the low-income kids almost always eat lunch and breakfast in the cafeteria instead of packing, and 2) some of these kids are nearly as big as I am (and I am not a particularly teeny tiny person!)

    Not to mention- I once worked with an adult for several months, and we ate lunch and a snack together every day, and I NEVER ONCE saw her eat any fruit or vegetable of ANY kind, or heard her mention any for dinner other than canned green beans. It is not just kids! It is people who are old enough to know and do better!

    And yes, this year 50% of our 700 students are on free-or-reduced lunch, and that number is growing every year.

    Anyway, I’m sorry this comment is so long, I guess I just mention all that to say: I totally agree with you about how backwards and overwhelming these issues can be! And, thank you for the reminder that small, un-intimidating actions can be positive and are a good place to start. :) My sister-in-law always says that we make big, noticeable statements to the powers that be with our pocketbooks too, by what we spend our money on, and that makes me feel like my actions count as well.

    Hope you continue to learn and share more statistics/information along these lines! :)

    • says

      Hi Sharon, thanks so much for your thoughtful comments and insights. I can definitely relate to your point about having to educate adults just as much as kids. Food is such a personal subject and often times it is harder to reach people who have already made up their minds about certain foods. Keep up your good work in the school system and I can tell that you are making a difference just by being a positive example for others around you. Take care! :)

  2. says

    I really like the idea of having one locally grown/produced item on your dinner plate each night. We have a working farm on campus (vet school) and one of the hardest things we encounter is educating the public about locally produced products. Unfortunately it often does come down to money but a lack of knowledge about the product can also play a big part. Many people are aware of a growing nation-wide food problem and are potentially open to a change but they don’t want to spend time learning more about the products, they just want a quick and easy fix which is not the solution. As you said, it took a long time to get into this mess and it will take a cooperative effort and hard work to figure out a better solution.

  3. Jenn says

    For some reason, I haven’t been able to comment lately…but I wanted to on this post!

    I am so lucky that my son’s school offers really healthy food. They have a vegetarian option every day (he’s no vegetarian but is a big fan of the garden salad with chickpeas and the veggie wrap). They also highlight local offerings every month. They don’t have fries…today’s sides are brown rice and collard greens. Milk is organic. And this is a public school…yay!

    I do try to buy local as well…although champagne mangos have been on sale at WF and I cannot resist! My son is learning that I don’t buy produce out of season., but it’s hard to say “no” when he requests something healthy! All in moderation, I suppose….

    • says

      Your son’s school lunch amazing! I’ve been really impressed to hear of more public schools offering better and fresher options recently.

      It’s so funny that you mention the mangos on sale at WF because I too just bought a few for salads! It is certainly hard to resist something when it’s on sale. Love your comments, thanks for responding! :)

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