Marie Dennan is a Garden Educator with The Kitchen Community, and and avid lover of the local food community. After studying to be a baker and working in a London bakery, Marie moved to Memphis to be close to family. Through Memphis’ many farmers markets and Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs, she has rediscovered her love for eating fresh, local food, and “cooking through the seasons.”
We asked Marie a few questions about getting involved in the local food movement in Memphis.
Choose901: What are the biggest advantages to eating fresh, locally grown produce?
Marie Dennan: The biggest advantage to eating fresh, locally grown produce is the quality in taste and nutrition of the fruits and vegetables that are grown locally. When you buy produce at the farmers market you know it has been harvested that week, opposed to produce you can buy in the grocery store which has often been stored in warehouses for many months. A lot of conventional produce that is sold in grocery stores is picked before it’s ripe. This produce is treated with chemicals that ripen it, and conventional produce that is picked when ripe is treated with chemicals to keep it from spoiling. An advantage to buying produce from the farmers market is that these harmful chemicals are not used on produce sold at farmers markets. The other advantage to eating fresh, locally grown produce is knowing that you are supporting the local economy by buying produce directly from farmers at the farmers markets.
C901: How can Memphians get more involved in the local food community?
MD: The easiest way for a Memphian to get involved in the local food economy is by shopping at farmers markets. During the fall, summer and spring, there is a farmers market open in Memphis every day of the week. The Memphis Farmers Market has extended its season to November 21, and the Cooper-Young Community Farmers market is open all year round. Other markets are open during the week, and the AgriCenter Farmers Market is open every day of the week during it’s market season. There is less variety in the winter months, but there are lots of other locally made items to purchase such as honey, baked goods, preserves, meats, eggs, work from local artisans, and other items.
C901: What should you look for when selecting produce and how do you plan a meal based on the ingredients you find at a farmers market?
MD: If you are new to the farmers markets, I would suggest buying produce that you are familiar cooking with. This will ensure you are comfortable cooking with your purchases from the farmers market. I actually rarely go to the market with a list, because each week there is a slightly different variety of produce based on the season. I generally walk around the market once to take in what is available. I always buy things I cook with most often, and I might buy something that I am not as familiar cooking with so I can experiment during the week. I also like to support multiple vendors when I go to the market. Even if one vendor is selling everything I need, I will walk around and purchase different items from different vendors.
Some might think shopping at the farmers market is a novelty, but this can also be a place where you buy your weekly produce, or locally sourced meat and fish. Shopping more frequently at the market will educate you about what fruits and vegetables are in season at which times of the year, which contributes to you supporting a more sustainable local food system, which is better for the environment and our health.
C901: Do you have any tips for cooking with ingredients you’re unfamiliar with?
MD: Ask the farmers, or ask other patrons at the market you see buying the same produce. This is a nice way to strike up a conversation with the farmers or other market goers. You can always conduct an internet search for recipes using any specific ingredients! My favorite way to incorporate things I am not familiar with is to simply saute or stir fry any and all vegetables I purchase from the market with garlic and/or onions, basil if I have some, and oil or butter in a skillet. Serve that over rice, pasta, or grits, and you will be eating well.
C901: What is the best way for people to find out what farmers markets and community gardens are near them?
MD: The Food Landscape Map details community gardens, school gardens, and farmers markets are in Memphis and Shelby County.