Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Southern Manners

In my valuable minutes between batches of granola and batches of cran-nut muffins, I’d like to talk to you about something that is growing increasingly important to me, as my time in the South grows longer like the daylight. I knew leaving Portland, aka farm-to-table Mecca, aka foodie paradise, aka blogger wonderland would necessitate a change in my eating, shopping, and even writing habits. During my time on the left coast, I assumed I could always know from which state, or even which city or town, my pear, broccoli, and mushrooms came. I assumed I could always find responsible meat, even if it cost an arm and a leg. I assumed I could always eat locally, even down to the flour in my cookies and the oats in my granola.

Jesus I was spoiled.

I can still find much of the same produce here in Atlanta that I bought in Portland, but 2500 miles is a long way for Oregon pears, Washington apples and California kale to travel before hitting my plate: a far cry from local; a far cry from sustainable, even if the produce is organic. Of course, Atlanta has farmers’ markets, just like Portland. But at last count, Portland has 16 operating farmers’ markets, excluding the other 23 markets in the metro area. Atlanta? It has 16. For the entire metro area.

I don’t mean to complain, or wax poetic about a city that gets more than its fair share of fanatical press. I just mean to point out the challenges of living in a city a bit less connected to its agricultural blessings. Georgia is a largely agricultural state, and Atlanta is beginning to see much more local produce, meat, cheese, and specialty products now than just five or so years ago. The problem is, all of these great foodstuffs are isolated in specialty shops, expensive restaurants, and our, mostly small, and mostly competitive, farmers’ markets. Our grocery stores, even Whole Foods, are saturated with Mexican and Californian produce, and the names of these far-off origins are hidden or non-existent on the store shelves. Consumers on a budget or with strict shopping schedules (as much as I hate to admit it, many well-intentioned people just can’t make it to a farmers’ market on Wednesday afternoons or early enough on Saturdays to catch the good stuff) have little choice but to buy their citrus from California, even with excellent choices available from Florida, or their apples from Washington, even while Southern heirloom varieties are beginning to make a comeback.

In the past few months, I’ve been doing my best to discover or re-discover the alternatives. Because there are sustainable eating options in Atlanta, and they don’t all break the bank. It just takes a close eye and a willingness to explore new stores.

In the spirit of Southern hospitality, here’s a list of where I like to do my shopping:

Your DeKalb Farmer’s Market
Not a farmers’ market at all, this warehouse of a store is more of an international grocery metropolis. They don’t pay much attention to seasonality, but they do a great job of listing from where every product was sourced and stock more organics than Whole Foods. They’ve begun to carry cage-free eggs (I know, not the same as true free range, but it’s a start), organic milk from grass-fed cows, heritage pork and grass-fed beef. They also carry a huge variety of grains and flours, many from Kentucky (it’s not super local, but at least you know that it’s from the Southeast). Oh, and everything is dirt-cheap.

Whole Foods
Okay, so I talk a lot of shit about WF, but they have been stocking more local products lately. I’ve found local Johnson Farms milk for only $5.99 a gallon (many of the smaller stores who carry their milk charge upwards of 5 bucks for just a ½ gallon), Atlanta Fresh yogurt, and local free-range eggs for decent prices. They’ve also begun to rate the animal-friendliness of their meat producers, and the meat guys are totally willing to ask any questions about the source and raising practices of all of the farmers. Bonus points? They now carry local beef, pork and cute French-style chickens. The chickens get a 2 (out of 5) on their ethics scale, and the both the beef and the pork get a 4. I’ve tried the pork, straight up and in sausage form, and it’s pretty good. They also carry a bunch of local beers, and some of the stores stock Sweetgrass Dairy cheese. Sometimes you can find local produce, but it’s still pretty Cali-saturated.

Decatur Farmers’ Market

I haven’t been here in a while; my nanny job keeps me busy during their Wednesday afternoon hours, but you can find some awesome greens, pickles, salsas, bread and mini-pies most weeks. It’s still pretty small, but it has grown every season, and I’m sure it will be pretty excellent once spring produce begins to come in full force. Also, I just saw that they'll be expanding to a Saturday market in addition to the Wednesday market, beginning in May (yes!!).

Morningside Farmers’ Market

You’ve got to get here early on Saturday mornings; lines begin to form way before the 8 am opening time. Prices tend to be higher here (because of the neighborhood?), but, man, I’ve bought some beautiful vegetables on my visits. A couple of the farmers sell eggs, and there’s a meat guy there most weeks (I haven’t tried these proteins, but I’m sure they’re good).

Alon’s Bakery
When I get done at the Morningside market, I hop across the street to my favorite bakery since … forever. Alon’s has grown considerably since we first started buying their cookies when I was 6 (?). They make several varieties of hearth-style breads, decadent pastries (the mini-cookies, in oatmeal raisin, chocolate chunk, and double chocolate are, um, the best?), and stock a few different local cheeses amongst the European selections. They also carry Johnson Farms dairy products, Atlanta fresh, and local eggs, but these all carry a hefty price tag.

Sawicki’s Meat, Seafood, and More

This one-woman powerhouse of a store carries local eggs and dairy, as well as local and specialty meats and seafood. You can also ask for just about anything meat-wise and she’ll order it for you.

Pine Street Market
Housemade sausages from local pork? I think yes. Plus the owners are totally cute.

The Mercantile
It’s a bit farther from my house, and they stock a lot of the same products as Alon’s, but the cheese monger is more friendly, and super knowledgeable (and they have samples!).

Where do you like to shop in Alanta?

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