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The garden that is our community

When I was a child, about seven, there was a sound that I loved. On a warm summer day in early July I would hear the booming melodious voice of a man crying out, "strawberries, strawberries, get your farm fresh berries here!"

Every child in the neighborhood would come running to see the man in his old pickup driving slowly down the street. He would stop on each block and wait a few minutes to give people the opportunity to find some cash and come out to the truck. The back of the pickup was filled with boxes of fresh produce radiating their bright colors from their crates like jewels. The first to catch my eye would always be the bright shiny red strawberries.

My grandfather had died just a year earlier. My grandmother had to give up the farm and her huge garden and move into an apartment in town. I spent my summer with her, supposedly so she could watch me during summer break, but, just as important, so I could help her. I would run back up the apartment stairs and tell grandma what was in the back of that truck.

"Lettuce," I would say breathlessly, "and tomatoes. Kale, and turnips, cabbage, onions, peppers, and the first cantaloupes."

Grandma would give me a handful of change and one dollar bills and send me back to fetch fresh food. She loved a wide variety of produce, so I usually ended up getting a least a little of everything. Sometimes I had to make two trips to get it all upstairs.

Sixty years have passed since those times. So much has changed so rapidly. I have lived in cities, towns, and country. I have never lost my first images and impressions of picked today, handled with care, fresh fruits and vegetables.

The tradition of the farm truck is long gone. Traffic is too fast and heavy even in our smaller cities and larger towns. And "peddlers" were discouraged long ago.

This doesn't mean, though, that we can't create similar memories in our children and grandchildren. There has been a renewal and strengthening of farmer's markets everywhere. They are sprouting up faster than dandelion's and growing stronger than quackgrass. We are fortunate to have such a market growing in Wadena. The Farmer's market in Wadena has been here for many years, but only the last several has it begun to blossom. Last year it could be found in two locations, one at Burlington Northern Park on Thursday mornings, and another in the old Pamida parking lot on Friday afternoons. And yes, children are welcome.

A farmers market is an exercise in community building. It's a place to meet your friends and neighbors. A place to support your community members by buying locally produced food. It's a place to learn, and to teach. Food preparation demonstrations have happened there. Growers are willing to chat about their crops or growing methods. And where else can you get produce that was likely picked less than 24 hours of getting to you?

So take a walk with me through the Friday market in Wadena.

The first thing we might notice is a table with an information sign. This is where we can get tokens for our debit cards for use with the vendors if you forgot to bring some cash. And if we use EBT, or SNAP cards, they are also welcomed and tokens are given for the amount we would like to purchase. We will also find recipes and other handouts there. If we are there on the right day there may be a demonstration showing how to prepare produce found there.

As we go from table to table we will find an abundance of different products. Among the fruits and vegetables we may find strawberries, raspberries, melons, watermelons, tomatoes, sweet peppers, hot peppers, cabbage, broccoli, and many others. But we may also find maple syrup, breads, rolls, pies, chicken, jellies, and salsas. Then don't forget to look for lotions, lip balms and other homemade products.

Plan to spend time there. Talk to the vendors. Ask questions. Help keep local money in our local community. Learn the way the food is grown or made. Help create local jobs. Show your grandchildren what fresh produce looks and tastes like. Add some strong roots to the garden that is our community.

Kathy and Steve Connell operate Redfern Gardens Produce near Sebeka. They provide vegetables to a CSA group and sell at local farmers market and the Clean Plate in Menahga. Kathy also offers a variety of classes and workshops on gardening, is active in sustainable farming issues, and lives the principles of environmental stewardship at their home and gardens.