MA Road Trip: Farm Market Weekend
Home is where the farmers market is. That's the phrase I kept repeating in my head over the weekend as I wrapped up my 20-day tour across America.
We all have our ways of getting to know an unfamiliar town. Some people go to church, some folks belly up at the neighborhood bar. Me, I head to the farmers market.
Although a lovely birthday supper was had Friday night at Scotty's Table in Missoula, Mont., not until I met a huckleberry picker named Laurie at Clark Fork River Market Saturday morning did I feel like I was getting to know Missoula. Laurie works with Triple H Farm in nearby Florence, which sells all kinds of berry jams, eggs and morels (when in season). Here's a snippet from our conversation:
Laurie: That jar of huckleberry jam you're holding -- it was made with huckleberries that were picked yesterday.
KOD: Wow! How long does the season typically last?
Laurie: Usually about a month. Yesterday, I almost went to the Idaho border for this batch. This year, the season started late, in early August, but when I was out yesterday I found another patch starting.
KOD: Is it true that huckleberries are wild and that no one has successfully cultivated them?
Laurie: Yes, huckleberries are wild and grow in the mountains. There's been some cultivation, but they just don't taste as good as the wild ones. It takes three, maybe four hours to pick one gallon of huckleberries. That's why they're so expensive (a half-pint costs $5).
KOD: Now that takes dedication!
Laurie: Well, I look at it this way: When I go picking, I get no cell phone service. I get away from the world. I hear the wind blowing. I hear the squirrels talking. It's nice.
Sunday morning, Mister MA and I arrive in eastern Washington, where the terrain is an unexpected mix of arid steppes and lush wine country. We stop off in Yakima, a hub of agricultural activity and home to a vibrant farmers market.
The producers are a diverse mix that includes Native American, Latino and Japanese. We're treated to a buffet of blueberries, shiro plums, an enormous variety of peppers both sweet and hot (check out the chile wreaths, pictured above), grapes (yes, local grapes!), edible chrysanthemums and nectarines -- for starters.
Similar to Missoula, the market here was packed, as if the entire town was out shopping for its weekly goods. I couldn't help but feel like I was right at home.
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