In case you haven't heard, there is a strong local food movement afoot throughout the nation.
So what is all the hype about?
The slow-food movement began in Italy in 1986, and since then more and more people are paying attention to the quality of food they serve their families and the food they eat in local restaurants.
Proponents of the movement say locally grown, organically produced food is tastier and healthier than food mass produced on large farms and sold at retail outlets.
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What it's all about
Grocery stores provide the best food possible, but there are some restraints.
They want items with long shelf lives, and that translates into harvesting vegetables and produce early, which makes good business sense, but as a result some of the produce never gets the last two weeks of sunlight to develop that fresh-off-the-vine flavor.
Also, for big farms to get the maximum yield in the shortest amount of time, they use hormones and chemical supplements.
More grocery stores now offer organic and free-range choices for people who prefer foods grown
without such supplementation, but there is another option to consider as well.
Certified farmers markets
State-certified farmers markets certify that what is sold there is made or grown by the person selling it. In many cases the produce you are buying was harvested that morning or the night before.
On the Coast there are three certified farmers markets: Ocean Springs Fresh Market: 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturdays (rain or shine), 1000 Washington Ave., Ocean Springs; Long Beach Farmers Market: 8:30 a.m.-noon, corner of Church Avenue and First Street, downtown, Long Beach; and Gulfport Harbor Farmers Market: 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Wednesdays in Jones Park at U.S. 90 and U.S. 49, and 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturdays on 27th Ave. between 13th and 14th streets in Gulfport.
Ocean Springs Fresh Market
Chef Diane Claughton opened this market in 2004. She has been a chef for more than 20 years, and knows a thing or two about fresh and locally grown food. The market started with eight vendors, none of them then farmers, but today you might be surprised at the variety of produce and other foodstuffs available there that are fresh off the farm.
"The market is based on the great European food and plant markets," Claughton said, "and in our own small way we are recreating that wonderful atmosphere of great food offerings by small, regional producers, plants and flowers grown locally and fruits and vegetables in season. It is a place to take your family, meet old friends and make new ones."
So what are you going to find at South Mississippi's Saturday morning markets? Farmers markets are seasonal. If tomatoes are not in season, you won't find them at the market.
That's the way our grandparents lived, eating locally and seasonally, and it is a good thing.
What I found
Saturday before last I took a stroll through the market and these are some of the locally grown and produced items I found: milk, buttermilk, cheese, butter, yogurt and grass-fed beef from Country Girl's Creamery; fresh herbs and bedding plants from P&J Nursery (one of two USDA certified organic farms in Mississippi); fresh pasta made by local chef Danie Rodriguez; Mississippi-made grits and rice grits by the Original Grit Girl and Mississippi Blues Rice.
I also found fresh goat, lamb and goat cheese by G&M Goat Farm, as well as homemade pralines, tamales, smoked sausage, beef jerky, homemade desserts, honey, locally baked bread, pickles and armloads of fresh produce. Wow!
I also visited the Wednesday morning Gulfport Harbor Farmer's Market and found fresh herbs, fresh-caught local shrimp, locally made flavored popcorn, fresh greens and radishes, all the dairy you could want, locally made tamales, local honey, locally baked bread and bird feeders.
Julian Brunt, who is from a family with deep Southern roots, writes Coast Cooking in Wednesday's Sun Herald and has a blog at sunherald.com.