Time is mysterious. Our ability as humans to remember the past and conceive of the future through imagined consequences never ceases to amaze me. We see the future in the growth of a child, and the past in the passing of a loving grandparent. The present, however, is the time that most often eludes our notice. We have to consciously take a breath and pause to be in the moment. The hustle and bustle of our personal and professional lives can blind us to the prime time of life: now. Right now, for instance, local farmers are harvesting vegetables for the region's farmers' markets. November's offerings are a bit different than those of the spring or summer. Actually, some of the springtime vegetables make an encore appearance, since cool weather crops planted in August are ready for harvest. Your local farmers had to be thinking ahead to produce this crop. Farming generally requires a good sense of timing: knowing how long it takes each seed type to germinate, mature, fruit and reach its peak of ripeness; planning for a rotation of crops in a section of a field; knowing how long a field should lie fallow; observing the present weather conditions to be able to plan when to plow, plant and harvest. (Recording the details of producing a crop can be useful to a farmer, particularly if you sold all of it at market and want to plant more next season.) I've come to the conclusion that farmers must have the best sense of time of all of us, since they have to pay attention to the past, present and future carefully enough to make a living.
The drop in evening temperatures finally convinced me that autumn is here and summer well over. Regular attendance at the local farmers' market will teach you that this is a transition season, when a few late summer items can still be found, like peppers, green beans, okra, even tomatoes. Now, however, is the peak time to get locally grown pumpkins, winter squash, sweet potatoes, pears, pecans--and if you're lucky, native persimmons will show up. In addition to the traditional autumn foods, you'll experience the return of the cool weather leafy greens--a variety of lettuces, arugula, beets, broccoli, collards and kale. Farmers who raise hens are still bringing eggs, and the beekeepers now have most of their honey crop bottled and ready for holiday baking. Holidays being on the way, crafts found at the market make a unique gift.
Frequenting your local farmers' market throughout the entire year can help keep you in the present, since the produce available is seasonal--of right now. Produce available at the Durham Farmers' Market has been grown within 70 miles of Durham. It has North Carolina flavor in its very cells. Learn how to cook it to best bring out that flavor. Spend some time at the market this autumn, hobnobbing with neighbors and local growers. Now is a great time to do so.
Elizabeth Gibbs is manager of the Durham Farmers' Market and a freelance local food educator. She also grows heirloom neck squash.