Kale and Cheese: Reasons to Get Up Early

I am a lazy vegetarian. I don’t mean to say that I slack off and sometimes land mouth first on a slab of bacon; no, I mean I grab a croissant while slurping down cup after cup of coffee and maybe, if my husband and I are lucky, I’ll make dinner. I buy organic produce from my big box store or if I’ve massaged my writer’s brain into a near catatonic state, I might even make instant soup. Dried potato squares. Powdered cream. Just add water.
I get involved with my work. I neglect food and sleep.
At my doctor’s behest, I strive to be a better vegetarian. I started going to farmers’ markets on the weekends. Atherton Mill Market was my first because it stays open later than the others. There, I discovered Chapel Hill Creamery and their fresh farmer’s cheese. As soon as I get home, I cut off three soft hunks and dollop raspberry preserves on top. It’s as close as I can get to the cheese I had in Turkey last summer. This cheese gets me motivated.
This Saturday, I am up and in line at Starbucks by 7:45. For a crotchety writer, this is no small feat. Since I read Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals, I am back on the serious end of being a vegetarian. I had almost forgotten the reasons I quit eating meat 19 years ago. I remind myself that industrial food is unhealthy and inhumane as I shiver walking out behind Renfrow Hardware to the Matthews Farmers’ Market and pull my thin jacket tight. I forget how cold it can be so early in the morning in March.
The sun hits the white tents. The grass wets my feet. I have my giant reusable bag, my husband’s camera around my neck and I’m suffering from an overwhelming sense of shyness (otherwise known as the morning grumpies). It’s just so quaint. I’m too pissy for quaint at this time of day.
But the market works its charms. A young girl looks at me taking pictures, says, “Mommy, she’s got a camera. It’s cool.” Her chocolate-covered face softens me. I notice the chocolate chip muffin in her hand. I stand back a bit. I see fresh herbs, dried tomatoes, and some frilly lettuces at the Hot Pepper Herb Farm stand. The scent of oregano and rosemary settles my shoulders. I buy tomatoes and lettuce.

I walk over to Nut Hill Farm’s stand where I see a table full of leafy greens, radishes, green onions and parsley. Jim Mundorf mans the table. He tears leaves off kale, mustard greens, and spinach for me to try. He hands the kale to me stem first, says, “You won’t believe how tender this is.” Despite the cloak of coffee on my tongue, I take a bite. It is crisp and mildly bitter. For the first time in my life, I buy kale. I think of my grandfather’s coarse hands as I look at Jim’s. I relax some more.

When I turn around, I see the baked goods stand. A young boy and his dad buy a treat. I’m guessing it’s a bribe for being up so early on a Saturday. I buy two chocolate chip muffins myself. “You a photographer?” the lady asks.

“No, I’m a writer,” I say, “working on a piece about the market.”
“I tell ya, I’m glad to see more people caring about where their food comes from these days,” she says, handing me change.
I try to engage but I go quiet thinking of my grandmother. She’s in the hospital. She’s nearing the end of her life. Her bones are powder. She is malnourished. I think of mornings at her house, the pancakes she made me in the iron skillet, the vegetables from the garden she and my grandfather worked together. I should have had her teach me how to can, to preserve. I am powerless.

I must take better care of my husband and myself.
I stand in line for pastured chicken; he’s agreed to avoid factory-farmed junk.

In my grandparents’ generation, they went to the butcher or raised the animals themselves. I worry over our disconnection with food. Wendell Berry said, “The industrial eater is, in fact, one who does not know that eating is an agricultural act, who no longer knows or imagines the connections between eating and the land, and who is therefore necessarily passive and uncritical – in short, a victim.” I would add to that, perhaps, these are willful victims. I am trying to be an advocate. I do this by putting my feet on the floor earlier than I would like and supporting local farmers.
Later, I tell my grandmother about my morning. I think she understands.
Matthews Farmers’ Market only sells products that are made or grown within 50 miles of Matthews, NC.
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