Fairwinds Farm of Bowdoinham came to the Brunswick Farmers’ Market recently with asparagus crowns and strawberry plugs in tow. These crowns (dormant plants that resemble a sea creature with roots for tentacles and a head in the middle from where the spears will eventually sprout) and plugs (small plants with their roots entwined in a bit of soil for easy planting) were on offer more out of Yankee sensibility than any green eating tenet. The farmers had simply run out of room on the farm to plant them and thought someone else could use them, the woman working the cash box explained.

I didn’t buy either, but I bring them up to make a point. A lot of weird and wonderful things are on offer at early outdoor markets in Maine.

Enterprising farmers present shoppers with overwintered items that got sweeter as they aged (spring parsnips that spent the winter months underground and, in doing so, metabolized some of their starch to sugar) or more interesting as they evolve (purple puffball chive flowers and the kale and spicy mustard green “rabe” Six River Farm sells after the plants they’ve grown all winter in high tunnels bolt and produce leggy flowers). They offer possibly new-to-you perennial herbs (like sorrel, lovage, lemon catnip) or present items foraged from the edges of fields (like the young nettle leaves Whatley Farm had bagged up for sale.)

Selling these out-of-the-ordinary items helps farmers bulk up their stands with offerings different from the hothouse greens and cellared root vegetables we’ve been blessed with (but maybe, too, grown a bit bored with) all winter long. And they help bridge the financial gap farmers experience between planting summer crops and reaping the income they will bring come July.

Nothing speaks to sustainable food production more noisily than putting your money where your mouth is to support the local farming community.

Market shoppers, be they old-fashioned cooks or trendy ones, snatch up the ramps and fiddleheads, the asparagus spears and rhubarb stalks. But the odder-ball offerings are many times left on vendor tables at the closing bell.

The farmers I spoke with tell me there is no exact scientific or economic formula for the out-of-the ordinary items they bring to market in early spring. “It’s more a conversation about all the things we’d like to try and then coming back to reality in terms of what we’ve got time and space to grow,” Ailish Kress of Whatley Farm said.

Consider bringing a bag, bunch or bundle of the weird and wonderful items home with you. It helps the farmer, and you might even enjoy the experimentation. If you get stuck in the kitchen with any of these extraordinary local food items, drop me a line. I’m happy to help.

Christine Burns Rudalevige is a food writer, a recipe developer and tester, and a cooking teacher in Brunswick. Contact her at: [email protected]

 


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