I remember taking my first trip to the Hollywood Farmer's Market about 8 years ago, and being totally mesmerized by the diversity of the food. That day was the start of yet another culinary love affair for me that grows stronger with every passing season.
I've always been a conscious eater - caring a great deal about where my food is grown, how it's grown, and who's growing it - but there is still something about the actual experience of going to a farmer's market, getting to know the farmers who sell there, and seeing, touching and tasting their bounty, that is like no other experience I know.
For years, my husband and I have religiously awoken early every Sunday to venture out to our local market and see what treasures are in store for us. I always proceed carefully from stall to stall, trying to come up with exciting dishes to make with whatever happens to be available that week. Not only do I continually realize that the possibilities for creation are limitless, but I am constantly taken by the true sense of community at every farmer's market I go to - even the ones I don't regularly frequent.
If the dinner table is what keeps the family together, the farmer's market is what keeps the neighborhood together - and in a sprawling metropolis like L.A., that is truly saying something. Strangers share recipe ideas with each other and become friends, farmers regale you with stories of their current crops, or you ask the person in line next to you how the pumpkin pie she was going to go home and bake last week turned out. Children are at the forefront and it doesn't require too many visits before they feel a real connection to a warm and nurturing environment of farmers, purveyors, musicians and artisans who know their names and who they look forward to see time and again. Don't get me wrong, I love my supermarket too, but the experience of being at the farmer's market, for me, is profound.
Still, it wasn't until I had my son, Kenya, that I realized the impact our weekly venture would play in my life. After graduating from culinary school and working in a few restaurants, I still couldn't figure out exactly what it was that I wanted to do in the world of food. I tried a lot of different avenues, yet nothing spoke to me and I struggled to find my place in a world I loved. Right around the time Kenya reached the age where he was supposed to start eating solid food, I realized I had no idea what to do for him. There was surprisingly little information on the Internet about what to feed your baby and when, and very few homemade baby food recipes that I came across actually sounded tasty or interesting to me. All roads eventually led back to the site of my weekly pilgrimage...
I'm pretty sure that one of Kenya's first trips in a car was to our farmer's market. From the time he was able to chew, farmers were offering him samples of their peaches, mushrooms, persimmons, cucumbers and more to try. It got to the point where I didn't even worry about breakfast. I'd just pop Kenya in the stroller and the market became one big rolling buffet for him. He was so obviously responsive to the broad spectrum of flavors, textures and colors presented to him that finding inspiration for what to feed him at home suddenly seemed so simple and readily apparent. I would just bring home bags of all sorts of fresh fruits and vegetables and make baby foods that he couldn't get enough of. I loved offering Kenya foods like okra or beet greens - things I couldn't imagine any 9-month-old wanting to eat before then - and then watching him chow down every last bite! The best part for me was that I always knew exactly where his food came from (and obviously how it was prepared), so I felt like I could do no wrong.
And while the food itself at the farmer's market is obviously incredible, the icing on the cake for me is the time we get to spend there together as a family. For two or so hours every weekend we leisurely shop, have a snack or two, stop to admire and respect the food that's brought there for us to enjoy, listen to a variety of musicians and run into friends old and new. It reminds me of the way it was for me when I was a little girl and my grandparents frequently took me and my brother to U-Pick farms where people got to celebrate the fresh food grown there by picking and eating it together. Learning about and seeing where our food comes from and why it is so important for our bodies is such a gift to give children. They will recall those experiences and have that knowledge for a lifetime.
So far, my kids will eat almost anything I offer them. I hope that's because they feel like a real part of the whole process of food - from picking and purchasing it at the market, to seeing the infinite possibilities of preparation, to cooking and of course, eating it. My husband and I try to let our kids respect the food they're eating, not just by selecting it, but also by having a hand in how it ends up on the table. I think when parents make food and cooking fun, kids are empowered by their choices of what goes into their bodies.
To me, the farmer's market makes living that way of life easy. Now, my kids eat an apple and not only is how it's grown familiar to them, but so is the face that grew it. When you think about the farmer's market that way, could food be any cooler?
Catherine McCord is a model, actress and mother-of-two. She launched Weeliciousin 2007, providing a solution to parents' hectic lives by showing them how to cook recipes that are kid-friendly, quick and nutritious. With a background at New York City's prestigious Institute of Culinary Education, and a passion for food, Catherine has developed recipes that appeal to a range of ages - from infants starting on solid foods, to school kids and adults. Weelicious focuses on educating kids and involving them in the process with how-to cooking videos featuring her 3-year-old son, Kenya, and 1-year old daughter, Chloe. With a new recipe or tip debuting daily, Weelicious is a wealth of information for parents, and a visual delight for foodies of any age.