Though I usually go to the market near my Trader Joe’s, I decided to venture forth into downtown Phoenix to see what the “Downtown Phoenix Public Market” had to offer. I’ve been wanting to check out this market ever since a friend offered to take the four-part introduction to local gardening series with me. (Saturdays this March.) I also had a more specific goal: I was looking for pastured eggs. My Costco ran out of the 18-pack of organic free-range eggs that I ususally buy, and I took that as my sign to break free from the faux-free “free-range” chicken and seek out truly pastured chickens.
What’s the difference between free-range and pastured? The short version is that so-called free-range eggs are really just eggs from chickens with a larger containment area. They may be “un-cooped” as one popular local brand calls it, but they are not free. Pastured chickens live as chickens are supposed to live, and the nutritional content of their eggs reflects that. In fact, far from the “all vegetarian feed” that many eggs high in Omega-3 are praised for, these chickens are quite fond of the occasional grub and other decidedly non-plant food source. Read here for more information. Of course, all this comes at a price. The two dozen pastured eggs I bought above? Five dollars a piece. Yep. Ten dollars for two dozen eggs. It’s enough to make a girl want to raise chickens in her back yard … if it weren’t for our neighborhood’s nasty coyote problem.
At any rate, I was impressed by the broader variety of goods and farms represented, though the evening time slot isn’t the greatest in terms of infant happiness. Notice the lack of “adorable baby at the farmer’s market” photos? That’s because I was carrying him in my Hotsling and trying desperately to keep him from hurling my wallet at assorted passersby. The downtown market meets from 4-8 pm Wednesdays and Saturdays from 8am -1pm. I suspect that Saturdays will become my mainstay, as the traffic to the market after Stinker’s second nap was horrendous.
My favorite “score” of the day is the little laminated sheet you see above, the “Low Desert Planting & Harvest Calendar.” It informs me that I can grow, with relative ease: Artichokes (Globe and Jerusalem); Arugula; Asparagus; Basil; Beans (Blackeye, Fava, Garbanzo, Green Snap, Lentil, Lima, Pinto, Soy, and Yardlong); Beets; Bok Choy; Broccoli (Head, Raab, Romanesco); Brussels Sprouts; Cabbage (Chinese and Standard); Carrots; Cauliflower; Celery; Cilantro; Collards; Corn (Flour, Ornamental, Popcorn, Sweet); Cucumbers (Armenian and Standard); Dill; Eggplants; Endive; Fennel (Bulbing and Herb); Garlic; Jicama; Kale; Lavender; Leek; Lettuce (Head and Leaf); Melons; Mint; Mizuna; Mustard Greens; Okra; Onions (Bulb, Multiplier, and Scallion); Oregano; Parsley; Parnips; Peas (English, Snap, and Snow); Peppers; Potatoes; Pumpkins; Radishes; Rutabagas; Sage; Spinach; Squash (Summer and Winter); Sunflowers; Sweet Potatoes; Swiss Chard; Thyme; Tomatillos; Tomatoes; Turnips; and Watermelons. This, of course, does not count the various fruits, be they trees or bushes, that grow here.
I mention this only because it gives me pause. I am reading Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle about the pleasure and long-term sustainability of eating locally and organically. (Of course, she begins the book by telling of how her family packed up and left Arizona for the East Coast because they thought such a project was not possible there. Oh, that and they already happened to own a farm in southern Appalachia.) I have long wanted to have a garden that is not only beautiful, but also functional. I had pretty much ruled out Arizona for this, thinking like Kingsolver that I’d need to be in a truly temperate climate to make a go of it, but I have seen various families who have succeeded here. I suppose taking the course at the Farmer’s Market will be a step in the right direction. So will starting a compost bin, which the City of Phoenix is giving away for next to nothing. But truly local eating? I don’t think I’ve got the makings of a die-hard locavore. For one thing, my diet is already so restricted that cutting out additional foods merely because they weren’t grown or produced within a fifty-mile radius seems foolhardy. For another, I have a husband who is very fond of coffee, a child who is very fond of bananas, and I myself have been known to indulge in a bit (ahem, cough) of chocolate every now and then. My goal, I think would be to produce or purchase most of our foods locally, and buy only what needs to come from the land of Far, Far Away. I’m still pretty far off from housing my own chickens, but a few containers to grow plants might be in order, even in this temporary domicile.