Everything I love and hate about the local food movement is rolled into this Saturday market here in San Miguel, Mexico.
Joy — an organic market! When I first came to this town, 30 years ago, most of the food vendors where not producers, but middlemen, just as they used to be back home. So I love witnessing farmers and artisan food producers hawking their own foods proudly, including distinctive cheeses, tequila, breads and vibrant greens.
Fresh gorditas bake on a griddle with a selection of organic fillings to choose from. In fact, everything here is organic, and that’s a comfort in a region plagued by major water issues and agricultural run off. (And where I spotted bright green pesticide laden water running into a nearby lake and mono-crop rules supreme.)
But what I hate, and hate is too strong a word, the market’s location, tucked into the corner of a giant upscale Rosewood complex, a refuge for the super rich.
More importantly, why are few, if any, locals shopping here? The market’s patrons are mostly gringos like me. And while we’re lucky to be here, deep into winter, buying organic Swiss chard and fresh cheese, I can’t help but feel sad that in a country so poor — any country, really — more of this clean, fresh food doesn’t reach locals.
But, I know that movements start slowly, often trickling down. And that when I buy from these culinary entrepeneurs I’m supporting the local economy and a happier landscape. Besides, like it or not, fashion is an important component of many trends, luring folks to better ideas.
Besides, here and back home, where the local food movement is accused of the same elitism, I’m more cheerleader than crank, advocating for fresh local foods everywhere I go.
So I’ll return to my shopping and savor my spunky arugula, carrots that taste like, well…Mexican carrots taste very carroty. And I’ll remember that by supporting these hardworking farmers and food producers, we foster a movement here that is likely to grow. And that the land these farmers work is healthy land — farmland Mexico needs. And I hope that one day school children will be eating the food it producers, along with gringos, of course, like me.
More thoughts, 2 weeks later —
After I visiting the organic market in San Miguel, Mexico, and I whined, just a little, about the elite side of the good food movement, also called the organic or local food movement. I know as well, or better, than most folks why well raised food costs more. But I was still bothered by the location of the market in an upscale development, as well as its mostly gringo clientele, including yours truly.
So this week I spoke with Luc Monzies, one of the market’s founders, to find out more. As it turns out, the market started out in the local park, which was a much more appealing location to locals, but for a variety of reasons it had to relocate. More importantly, it’s been so successful since its inception two years ago, that today 60 families make their primary or secondary income off of it.
Better yet, the market’s high production standards are likely to trickle out, because many of the market’s farmers were trained at a local university to conduct peer reviews of organic farmers markets. Now, building on the market’s success, 20 of its farmers are working on a new farm coop that I’ll tell you about later.
Once more, a farmers market has become an important epicenter of change in the sustainable food community.