Growing season heats up for farm to fork crowd

By: Gus Thomson/Journal Staff Writer
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It’s been one slow growing season but nature’s bounty is starting to crop up in abundance at Placer County’s farmers markets. In a process that moves with the fickle nature of the seasons – and has been slowed this year by a cooler-than-usual spring and plenty of rainy days – Placer’s farmers are in the middle of a mid-summer growth spurt when all the work of tending acres of produce pays off. At last Wednesday’s market at the Placer County Government Center in North Auburn, Shaun Clarke of Melon Jolly Organics was finding a steady stream of customers ready to try some of his farm’s organic potatoes – or be more adventurous by taking a chance with a Minnesota midget melon or two. Katharine Harrison of Colfax was a first-timer at the North Auburn market and was excited to see the fresh produce that was being offered that had been picked literally minutes before at Clarke’s North Auburn spread. “We love cooking,” Harrison said, leaning into a bunch of sweet Italian red onions to savor the aroma. The onions turned out to be a quick sale for Harrison and she was already planning how to incorporate them into her dinner as she left the shaded booth on a grassy section of lawn near the Richardson Drive-Bell Road intersection. “It’s exciting to see what’s fresh and local,” Harrison said. “Plans are to throw it onto the grill.” Meadow Vista’s Dee Whitehill enthused over recent purchases at the market that had inspired her to make a batch of nectarine-lemon jam and a blackberry-nectarine pie “to die for.” “I’m always looking for the good stuff and then search out a recipe when I get home,” Whitehill said. “The produce is always fresh and it’s supporting local farmers. And everything is yummy.” Clarke said he feels as if he’s part of a movement that is embracing locally grown foods and looking for healthy alternatives in the face of high rates of obesity and concerns over food safety. One of the national leaders has been Whole Foods, a corporation that continues to open more stores and is now looking at empty spaces left by departed Borders stores as prime locations for its organic and healthful store offerings. It makes a point of buying locally. Even fast-food restaurant McDonald’s is getting on the health bandwagon – making apple slices a mandatory component in its Happy Meals for children. While weather plays a major factor, Placer County agriculture remains a solid part of the local economy, bringing in almost $67 million a year. Field crops make up half of that total, while fruit, nuts and vegetables account for another 10 percent. “It’s becoming noble to be a farmer again,” Clarke said. “You can taste the difference in what we grow and I think people are thinking more about food safety and security. It’s also keeping money local.” The North Auburn market runs from 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Wednesdays. The more-established Auburn farmers market, in the shade of the Placer County Courthouse in Old Town Auburn, takes place Saturday mornings starting at 8 a.m.