published Thursday, September 19th, 2013

City Beat: We're ahead of the game in local foods

During my family's recent visit to the Destin area of Florida, we made a point to ask about any local farmers markets and were surprised to learn there were none.

In fact, we were told the closest farm was almost a half-hour away. "You can't grow anything in this sand," the cashier at the Winn-Dixie said.

There were a couple of seafood markets along Highway 98, as you might expect, but two of the three should be avoided, we were told. We noticed the lack of fresh produce at a couple of the restaurants. The seafood was good, but everything else tasted like the stuff you buy in February at the chain stores.

So why am I bringing this up? To remind myself, and you, I suppose, how fortunate we are and how far ahead of the curve we are in this area.

A decade ago, I wouldn't walk across the street for a basket of fresh-picked blueberries or an heirloom tomato. That's partly because there wouldn't have been anyone across the street selling them, but also because the thought would not have crossed my mind. We bought groceries by the case-load at the same place we bought bathing suits, dog food, automotive oil and enough toilet paper to service a barracks, because it was cheaper that way.

Today, however, we make an extra effort to buy fresh and to buy local, and more importantly, it's a lot easier to do so. There are good and very good farmers markets at various locations all across the area, and there are more farms supplying them. In fact, some of them can't produce enough food to meet the demand, which comes not only from home shoppers but the more than a dozen area restaurants that use as much local food as they can.

That is a remarkable thing, as not that long ago we were writing stories in this paper about the demise of the independent farmer. They had no place to sell what they did grow because the demand just wasn't there. It is a true chicken vs. egg thing. It's all about timing, and luck, and education. Chattanooga Market seemed like such a new and novel idea when it launched in 2001, but it helped spur the local movement, and today it seems unthinkable to buy anything but local. It seems strange to be celebrating the "creation" of something that has been around for centuries, but here we are.

Contact Barry Courter at bcourter@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6354.

about Barry Courter...

Barry Courter is staff reporter and columnist for the Times Free Press. He started his journalism career at the Chattanooga News-Free Press in 1987. He covers primarily entertainment and events for ChattanoogaNow, as well as feature stories for the Life section. Born in Lafayette, Ind., Barry has lived in Chattanooga since 1968. He graduated from Notre Dame High School and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga with a degree in broadcast journalism. He previously was ...

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