03 June 2011

Asparagus, Asparagus, Where Have You Been?

By Amanda Frankel

The supermarket is an active place—people pushing their wheeled plastic carts up and down the fluorescent aisles, weighing fruits and vegetables, comparing calories on the backs of cereal boxes. Here at the supermarket I can find almost any fruit or vegetable I want, no matter the season. However, I can’t help but ask myself: From where do these out-of-season veggies come? Even, where do these in-season veggies come from? How far must an asparagus stalk travel to make it to my plate?

Portland Farmers Market is almost always bursting with energy and action; like the supermarket, shoppers are feeling the fruits, inspecting meats and cheeses, and buzzing about one another like bees around a honeycomb. But the personal interactions, the sights and smells of the market, the personality of the market, are what set it apart. There is a constant conversation between vendors and shoppers, comments exchanged as market-goers cup the belly of an eggplant, sample a sun-ripened berry or indulge in a hot tamale or baby quiche.

Marven Winters, center

Here, I can know exactly where my asparagus comes from. Today I have chosen to purchase from Winters Farms. Winters is a family farm located in Troutdale, Oregon, which means this asparagus has traveled roughly 20 miles to make it to my abode in North Portland.  Comparatively, the asparagus at my local supermarket has traveled from Pasco, Washington– just about 218 miles.  Not bad considering the distances other produce must voyage, but this spring asparagus crop is just one of many produced year-round by this particular importer/distributor. During the rest of the year, their asparagus comes from farms as far away as Mexico, Chile and Peru.

Winters Farms provides more than just asparagus—fruit, flowers, jams, and honeys among their repertoire—to multiple farmers’ markets in Portland and Beaverton. By their own description, Winters Farms is about 150 acres large, and produces “sustainably grown products incorporating free range, IPM, drip and overhead irrigation using commercial fertilizers with no GMO or hormones.” Each week, I see Marven Winters, proprietor, farmer, and vendor, bagging the very produce he grows to hand to shoppers. Unlike at the supermarket, I can see the face behind the food I am buying.

I like knowing where my asparagus has come from and the practices by which it is grown. I tried contacting the distributor of the asparagus from my local supermarket, and have yet to hear back from them. In contrast, if I have questions about Winters Farms’ growing practices, I can visit their Facebook page, look at the PFM website or just ask a member of the Winters family personally at the market.

So as I bite into my asparagus tonight, lightly sautéed with a bit of garlic and lemon, I know confidently where my asparagus has been. I know it was grown locally by the Winters family, I know I am not putting genetically modified food into my body, and I know it was grown sustainably. I have no doubt that some of the best farmers anywhere are those I meet weekly at our local Portland markets, and that they are our very own environmental stewards providing us with healthy, in-season produce that they have grown and delivered to us with their own hands.