I always get a little melancholy this time of year. It’s the waning of summer. The last of the tomatoes, corn and peppers. All the good stuff. And it’s the time the Franklin Farmer’s Market starts to transition from the glories of summer to the drabness of winter. We have a few more weeks of bounty so I’m overbuying like crazy right now.
Which brings me to Cecil and Lee. Cecil and Lee farm in Coffee County, which is just about an hour from my house. Most of the farmers at the market are small organic producers and I feel a little bad this time of year when they charge $2 a pound for tomatoes that it may have taken them $1.75 to produce. I do not feel bad for them in May when the first tomatoes come in and they’re $6 a pound, which I grudgingly pay because I’m so starved for a vine-ripened tomato.
That’s Cecil to the right. I’m guessing he’s in his late 70s. He had on a Vols t-shirt at the market, which goes to show you that hope springs eternal at any age. He is a man of few words. There was no chit-chat from this old bird. Just take the tomatoes and give me your two bucks. So I filled the conversational void by adding two gigantic red peppers for $1 each to my bag.
And there’s Lee. Also a man of few words. The drive back to Coffee County must be a long and silent journey.
So why am I writing about these two guys? Because they’re real people producing real food that has traveled 60 miles instead of 1,000 miles to my table. They make hand-drawn signs that promise that if you don’t like their tomatoes, you can get your money back without question. I’m sure nobody has ever had to take them up on the offer.
Being a child of the 1950s, I grew up on processed food and loved every box of it since it was far superior to my mother’s cooking, which she happily admitted. I remember the day she came home elated because she had found a new product in the stores: Kraft spaghetti and sauce in a box. You mixed up the tomato powder with water and that was the sauce! I remember it being delicious.
But now I know better. With the exception of Velveeta, I am trying hard to eat as local and sustainable as I can. I’m trying to eat within the seasons. I’m not always successful. I can’t pass up those pencil-thin asparagus at the Publix even if I know it’s not March anymore. And no matter how much brown sugar and butter I pack in it, I still can’t get the boys to eat acorn squash in the winter.
It’s important to support the guys like Cecil and Lee who are just trying to get it right $2 a pound by $2 a pound. Even if they don’t have much to say about it.