There’s no doubt that farmers’ markets are more popular than ever. While no part of the country has a corner on the markets, some of the best can be found — in season — in the American midwest.
Janine MacLachlan’s brand new book Farmers’ Markets of the Heartland (University of Illinois Press, $24.95) is an engaging journey through America’s small farm and business, direct-to-the-consumer revolution. More than a guide to some of the largest and most unique markets in Ohio, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri and states between (with a special chapter on Chicago), MacLachlan’s book is a celebration of market culture, the place where farmers and their customers meet. It profiles the small growers and artisans — pumpkin growers, turkey raisers and cheese makers — who dedicate their lives to quality product rather than profit.
Consider Bill Weston of Wisconsin’s Weston Antique Apple Orchard who sees stewardship of his land to be as important as the selling of his crop. Weston donated eleven acres of his land to the nearby city of New Berlin as a “passive park” with the stipulation that it remain an orchard. Or beef farmers John and Cathie McLaughlin who raise Scottish Highland cattle because they found the breed’s heavy coats to be suited to the Michigan climate. Or Vanessa Caruso, whose maintains an organic farm just a little more than six miles from downtown Bloomington, Indiana on land that’s been cultivated since 1816.
Generously illustrated with portraits of the farmers and mouthwatering photos of fruits and vegetables, MacLachlan’s book includes recipes, histories of organic organizations, and a few surprising facts — despite their popularity, farmers’ markets make up less than three percent of food sales in the United States — to accompany her road trip through America’s heartland markets. Ultimately, her story is about down-home small business, dedication to organic and traditional farming methods, and a growing movement not only to save agricultural lands but sustainable, wise-use agricultural methods as well. Anyone looking for true America — not exclusively rural or urban but the place where they meet — will find it here.