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Zionsville Times Sentinel

The recent salmonella outbreak in tomatoes sure can ruin great summer recipes. From BLTs and bruschetta to gazpacho and insalata caprese, summer dishes just aren’t the same without good fresh vine-ripe tomatoes. The outbreak caused more than 500 reported cases of sickness and even several dozen hospitalizations as reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (http://www.cdc.gov/salmonella/saintpaul/). At least eight people infected with the specific strain of the disease, Salmonella Saintpaul, have been confirmed in Indiana.

Diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps 12 to 72 hours after infection are associated symptoms of the salmonella bacteria according to the CDC. Although most people recover without treatment, the symptoms can last up to seven days.

The current outbreak is unusual in that the foods usually contaminated by salmonella are poultry and eggs, and less frequently beef and milk. The bacteria are usually transmitted by eating foods that have been contaminated with animal feces. Food may also become contaminated through an infected food handler who did not wash his hands well after use of the restroom.

Bummer! Like most Hoosiers I enjoy the summer’s fare of fresh corn, just-picked beans and flavorful cakes, but it’s the tomatoes that gladden my soul and fill up my plate in summer. Fortunately for me, the salmonella didn’t break my pattern at all. Since I try to buy locally grown foods when possible, I was pretty much in the clear because most local tomatoes just weren’t quite ready in late April when the occurrences began. As it turned out, all tomatoes from Indiana were cleared of the initial contamination. There are still some concerns regarding other produce plants that may have been in flood waters (http://news.uns.purdue.edu/x/2008a/080617MaynardFlood.html).

Gardeners know we can grow prime tomatoes here. The climate and the soils make Indiana tomatoes some of the best-eating around in July, August and September. But growers at the two local farmers’ markets are already showing up with the home-grown goodies. Zionsville is fortunate to have two exceptional local markets: Zionsville Farmers’ Market and Trader’s Point Creamery Market.

In his newest book, “In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto,” Michael Pollan, best-selling author of “Omnivore’s Dilemma,” encourages us to eat and enjoy fresh, seasonal and local foods. He suggests we eat “real” foods from local farmers’ markets, community-supported agriculture (CSA) or home-grown. There are, he says, not only serious costs to our health for omitting these high-quality foods, but also grave consequences for the local food system. According to Pollan, local foods are the real solution to fears regarding food security.

CSAs are subscription or membership-based seasonal offerings from a local grower or sometimes several local growers. This year I purchased a share of Nature’s Harvest Organics (www.NaturesHarvestOrganics.com) since they now make deliveries to a pick-up point in Zionsville. I’ve already had locally grown, delicious cherry tomatoes in two of my weekly “bins” and more interestingly, I’ve learn that I love mustard greens steamed with balsamic vinegar and butter. A full bag of the tasty greens was included in my recent share, and I received great recipes in their weekly e-mail featuring the week’s produce.

A “short food chain” is what Pollan calls buying: in-season, local, direct from the grower or CSA, or grown in your own back yard. According to Sustainable Table (www.SustainableTable.org) produce travels about 1,500 miles from the farm where it was grown. More than a third of the fruit we enjoy comes from overseas. These extended “food miles” add additional expense for handling, transport and storage. The just-picked produce I get from Nature’s Harvest Organics travels less than 50 miles, and so the money I spend stays local. No, there won’t be oranges or artichokes available, but I know how the food is grown and handled.

The same confidence comes from buying at either of the local markets. On Saturday, the Zionsville Farmers’ Market hosted three growers with local tomatoes. BeBe Denton, one of the original founders of the market 11 years ago, said all produce sold at the market must be grown in Indiana. I was thrilled to find Ed and Heather Devlin of New Leaf Farms located southeast of Lebanon. A Purdue grad, Ed Devlin said they are using organic methods for the produce. Their tomatoes will be available both early and late season because they are grown “under plastic” to extend the season. Blueberries and blackberries will be another specialty of theirs.

You will find great veggies seasonally from May through October on Saturday mornings at the market on Hawthorne and Main streets in town or year-round at Trader’s Point Green Market (www.tpforganics.com) where the spotlight is on organics. The Green Market runs on Friday nights when the Zionsville Market is open, and on Saturday mornings during the winter months. The fun thing about both local markets is that it’s way more than produce. Market Master Toni Settle said the Zionsville Market boasts about 45 vendors and often 300 or more visitors, and not all are buying just greens. There are meats, eggs, breads and desserts, cut flowers, teas, honey, plants and herbs available. You can even buy some kettle corn and just listen to the musicians brought in to entertain. Vendors often do several markets. Maria Smietana of Valentine Farm sells her whole grain breads, rolls and buttery-rich cookies as well as produce at both Zionsville locations and others around Indy. Her part-time obsession has grown to full-time with 4,000 tomato plants in the ground at her Zionsville farm.

Start your local, fresh “real food” meal with some Mouse Oil on some fresh baked bread from the market. Owner David Rowe assures there are no mice in the bottles of dipping oil infused with fresh homegrown herbs. Stop by and ask him about it. Take the time to chat with any of the other vendors who are delighted to tell you how they grow and prepare their products. You may even get a recipe or a tip for a favorite variety. Certainly, you’ll find going shopping at a local market is a lot more satisfying than just buying food.

Lynn Jenkins is a Zionsville resident and publisher of a new magazine, Indiana Living Green.

E-mail her at Lynn@IndianaLivingGreen.com.

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