Leann & the Magic Fava Bean

IMG_5250.jpgSipping on some dragon pearl tea, which is quite bitter, I will tell you a tale. We’ve all heard the story of Jack’s magic bean that grows into a huge stalk, which takes him up to meet the giant. A golden goose makes an appearance and grants Jack 3 wishes, probably. Have you ever wondered, though, if that bean was sustainably grown? Was that bean from a local farm? Probably, as I’m fairly certain it was from a mischievous witch or possibly an ill-meaning grandma. Did that witch use pesticides? I don’t know how witches grow their produce. Who can we trust to provide responsibly sourced vegetables?

I want to add variety into my diet; preferably, a healthy variety. I’ve read enough to understand that the state of agriculture in the United States is in quite a pickle. Without citing my sources, the issue is basically that subsidized farmers produce way more than we actually eat of various crops on way more land than they actually need to use to sustain our populations. From these studies and experiments, it appears the local, small or micro-farmer produces 10 times more efficiently. The bottom line? Small, local farmers who grow crops for a smaller, more local population, are decreasing waste by, well, a lot.

As an omnivore, I’m not particularly concerned with what I eat, but rather where it’s coming from. I figure I’ve already ingested enough pesticides for a life-time and, frankly, whatever. If I can avoid them, great, but I’m not going to go out of my way to do chemical tests on all my carrots to ensure they never shared soil with demons. Personally, I’m more concerned with the sustainability of my food: i.e. how far did this onion travel to get to me? With a greenhouse and some knowledge, a variety of onions can grow in my town. To cut down on waste in all aspects – gas, time, food, labor – I prefer to buy an onion from my neighbor.

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Cara Mangini owns the Little Eater Produce in North Market, this is her book. I want this book.

My struggle, which I think I share with every quasi-conscious eater, is there is no way to  guarantee that the onion is from a local producer unless I buy it from a farmer’s market and look that producer square in the face and ask, “sir, where did you get this onion and what is his name and did he lead a good life?” I don’t want to travel out of my way to buy produce that I cannot guarantee came from a responsible source.

A recent issue of Edible Columbus actually spotlighted this issue: a lot of restaurants will claim they use locally sourced materials, however, when asked they either have no idea where they got their foodstuffs or haven’t actually bought locally in years. If the hip, bougie, local organic grocer isn’t going to be any more forthright than my über convenient and spectacularly well-stocked Giant Eagle Market District, than, why would I shop there?

Thus starts my hunt for the – apparently – Magic Fava Beans. Excited by a new, veggie oriented, recipe in Edible Columbus that calls for fava beans, I wanted to double-down on my commitment to this healthy meal and find responsibly sourced organic magic produce. After reading about Columbus’ foodie scene, it really didn’t seem that hard to find some honest veggies.

Turns out, vegetables sit on a throne of lies.

A 30 minute Google search affirmed for me that there are only 2 producers within a 20 mile radius of downtown Columbus that actually list from whom they buy their produce. (I did not check big-chain grocers and it is not the season for farmers’ markets, nor the day for year-round markets.) The first is Columbus’ famed North Market. It’s a typical european-style open-air market with vendors galore and you have to pay to park. Everything you buy in there is delicious and it’s a dangerous place to go when your bank keeps texting you about your low balance. Unsurprisingly, the second place is a coop just outside downtown in Bexley. Having never visited a coop, I figured this was a great opportunity to check one out.

IMG_5215It turns out, fresh fava beans are as rare as unicorns. Neither the coop nor North Market had the beans. Neither did they have about 14 other items on my grocery list – yes, I still buy plastic wrap occasionally, so I can attest that neither did Giant Eagle Market District have the beans. Nevertheless, it was an exciting morning. Though despairingly without fresh fava beans, the coop offered the distressing sight of two blond ladies with dreads, I was introduced to the true variety of Kosher salt, and purchased some outstanding peppers. Likewise, at North Market, I bought fresh focaccia from Omega Artisan Bakery for my walk – by now it was lunchtime – and purchased some sea-salt from North Market Spices, on which I am now hooked.

My brief foray into the world of assuredly responsibly sourced produce, though disappointing, wasn’t a total loss. While I couldn’t find what I was looking for, spent 3 hours grocery shopping instead of 35 minutes, and spent more money than I intended, I learned that produce from the coop was really fresh and delicious, and I began to feel more comfortable in the ultra-hip North Market. Replacing fava beans with brussels sprouts was a hit – they were delicious sautéed with some garlic, lemon, and fancy salt, but I’m still terribly curious about the fresh fava beans. I’m looking forward to June, when the local farmers markets open up, so I can find new and interesting produce.

Unfortunately, favas are a winter bean.

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