Pros: great introduction to some of the most passionate farmers in the Midwest
Cons: only focuses on the Midwest, incomplete listing of farmer's markets (althoug expected as there are too many to list
In the past 2 decades it seems that farmer's markets have made a rebound. According to the USDA, in 1994 they were aware of approximately1,775 farmer's markets operating in the US. By 2010 that number had jumped to over 6,000. It seems that Americans are starting to rediscover the the joys, and convenience of purchasing foodstuffs from local farmers, ranchers and producers. Here, in Wisconsin, almost every town now supports at least 1 or 2 farmer's markets during the summer. Some are small, new start ups with just a handful of vendors while others, such as the Dane County Farmer's Market, in Madison, WI has been around for years, attracts hundreds of vendors and has become a shining example, to the rest of the nation, of what a farmer's market should be. With so much happening in these farmer's markets it is not surprising that there have been numerous books, guides and cookbooks that focus on these havens of local agriculture.
I recently picked up one of these books, "Farmer's Markets of the Heartland," written by Janine MacLachlan. The book is a guide to some the largest and most important farmer's markets in the Midwest, including the states of Michigan, Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin. The book is arranged so that each chapter focuses on one particular state, with an additional chapter focusing Chicago, the Midwest's largest city. At just shy of 250 pages this book is far from complete as a guide to all the farmer's markets in the Midwest, but Janine chooses to instead to focus on a handful of markets in each state and delve a little deeper into what makes each market so special. I happen to agree with this decision as creating an all-encompassing guide would have only left room for the barest facts of each market. Instead, she makes each market come alive as she explains the driving forces behind the markets and introduces the reader to many of the farmers and producers that make these markets special.
It is this final point that I feel makes this book relevant to readers outside of the Midwest. I understand that this book, as a guide to Midwest markets, would have a much bigger draw for those that actually live in the Midwest, but I think that the numerous farmer profiles that Janine has created will resonate with readers throughout the US who are passionate about the food they eat and believe in the "eat local" movement. If there is one thing that farmers and producers do not lack that is passion about what they do and what they produce and Ms. MacLachlan does a great job of capturing that passion and bringing it to life for her readers. You'll meet the Cavenys of Monticello, IL, who produce heritage turkeys and Becky Barnes, from Williamsport, OH who keeps 75 and grows a number of heritage potatoes. And then there is Lloyd Nichols the farmer that Janine introduces the reader to on the very first page, as the gentleman that helped to guide her through the 20+ varieties of strawberries that he was offering that day at Chicago's Green City Market. Each of these farmers and the scores of others that Janine introduces the reader to has a vibrant story that she only hints at, leaving the reader understanding what drives them, yet wanting to learn more about each and every one, and of course, wanting to try the food that they produce.
While much more of a guide book than a cookbook, just over 20 recipes do make their way onto the pages so if you are looking for a cookbook this is not the book for you, although you'd be happy with the few recipes offered up. But if you want to read about people who are passionate about what they do and the food they produce then you will be very happy with this read, all the more so if you happen to live in the Midwest and can visit some of these markets and meet some of the wonderful people written about. Again, though, even if you don't live close to the Midwest, this book is a must read for anyone with an interest in the local food movement and how others are working tirelessly to ensure that our country's food heritage is not lost to the homogenization of our modern lives.