What Is Real Farm To Table?
“Maybe they have not heard of global warming?” These are the thoughts in my head as I explore the nearby farmers’ market to shop for tonight’s dinner. These farmers from around 10-kilometre drive away over to Velleron at the same hours each day join the Marche Agricole—a parking lot dedicated to farmers and their small vans; each one with their produce of the season. This is literally farm-to-table.
As I go from one table to another, I feel the happiness of each farmer who shares his or her strawberries, asparagus, beans, truffle—all fresh—and a myriad of salad vegetables as well as different colours and varieties of tomatoes. “You must use it raw,” one of the farmers tells me of the fresh truffle I chose. “Do not cook it, “ he reminds me in French.
Everyday at 6:00 pm, these farmers bring their produce and patiently wait for the townspeople who will buy something to cook for dinner on their way home from work. Shoppers come with country baskets and go from table to table. About 20 to 30 farmers—15 on each side of the parking lot—open the back of their panel vans and bring out their table to showcase the produce they offer. Come Friday in summer, some poissonieres (fish mongers) join the market with their day’s catch or what they probably got from the ports of Marseilles, a two-hour drive to Velleron.
Everything is fresh and what is nice is that you meet the very farmer who toiled (with love) to share with you his or her produce. But such is the way of life in southern France—or life in Provence. We were fortunate to have spent a week there, enjoying the small town of Saint-Didier. We lived the life the way the French would have it in the countryside--buying fresh ingredients and planning to cook depending on what was found in the market. To the Filipino cooks in our group—it was a choice of making sinigang or adobo, and figuring out what to do with radish, truffle, and asparagus. The cantaloupes for dessert were as sweet as I remember in my youth; the strawberries tasting like berries should. I got a basket of organic apples for two euros, a bunch of radish for one euro, and a big piece of truffle for eight euros. Unthinkable. With 20 euros or less, you could have a meal made French-style!
What we did to the truffle was amazing. Emilie, one of the friends we met, put it among uncooked eggs and covered the bowl so the porous eggshells will then absorb the scent of the fresh truffle. The next day, she offered to fry some eggs with a subtle flavour of the most sought after “mushroom”. Indeed, the eggs absorbed the aroma and taste of the truffle. Neat trick.
Also, we bought different kinds of tomatoes and ate them on the spot--they were the sweetest since summer was setting in and the weather was perfect for these fruits. Yes, tomatoes are considered fruits, not vegetables.
This is a real farm-to-table experience which we hope we can adopt in Tagaytay or Baguio—the actual farmers selling their produce and shoppers looking for the same cheesemaker and making a queue to the artisan’s goods, or a farmer’s berries or vegetables.
Then I thought, are these people even concerned about global warming? They seem to not mind the weather, and everyone in town just goes about doing what we, here in the Philippines, are just starting to espouse. In this part of France, the trend is to eat less meat, go vegetarian, and just eat or cook what is in season. The town of Velleron and Saint-Didier are both small—one café, one supermarket, no fast food joints. Maybe that’s why they do not need to even travel to other cities. People go on bikes, all-terrain Vehicles (ATVs), small cars, and vans to bring their produce from their farms and vineyards and share them with their neighbours.
I am a happy camper. I got fresh truffle, organic apples, and lots of fresh vegetables—fennel, haricot vert (French beans), asparagus, and did not even spend a fortune.
Maybe it’s not too late to introduce or re-introduce farm-to-table as part of Slow Food travel or Sustainable Tourism. We can give it a shot in Benguet when we next visit our friends in Tublay, or somewhere in Tagaytay where many of our chef-friends have already relocated.
Farm-to-table. It is my dream and a reality here in France, and soon in Manila. This is Slow Food at its slowest. And healthiest.