I just got a reminder in my email inbox (as if I needed one — I’ve had the dates on my calendars for months now) that this week marks the official transition period from the Summer Farmer’s Markets to the Winter Markets here in RI.  It’s not that the Winter Markets haven’t started already, or at least some of them; it’s not that the Summer Markets will all cease to exist completely after today.  It’s just that this is the week when the shift begins in earnest, and it comes right as our consciousness is starting to shift, too: from excitement about the first Fall leaves and pumpkins to a deeper, quieter Winter consciousness.  From gushing about the beautiful array of produce — what variety!  what color!  what temptation to spend FAR too much of my hard-earned cash each weekend! — to planning our holiday tables and debating whether or not, at least in my case, we’ll really be able to get all that we need for the feast from our local producers, or whether we’ll have to break down, possibly, and supplement our produce options with purchases from the supermarket.

I issued a gratitude challenge to you, readers, in the November Meal Plan.  I’ve really tried to follow through with it in my own life on a daily basis — those of you who follow me on Twitter (cue the chirping crickets) may even have seen a Tweet or two about what I’m thankful for.  Today I’ll say it loud and proud: I’m thankful for the farmers.  And for the markets, be they Summer or Winter.  And for the wonderful organizations — Farm Fresh RI, Coastal Growers — that make sure we have markets to shop at year-round.  And for living in a state where there is a surprising emphasis, all around us, on eating more responsibly, more locally, and more healthfully.

So on this, the eve (at least poetically) of the new market season, I have a few shout-outs to issue.  I write this blog every day because I enjoy it, and I enjoy the way it enriches my life by bringing new people into my circle; making me think even more than I already did about my food choices; and allowing me a space where I can round up my thoughts, more or less, and get them out of my head to a place where they can either be retired or can grow and develop with the input of others.  But without the farmers, and the markets, I don’t know if Red, Round, or Green would truly be possible.  Our food experiences wouldn’t be what they are, and my inspiration to strive as hard as I do to live and eat and cook this way may not have been fully lit.

For lighting that fire and tending it: Thanks to Zephyr Farm.  The produce is beautiful and unique, the salad greens are the best, and Kim, who “womans” the booth at the Pawtuxet Market every Saturday, is amazing.  She’s kind, warm, enthusiastic, and a gracious fan of this blog. She remembers my kids’ names and what they like to eat.  She doesn’t laugh when I accidentally show up at the outdoor market in my slippers.  And Kim introduced me to the wonders of salad turnips, different varieties of beets, and delicata squash.

For always bringing the unexpected: Thanks to Pak Express.  Before this summer, I would never have known that sweet potato leaves were edible (and delicious).  The young ladies who bring Pak Express to the Pawtuxet Market have introduced me to more varieties of greens, broccoli, and sweet potatoes than I ever thought possible. (Pak also gets my nod for best heirloom tomatoes, this summer…)

For perseverance: Thanks to Moosup River Farm.  Bobby’s been handling his folks’ farmstand at the Pawtuxet Market for as long as I’ve been shopping there; in the early years, his dad came with him, but now he’s a college student taking care of things on his own.  Bobby touches my heart in more ways than one.  First of all, he’s clearly passionate about the food and the business his family has built — and he never fails to show me that by convincing me, charmingly, to buy just ONE more item (“Your total’s $8.25,” he’ll tell me, “but if you want to grab that bunch of chard, I’ll do it for $9 even”).  Secondly, Bobby’s dad — the backbone of the farm, the family, and a backbone of the local farming community — passed away just around this time last year.  I’ve seen Bobby struggle to keep the farm afloat, keep his mom’s spirits up, keep his brother going, and start college all at the same time.  But he’s made few concessions.  He won’t be at the winter markets this year, he told me, because he’s got too heavy a class load…but he’ll be back next year.  He’s got the greenhouses ready to go, he swears.

I’m making myself sad as I think about these summer vendors.  There are of course many others I could name (like Mike…Danny…Christina…) — every farmer, every vendor, every person involved in bringing local food to my neighborhood and neighborhoods like it should be thanked personally and often.  But I’m looking ahead, too, and looking forward to the new season, even though it means I’ll have to drive 20 minutes from my house every Saturday morning to visit the vendors at Coastal Growers.  I’m just thankful that there will be a market for me to go to in the coldest months, and there will still be local food, and great people, and a shopping ritual to kick off my weekends.

I’m looking forward to:
The atmosphere — the warmth of the old mill, the smell of the wood-fired pizza and freshly brewed coffee, the sound of the accordions and guitars and fiddles as local musicians liven up the cold New England mornings.
The meat — At Coastal Growers, I can get locally produced beef, lamb, and poultry.  I can’t wait to visit Don and Heather from Watson Farm and bring home a little of their ground lamb for a good ragout.
The bakeries — Two of the best bakeries in the state, Olga’s Cup and Saucer and Seven Stars, feed continuous streams of hungry shoppers at the winter market.  I can’t resist Olga’s candied ginger scones or Seven Stars’ almond croissants.
Zephyr Farm — I came to Coastal Growers, originally, as a Zephyr Farm groupie.  I followed my vendor to the market of their choice, and I haven’t been disappointed — though this year, I will try harder to be there early enough to get the best of the produce.

There’s so much to be thankful for when you have enough to eat, and even more to be thankful for when what you are able to eat is the best food — the freshest, the tastiest, the most varied.  Thanks, farmers, those I’ve named and not named…and thanks to all those who work behind the scenes to make the markets, CSAs, Farm-to-School programs, mobile deliveries, and all other Local Food initiatives a thriving part of the little piece of the world I’m lucky enough to call home.