Human ignorance – as well as greed – knows no bounds.” How painfully true. The ignorance has been mine, by the way…
If you’ve read any of my recent diatribes on the safety of our food supply in the United States, you may have formed the opinion that I am something of a highly alarmed purist. I am. I firmly believe in the adage that you are what you eat and I further strongly hold the belief that we are suffering a slow death by food poisoning at the hands of a most beleaguered and complacent government, as well as a nefarious underbelly of criminal activity coming from home and certainly abroad.
If you’ve read any of my recent diatribes, you know I strongly support local farmers and seek them out at every opportunity to provide me with fresh fruits and vegetables, so that I can spend untold hours canning them for future consumption. I am, indeed, a “control freak” and derive a huge amount of pleasure in hand-selecting and hand-preserving the foods I want to provide for my family. I love to eat and I love to cook. So perhaps it’s easy to understand why canning and food preservation has long been a hobby of mine and one I enjoy immensely. But with today’s reality of unsafe commercially available fruits and vegetables, my hobby has become a necessity in my world.
I have declared the harvest season of 2007 to be my own Year of the Canner and I have great plans for the months ahead. With the first Brandywine tomato fruit appearing on my single patio plant, I find the call of Spring to be yelling for me to get started! Shine up the water bath, Sheila – the Maters have arrived!
As my fiancé and I set out upon a journey toward Tulsa last Wednesday, excitement was in the air! I had a copy of the WSJ to read aloud along the way (which to limited extent prevents me from being as bad of a back seat driver as my mother), and my handy-dandy notebook was nearby to record my findings during the drive. Tops on my radar were farmer’s markets and roadside stands I just knew would be found around a myriad of corners, bursting forth with delicious homegrown finds.
I made judicious notes as to their precise locations for the return drive home. All along the drive and during our stay in Tulsa, I reiterated my need and intent to Tom to purchase a truckload full of juicy homegrown tomatoes to can into sauces and salsas and jars upon jars of beautiful whole tomatoes for the Winter ahead.
God bless this man for his limitless patience. 😉
There are seven roadside vegetable stands between Tulsa, Oklahoma and Plano, Texas along US Highways 75 and 69, and Tom and I stopped at all but one on our way home on Friday. Our resounding common opinion of same in the aftermath? Scams abound.
Instead of finding basket after basket of juicy, flavorful, homegrown tomatoes, we reaped bushels in tremendous disappointment in the quality of the tomatoes available and discovered what we believe is a scam, this time preying upon idiots like me determined to pay any price for homegrown food.
Being an opportunist is not a crime in the US, yet I believe the hoax found at each stop along the way to be very much a crime. These stands have lost any business from me forever and I encourage you to be very careful where you spend your food funds, too. If you don’t know for a certainty where and how vegetables and fruits are grown, don’t buy them.
These seven stands hold a lot in common. They are identical in looks and ambiance, possessing that wholesome decrepit white-washed charm that draws me in like a fly to…well…a freshly sliced tomato. Secondly, they were each manned by people who not only had no information about what they were selling, but really couldn’t care less about selling their stuff to us anyway. Not one of them offered us a purchase-ensuring taste of our tomato heaven ahead.
Thirdly, ALL of their tomatoes and peaches were identical, were commercially-grown, were tasteless, smell-less, mealy and hard as rocks. Next was the fact that each of the seven stands sold completely identical foods and honeys, without variation. And the final Coup de Gras is that some of the folks at these stands downright lied to us and represented their overtly commercial tomatoes as “homegrown.”
With complete sincerity and authority, I tell you that there is NO local produce to be found in the following vegetable stands. They import their stuff at the lowest possible price, tell you it’s “homegrown” and sell it for egregiously expensive amounts.
I hereby present the EHeavenlyGads List of the Seven Vegetable Stands NOT to Stop At Between Tulsa and Dallas:
Southbound Stop No. 1: a roadside stand called “Preston Produce” in Preston, OK. The first stop just “looked right” to me. The place even had a sagging roof and a highly tattooed young woman standing guard over their wares. The place had tomatoes and peaches and a short ton of jars of “Pure Red River Honey” produced by J&S Produce of Calera, OK.
This gal, we would soon discover, was the only honest roadside food vendor along the drive. The tomatoes, she said, had just arrived by truck from Florida from some commercial grower down there. She didn’t know who, but they had a lot. The peaches were from Texas somewhere. Upon inspection (and after finally convincing her to give us a bite), the tomatoes were mealy and utterly flavorless. The tomatoes from Albertson’s tasted better than these! They were obviously picked green, as is the commercial requirement for long transports, and were as hard as baseballs. Five bucks for five tomatoes was the going rate. Egads! A buck a piece for a tomato that tastes a lot worse than the $.79 per pound maters I can find in my local supermarket? Hell, no!
To prevent complete dismay, we purchased a jar of the honey with its gold label stuck askew. Five bucks for a 16-ounce jar covered in dust. While I haven’t tasted the honey yet, I’ve bought it before. It’s nothing terribly special and much better stuff is around, but with the honey bee crisis, I though it advantageous to grab a jar while I could.
I was unable to properly communicate my disgust with the tomatoes to Tom, who ended up buying five of the egregiously overpriced baseballs, too. This wonderful man was still caught up in my hype to buy a truckload of tomatoes and I know he just thought we’d better get started fast! Nevertheless, a short communication back in the truck illuminated my desire to buy quality over quantity. I wanted homegrown, or nothing at all.
Again, God bless this man for his limitless patience…
Southbound Stop No. 2: a roadside stand in Okmulge, immediately south of 6th Street on the southbound side. This decrepit building had the added charm of squeeking floors. They had the same going rate of $5 for 5 tomatoes that were also identical to the first ones we saw: pink, mealy and hard as baseballs, with no tomato scent whatsoever. Tom took the lead and asked the middle-aged gal behind the counter where their tomatoes came from. She immediately said “Florida” with a smile, but was quickly “corrected” by a fellow off to the side, who claimed to have just brought the crop back from East Texas. All homegrown, he said. (Beware of Stand Scam Boy!) They did have some lovely looking Celebrity and Big Boy plants for sale at in half quart pots for $5 a piece, and the same exact jars of honey. But as admirers of heirloom tomatoes, we weren’t in the market for plants or more of the same honey, so off we went.
This fellow became the object of lengthy discussions back in the truck. He said all the things we wanted to hear. “Yep, they’re homegrown. Yep, they’re good. Yep, they’re fresh.” And thus began an inkling of suspicion that we were smelling a scam going on…people claiming to offer “homegrown” vegetables, who in reality, were trying to make a buck off of unsuspecting folks. After all, I and we DO know the difference between commercial tomatoes and the REAL ones lovingly grown and nurtured.
One point Tom made at this point was profound. People who grow their own tomatoes, especially, are inherently proud of their crops, because they are not the easiest of vegetables to grow. These folks can answer ever conceivable question you may have on their variety, any problems they had with insects and the like, what they used to fix various challenges during growth, how long ago they were picked, etc., etc. And they can’t WAIT to slice off a bite so you can taste just how wonderful their tomatoes are!
The same thing rings true among quilters and cattle growers and soap makers and hooch brewers. They are always proud to show the fruits of their hard labors and more than happy to talk your ears off about every step of the process. Get me started on my candymaking and you’ll understand what I mean.
Not here, though. Not from Stand Scam Boy, who probably made sure Middle-Aged Gal NEVER told potential customers who followed us that the tomatoes came from Florida again….
Southbound Stop No. 3: a roadside vegetable stand in Savanna, Oklahoma, immediately south of McAlester and right across the street from the Finish Line gasoline and convenience store stop. Same decrepit white-washed house. Same pink, mealy, hard-as-baseballs tomatoes selling for $5 for a basket of five. Same exact lack of information, other than the tomatoes just came by truck from Florida (or
East Texas or somewhere). They had the same exact jars of “Pure Red River Honey” selling for $5 a piece, too, as well as hard-as-rocks and scentless peaches they claimed were from Mexia. Pretty impatients, though…
Southbound Stop No. 4: a roadside stand in Stringtown, called the Stringtown Fruit Stand. Yep, the same falling-down, white-washed ambiance with Florida commercial-grown tomatoes selling at $5 for a basket of five, although these folks blatantly claimed these were all homegrown. They also claimed to have brought their peaches from Mexia, but they were also hard and totally scentless. Lots and lots of jars of “Pure Red River Honey” from Calera, though.
By the way and for the record, growing delicious, juicy peaches is just as much a religion in Texas as it is in Georgia. And if you ever have the opportunity to taste one freshly plucked from a tree in Mexia, or from Wise County, you will immediately understand how I know these peaches along the road did NOT come from Mexia.
At this point, Tom and I were becoming a bit suspicious that there is one semi making rounds of all of these roadside stands selling them their allotment of commercial tomatoes and likely commercial peaches. Heck, could all of these stands be owned by the same folks…maybe from the same commercial grower supplying them?? What are the odds that we would run into Stand Scam Boy’s mother in an identical stand down the road?
Southbound Non-Stop No. 5: a roadside stand between Stringtown and Atoka on the northbound side. This identical decrepit white-washed stand brought a raised-eyebrow exchange of glances between Tom and I, because it had a lady in her 70s who came to watch over us (not greet us). Surely someone reminiscent of my mother would be selling homegrown tomatoes! Well, Hell no. She had the same $5 for five tomato baskets as everyone else so far, and they were pink, mealy and hard. She didn’t know where “they” got the tomatoes and peaches, but they arrived on a big truck just the day or so before. And she also sported the very same jars of honey as everyone else, also selling for $5 a piece.
She even resembled Stand Scam Boy a little. You could see the resemblance in their eyes…
Southbound Stop No. 6 was supposed to be a roadside stand in Atoka about a mile south of 13th Street on the Northbound side. I don’t know where I saw this one on the drive up, because it was no where to be found on the drive home. Must have been a mirage.
Southbound Stop No. 7: a roadside stand just south of Calera on the northbound side of US 75. In this decrepit, white-washed falling-down stand, we were greeted (sort of) by a woman in her 60s. Her tomatoes, she claimed, were homegrown beauties from East Texas and the peaches just plucked from trees in Mexia. Hmm… $5 for a basket of five that were pink, mealy, but not quite as “pretty” as the others (their only redeeming feature, in my book).
Tom noticed large boxes beneath the shelf of basketed tomatoes hailing from Florida and each full to the top with even less ripe tomatoes than those in baskets. This lady, a quicker wit, declared that the boxes are all reused. (Really? These we saw were all brand spanking new. Not a smudge, dent or damp spot in sight.) And while the boxes say the tomatoes are a product of a Florida commercial grower, she said that’s not true. (Yeah, right.) The tomatoes were definitely from East Texas, she declared.
I don’t think so, Scooter! But we bought a basket anyway, since these had at least an ever-so-slight scent of tomatoes. We passed on her “Mexia peaches” and the ever-ready supply of jars of “Pure Red River Honey” found in every place we had stopped.
Mind you now, that I have nothing whatsoever against tomatoes grown in Florida, or peaches either. However, it totally ticks me off to find stand after stand hawking commercially-grown vegetables and fruits as “homegrown.” To me, that is nothing less than fraud. It’s lying and the intent is definitely to deceive the buyer. After all, if you knew these tomatoes were commercially-grown at all, moreover imported across several states at the beginning of our own tomato harvest season, would you buy them?
It now would not surprise either Tom or I to uncover a single truck making its rounds up US 75 from stand to stand delivering the commercial fruits and vegetables that the stands turn around and fraudulently represent as “homegrown.” That’s despicable, but certainly a likely reality in this world. It’s merely a way for folks to make a buck, and they don’t care how.
Caveat emptor, boys and girls…! Think those roadside stands are as wholesome as they appear? Think again. And that’s a real shame for those honorable folks who do sell their vegetables in that manner. I know the good guys are out there somewhere, but I can authoritatively decree that they are NOT along the roadways between Plano and Tulsa that I have identified above.
So, where does one find REAL homegrown fruits and vegetables around cities these days? Short of growing your own, it takes a little digging to find them, pardon the pun.
In the Dallas area, the only really reliable organic grocer is Whole Foods. At least they demand exacting standards from their providers, who are as local as possible, and enforce bans upon a whole long nasty list of chemicals and pesticides found commonly in our commercial vegetable and fruit supplies in the other grocers. But you will pay a premium, let me assure you.
Another recommended option for everyone is to find a “Certified” Farmer’s Market. Every state and the USDA itself provide a list of those available in your area.
A fantastic site that lists markets and farms nationally is at http://www.localharvest.org
The USDA has a national database of certified markets and organic growers at http://www.ams.usda.gov and you can click on your state to find those nearby.
If you are so blessed as to live in the Great Nation of Texas, see http://www.picktexas.com and click on the links at the top of the page to find local farmers selling at a market near you, or who invite you to pick your own at their farms.
With luck, diligence and a lot of prayers, perhaps 2007 will be my Year of the Canner after all.
And you can be absolutely assured that I will be stopping at Conrad Farms in Bixby the next time we head for Tulsa. They grow every vegetable they sell on their farm and they have been doing so for a long, long time. Read about the Conrad family here: http://www.conradfarmsmarket.com/History.html and then poke around their site. I can’t wait to get there in person!