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The raw deal
Tara Hamilton offers up a farm-fresh date and it squishes some between my fingers as I try to remember if this is even something I like.
So, it's a timid first bite and I'm shocked by this thing — so uber sweet and gooey, a kind of delicious magic candy.
No, this is definitely something I would remember.
Of course, memory is generational, Hamilton says.
She has the memory of that taste — the perfect peach or cherry straight from the tree — but these days, many people don't.
“You may think you don't like this fruit or that vegetable, but you just don't know,” says Hamilton, who along with her husband mark, opened Whole Farms Market at the Vagabond Lofts this week.
The store, which has its grand opening Dec. 8, offers farm-fresh, local organic produce, raw unpasteurized nuts, seeds, beans, dried fruits, oils, spices and raw milk products.
It will also have a menu of prepared raw-food meals, including soups, salads and smoothies — what they call “whole day” foods, meaning they will have a whole day's worth of fruits and vegetables in a single serving.
As Hamilton talks, it becomes apparent that the market is more than simple business. It's a bit of social revolution, a way to rail against a food system that Hamilton and her family see as infinitely skewed. The family owns a 20-acre organic farm on McKinley and Munro avenues just outside Fresno where they sharcrop grapes and cherries and an assortment of vegetables. Originally, they operated a CSA program that catered to low-income families in mostly West Fresno.
In July, they began operating a mobile grocery out of a converted bus, which allowed customers to choose exactly what produce they wanted. Her husband would drive and Hamilton would work in the back with customers. There was always an education component, she says.
“We wanted them to be able to name more than just the vegetables they saw in the store.”
And there it is, the real reason for the market.
Consumers have lost all connection with the food producers, and the organization of farming is often at odds with keeping produce local. It makes no sense that a California watermelon is $5 in Canada (that's what Mark Hamilton priced it on a recent trip) when it's the same price here. Sonoma County has 200 farmers markets, Hamilton says. They are opened and run twice daily. It's mind boggling then, that Fresno county can have some of the richest farmland in the world while its citizens suffer such high levels of food insecurities, she says. There is something wrong when a processed chocolate bar costs $.50 and a fresh apple is at least $1.
“Who's idea was it to make coca-cola cheaper than water.”
So, the market has three goals in everything it does: 1.) offer the best, healthiest ingredients. 2.) support and encourage sustainable farming. 3.) reestablish the connection between the farmer and consumer.
That means most of the produce in the market is sourced from local, organic farms — either their own or places KMK or Smith Family Farms. Hamilton then does her homework on the things she can't get locally to make sure they are the healthiest and freshest.
Because even for those looking, there are so many choices and so much distance between the producers and consumers, that it can be confusing, Hamilton says.
“We're only going to give you one option. But it's going to be the best.”