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G-Sync: A Fresh Food Facelift

We have much to celebrate here, and often, the warmth of the summer sun inspires these weekly festivities. These unique events tend to focus on the West Michigan holy trinity: Live music, fresh art, and of course, hometown craft beer.  

There is something that is present almost every time. In bold and not so bold ways, it can be found during any season, in and around our celebrations. Food, like deep fried mac-n-cheese on a stick, is the glue that binds.

As we ramp up our season of outdoor festivals, backyard parties, and Sunday runs to the lakeshore, the topic of food is on everyone's mind. So, it is a good time to talk about the options of the season that just keeps getting better and better.

Some West Michiganders contort their faces in a rapture-like elation akin to Woody Allen exiting Orgasmatron in Sleeper whenever a farm-to-table entrée is presented by any number of the restaurants that have jumped on that culinary bandwagon. For others, they feel this level of access is at best a special occasion, or just an out-of-reach option.

Not so. The summer sun is a welcome change agent here, leveling such barriers to fresh food. The black soil of our region's farmland lights up with fresh green, heralding the start of growing season.

Sure, we have read plenty of stories over the last year focusing on the remodeling of Grand Rapids' oldest open-air market, the Fulton Street Farmers Market. We've read about the addition of a brand spanking new, multi-million dollar Downtown Market. But what is often missed by local folks are the other famers markets.

In fact, within a radius of less than 30 miles of downtown Grand Rapids, on empty lots, medical centers, and educational complexes, there are more than 50 markets and friut stands to purchase fresh produce.

South East's Metro Health and North East's Spectrum Health both have weekly farmers markets with plenty of fresh produce and artisan products.

Even unexpected places, like Grand Valley State University's Allendale campus, host weekly farmers markets. The market at GVSU is a unique way to present regional food to students and residents. Markets like this one showcase the ability of a facility to harness what they do to expand healthy options to the community.

For those who seek to eat on-the-go and need more of a one-stop shopping experience, then the West Michigan Co-op, one of the nation's first online farmers markets, is just what you need to add speed and convenience to connect your diet to the best of the area. There are more than 30 vendors supplying this local favorite.

This is great news for someone moving here, or a resident looking to connect more with his or her community. Everyone wins.

Let Them Eat Books

Grand Rapids is also becoming known for our food in unexpected places (and I am talking about more than just the Cakabakery's appearance on Food Network's Cupcake Wars last month).

Last year, we saw a new book debut from former Grand Rapid Press food critic, Jaye Behler. Tasting and Touring Michigan's Home Grown Food is a lovely book devoted to the pleasures of eating the fresh food of our state. The locations and food are artfully photographed by Dianne Carroll Burdick.

This year, two new books are already turning heads because of their focus on our region. When Founding Editor of MIX magazine Martha Holmberg’s book, Fresh Food Nation: Simple, Seasonal Recipes from America's Farmers, debuted in April, few even noticed that only two local farmers, Mud Lake Farms and Schuler Farms, were featured in this cookbook devoted to favorite recipes.  

The other book, Grand Rapids Food: A Culinary Revolution, is by author Lisa Rose Starner, who is profiled this week in Rapid Growth and will be hosting a book-signing event Tuesday, June 25 from 7 - 9 p.m. at MadCap Coffee. Starner sees this facelift of Grand Rapids as part of an on-going history of our region devoted to issues surrounding food. (Hint: It is more than just farm-to-table.)

"This is no longer just a foodie conversation. It is going deeper than that," says Starner. Her book is a first in our region to explore the deeper connections of food in our history. "And the end result -- which is still way off in the distance -- I hope will be a rich quality of life for people in our community."

Starner is passionate about educating people about the power of food and how access to good eating is often in unexpected places, as evident in the subject matter of her second book already in production, The ReWilded Kitchen: A Forager's Guide to Edible and Medicinal Plants of the Midwest, due to be released in 2014.

The Trend's End and Beginning

And like all good things, summer will come to an end. But no worries, because you have options to help make the offseason a bit tastier.

For those who have not yet discovered the joys of canning (or as my relatives in West Virginia used to say, "puttin' up for winter"), you can always take a class from a new startup in our city, the Canning Diva in East Hills. That way, when the cold of winter covers our farmers' fields, you will have a delicious jar or two of the goodness of our region to unscrew and serve to your family and friends. It is the fastest way to connect back to those happy memories of summer.

Our city has a lot of titles that we toss around liberally and sometimes without much thought. Cool, arty, and hot, to name a few, are at best general in their use. But with a little help from our area farmers, authors, and food preparers, we might just want to add a brand new descriptor that is totally tastebud-catching. Grand Rapids: Lip Smacking Goodness.  

The Future Needs All of Us.

Tommy Allen
Lifestyle Editor

The best bets of the week are here. Consider G-Sync Events this weekend.

Editor's Update: This week's Fresh Food Facelift joins a series of editorials this year focusing on the food culture of our region and the issues surrounding it. As a result of Rapid Growth's coverage of the Less is More project, the Sierra Club of Michigan is beginning to see the signs of success as changes are happening rapidly this season.

Less is More has already collected about 2,000 signatures for a petition to NRCS State Conservationist Garry Lee asking him to revisit how he distributes farming subsidies in Michigan and to support sustainable livestock farmers. You will see more on this project while visiting area farmers markets this summer as members of this project take it to the stalls.

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