OSAGE BEACH, Mo. -- In an increasingly food-conscious culture, Osage Beach has joined the growing ranks of cities that host a farmers market. On Thursday evenings from 4-8 p.m., across from Home Depot, on the northbound side of Osage Beach Parkway, one can spot an array of tents underneath which are local people, selling local food.
According to Nathan Bechtold, co-founder and market manager of the new Osage Beach Farmers Market, "It's really about knowing where your food was grown, how it was grown, and who grew it."
He says that the market exists, in part, to forge relationships between food producers and consumers. Osage Beach Farmers Market is guided by three core principles: Local, Sustainable, Food.
The "local" aspect of the market means all vendors live within a 100-mile radius around Osage Beach. "You could visit their farm in the span of an afternoon," Bechtold said. But this isn't just about saving travel time; foods that are locally sourced are essentially guaranteed to be fresher. "When you buy a dozen eggs at the grocery store, those could very easily be multiple weeks old. And the produce is mostly shipped in from California, Florida, or Mexico. The sooner food goes from the source to your plate, the better it is for you," he says.
According to the Harvard Center for Health and the Global Environment, produce, on average, travels 1,500 miles between the farm where it was grown and the table where it is consumed. The amount of time required for such a journey means that non-local food is not nearly as fresh as locally sourced food can be. And since, according to Harvard, nutrients begin to atrophy once the plant is severed from the soil, a tomato picked yesterday can be much more healthy than one picked last week.
As for sustainability, Will Runyon, the other co-founder/manager of the market, says Osage Beach Farmers Market holds stringent requirements for how the food sold at the market is produced. "To be sustainable," he claims, "you must have a strong foundation of respect for your resources, processes, products, and customers." That respect takes the form of a "Pure Food Pledge," which each food-producing vendor must sign before selling at the market. Within the pledge are promises that fruits and vegetables will be grown without herbicides or pesticides, livestock and eggs will be raised without the use of hormones or antibiotics, and baked goods will be crafted without the use of artificial ingredients.
But beyond being rooted in respect, these requirements exist because the men and women at Osage Beach Farmers Market seem to believe that the more traditional means of food production (methods that would not pass the "Pure Food" test) are destined for ultimate failure. "A sustainable system," says Runyon, "must not fall victim to 'that's how we've always done it' thinking, or dependence on flimsy systems of support we've been taught to assume will always be available, unchanged."
The final principle seems slightly obvious: "Food." But the market's founders claim that such a distinction has become necessary in a world of complex consumables. "Food is at the center of every society and every economy," Bechtold claims. "It's a basic need for survival, but look what we've done to it! We've treated it as an inconvenience - a thing to be processed, packaged, and put in a form that may be easy to consume, but that often leaves the consumer with...something less than real food."
Needless to say, highly-processed foods will not be found at the market. Some vendors, however, will feature non-food items. "We have vendors with handmade metal garden trellises; hand-woven baskets and bags; and homemade, all-natural soaps," says Bechtold. "They're all high-quality items that we're convinced are a great addition to the market." But, he adds, "we're mainly focused on food."
So what foods can a shopper hope to find at the market? Only those that are in season. That means lettuce and early greens dominate the produce stands for now. "Spring is the season for salads," according to Bechtold. Soon, tomatoes and peppers will show up, followed by all the classic veggies - squash, cucumbers, potatoes, melons. Currently, other vendors sell locally produced honey, pasture-raised pork, free-range eggs, baked goods, and ice cream. "My wife is selling baked goods," he says. "Imagine a meal...her whole-wheat bread, with local honey, and a cob salad made with our vendors' eggs and salad greens...local and delicious!"
"Local and delicious" - two words that the managers and vendors at Osage Beach Farmers Market hope will prove a winning combination.