The Midwest isn’t exactly a travel destination for those who like mountains, seacoasts, deserts and forests.

But if you like to eat — and tell me, who doesn’t? — this is the place.

That little revelation struck me the other day as I visited the farmers’ market with my older daughter, Ruth. We go every Saturday morning to buy the freshest and tastiest fruits and vegetables that local growers pick, pull and cut.

The farmers’ market in our community is truly an institution. It has been in the same place since 1837. One block of a downtown street was laid out extra wide to accommodate the horse-drawn wagons and wooden tables.

The market runs three days a week, from spring through fall, but Saturday is the big day. Dozens of farmers and hundreds of buyers turn out for it. Ruth and I walk down and bring an old canvas Chicago Tribune bag to haul home our booty.

She is a third-year nursing student, and she knows a lot about nutrition. It’s plain to me that sweet corn and tomatoes picked two hours before you buy them are better for you than sweet corn and tomatoes picked a week ago and hauled across the country in a truck. I know they taste better.

Many of the smaller farmers around here rely heavily on the farmers’ market for income, and they grow crops specifically for it: all sorts of specialty greens, peppers, salad tomatoes, onions, radishes and the like. Two women even sell pies.

We bake our own pies, but we’ve never been much on gardening. This year, we bought some wonderful, tender asparagus, lots of peaches (Ruth’s favorite), fresh green beans, tomatoes, sweet corn, cantaloupes and those little, dark, round watermelons that look a lot like cannonballs.

The only person at the farmers’ market who sells meat is an Amish man — with black hat, black pants, white shirt and big beard — who sells frozen pork from a deep freeze in the back of his truck. His hogs grow up the natural way, without hormones.

I buy bacon ends and jowl bacon from him. We fry them up and mix it in with the green beans, and sometimes add some new potatoes. It may not be exactly "heart-healthy," but boy, it’s good.

The sweet corn is always magnificent. Our favorite corn guy lives about 15 miles away, and picks his corn the morning of the farmers’ market. It’s the yellow and white variety (I forget the name), 13 ears for $3, your choice. Nothing says "summer" to me, like good old sweet corn, and we have some of the best.

The melons, this year, have been fantastic. As a good father should, I have instructed Ruth on how to pick good ones -how to sniff the cantaloupe and press its sweet spot; how to ping the watermelon to judge its ripeness.

Last Saturday, I bought a cantaloupe that must have weighed five pounds. It was perfect; its soft, orange flesh must have been three inches thick, and extended nearly to the outside. It was like eating candy. The watermelon was equally grand. It popped when I cut it; the meat was bright red, and sweeter than sugar.

It’s August in the Midwest. We may not have mountains, but our soil is black, our sun is red, and our fresh produce is some of the finest in all the world.

Danville native Kevin Cullen is a former Commercial-News reporter. Reach him at

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