Michele Grgas Thomas The Triplicate

When I was a kid, my folks shopped for our food at specialty stores. We went to the butcher for meat, a produce market for vegetables, the roadside stands that cropped up along the highway each spring for corn, green beans and strawberries, and to Lochmann Farms, a drive-through dairy, for milk.

We had our own chickens, 10,000 white leghorns in the back yard, so eggs were plentiful and so were stewing hens. We raised a few fryers each year that mom butchered out for fried chicken dinner when company came.

We usually grew our own spinach in a patch outside the kitchen door and gleaned greens from our relatives' larger gardens that produced tons of tomatoes and zucchini we enjoyed all summer long.

Once a year my dad and his buddies went hunting for rabbits that made a tasty spaghetti sauce. And fish came to the table straight out of the ocean - octopus, clams, tuna - we ate what was caught that day.

When I went to college, I tasted my first canned green beans and had to ask what they were. The pale, salty, watery tubes on my plate didn't resemble my favorite vegetable at home.

I've never acquired an appreciation for canned green beans, carrots or spinach. None of those canned versions taste like the real stuff to me.

I've always enjoyed cooking and baking and then sharing what I've made with family and friends. When I was in my 30s we lived on a small farm and I learned to can and make butter from our cow Blossom's milk. I tried my hand at new recipes using fresh ingredients, baked all our bread, made pasta from scratch and nurtured a garden that occupied about a half-acre. I bought apples and potatoes by the bushel. The bacon and hamburger meat in our freezer came from our own animals.

I never stopped being interested in food - how to grow it, how best to prepare it and what it does for the body and our health. I seem to spend more time learning about food now than ever before. I subscribe to food magazines and I read books about food. Grocery shopping takes more time because I read all the labels.

The raised beds in our back yard have been producing salad greens and spinach for weeks. My small greenhouse provides basil for pesto plus more to dry for later use. I buy local eggs, milk, cheese, butter, honey and produce. I seek out farmers markets wherever we travel. One of my favorite finds recently was a mobile farmers market on a trailer sitting in an empty parking lot on a Saturday morning.

Rick and I were having breakfast in Eugene, Ore., earlier this month and as we left the restaurant (a favorite farm-to-table restaurant called Studio One near the University of Oregon) I noticed a couple about my age setting up a trailer in the parking lot across the street.

They unhitched the trailer from their van and opened up the side panels, revealing a virtual farmers market on wheels. I was fascinated and had to cross the street and check it out.

I picked out two baskets of blueberries and took all the beautiful heirloom tomatoes on display."We just picked those this morning," the woman told me. "The first of the season. You're lucky we didn't eat them all ourselves."

Mark your calendar for Oct. 24. That's the second annual national Food Day. For more information about what Food Day is, go to www.foodday.org and watch for updates in this column and in the pages of the Triplicate.

Along with some folks from your local "Community Food Council of Del Norte County and Adjacent Tribal Lands" (did you know you even had one?), I'll be working on some Food Day events that should be fun as well as informative. This will be an opportunity not only to celebrate food, but to learn more about it. And, if I have any say, there will be lots to taste and sample too. Stay tuned.