If I hear one more expert whine that the redesigned Happy Meals due out in September should axe the toys along with the calories, I'm going straight to McDonald's for McNuggets and a Yoda Lightsaber. I'm an unabashed fan of Happy Meal toys, so much so, that when my daughter was young, we stopped at every McDonald's between Memphis and Orange Beach to find the entire collection of miniature Beanie Babies. We did not eat all the fries.
Critics say fast food toys encourage a connection between children and high-calorie food, but I believe childhood obesity has more to do with inactivity, the availability of fresh food, and the number of families who skip home-cooking. That's why I was pleased to see a handful of children helping out at Urban Farms Market on Tillman and Sam Cooper, where produce stands are pulled outdoors to showcase the vegetables and neighbors are working together to build a healthier and more cohesive community.
The youngsters shelled beans and helped customers, along with market volunteer William Pickering and Ben Townsend, who manages nearby Urban Farms, the market's sister organization. At a table, Townsend's co-farmers sold mchicha, a traditional amaranth from east Africa touted for its high levels of carotene, iron, calcium, and lysine. Since the green is new to most Memphians, Sedekia Imanairakiza and his wife Vayinesi Hazigamimana also passed out mchicha recipes. (The recipe is below.)
"When we started, it was just me and a few volunteers," said market manager Rosalie Bouck, laughing. "Now we've expanded to include all these people. We even have interns from Rhodes. It's amazing."
There is an infectious spirit at Urban Farms Market, which started as a small farmers market with limited hours and now operates five days a week. These days, Bouck buys produce wholesale, which gives her better inventory control while still supporting local growers. Jane Mpayimana also works at the market part time, allowing Bouck to develop more sources for food and merchandise. Already, she has several growers from the Binghampton neighborhood who are supplying the market with fresh herbs.
"I want to support the small, local growers, and most of these people can't afford to spend all day at a farmer's market. It made sense to try and follow more of the Easy-Way model," Bouck said, referring to Memphis' popular chain of produce stores.
Urban Farms Market, 2977 BroadThe market is open Tuesday through Friday from 1 to 6 p.m. and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Mchicha RecipeIngredients:- 1 Red onion (chopped)- 2 Tomatoes (diced)- 4 Teaspoons Olive Oil- 1/2 Teaspoon Salt- 1 Tablespoon Peanut Butter (0ptional)- Mchicha (chopped)
In a 2 quart saucepan, add 4 teaspoons olive oil and onions. Let cook for 3 minutes on medium heat. Add tomatoes and salt to the onions. Let it cook for 9 minutes under medium heat. Stir intermittently until the tomatoes form a sauce.
Mix the mchicha with sauce. Cover and let it cook for 10 mins on medium heat. Stir the Mchicha after the 10 minutes have passed. Cover the mchicha and let it cook for an additional 5 minutess. if desired, add 1 tablespoon of peanut butter and mix thoroughly.)
Serve as a vegetable with any meat, poultry, fish, or rice.
Note: I made mchicha myself, and I suggest using less peanut butter, but don't leave it out. The first night, I ate the greens as a main course. They were okay. The next night, I used the greens as a bed for a slice of meatloaf, and they were delicious. I think they work better as a side, because the peanut butter gives the mchicha a creamy texture similar to mashed potatoes. For another Tanzania recipe for mchicha with peanut curry, click here.