Kathleen Purvis

Early birds might not always get the worms

Psst – hey, buddy. Got a dozen eggs? Sell them to me under the table, and I'll throw in an extra 50 cents and my own egg carton.

Has it come to this?

With all the demand out there to buy what's coming from local farms, I'm expecting our local farmers markets to schedule Saturday morning arm-wrestling tournaments. Winner gets first crack at the broccoli.

One of my friends was lamenting that she wanted to buy chickens from her local farm this year. But she dithered too long when it was time to sign up for the farm's “Chicken Club,” a subscription arrangement where you commit to buying and picking up a certain number of chickens.

Too bad for her – the late bird-buyer gets the supermarket free-range.

At one farmers market last week, I got up before the roosters so I could arrive in time to grab a bundle of organically grown asparagus. The stuff goes so fast I'm thinking of posting it on eBay instead of cooking it.

But even arriving that early didn't mean I got eggs. The farmer I usually buy from only brought 4 dozen. The rest went to his CSA customers, people who pay a fee to buy a share of the farm's production.

Want to sign up to be on that CSA, too? Too bad, Bertha – get in line. Pretty much every farm that offers that option has a waiting list.

When the Matthews Community Farmers Market tried a winter market this year, they had to install an opening bell. People were elbowing their way to the trucks before farmers could even unfold their tables.

Picking which line to get into before the bell became the omnivore's dilemma – do I stand here and try for lettuce or squander my early-bird status on Italian country bread?

Maybe it's time we set up a system, a test you'd have to take before you get to buy local:

1. Match the following authors to book titles without checking Amazon: A) Michael Pollan. B) Nina Planck. C) Eric Schlosser. (Answers: “The Omnivore's Dilemma,” “Real Food: What to Eat and Why,” “Fast Food Nation.”)

2. How many coolers and shopping bags do you have in your car right now? (Anything less than six bags and two coolers doesn't make the cut.)

3. You go to farmers markets so early, you've gone without: A) breakfast. B) a shower. C) clothes. Extra points if you've gone in pajamas.

4. True or false: You've blown so much of your budget on local food that your kids have gone to school with nothing but three lettuce leaves and a baggie of radishes.

5. You've refused to go to a potluck rather than use your grass-fed, locally raised ground beef in a casserole.

6. You plan vacations around whether there's a farm stand within five miles of the rental house.

7. On family trips, you drag your kids to local markets – and you have the vegetable-dye T-shirts to prove it. (Extra points if you have pictures in your family album. “And here's Junior with that nice man who was selling pepper-cured proscuitto.”)

8. Refrigerator check: Deduct points if you have A) cheese that was made in California; B) grits ground in a mill that's farther away than Virginia; C) jam made in any state where you haven't lived in the last six months.

And what's that – you actually own a box of Velveeta? Go to the back of the line, bub.