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Op Images: A taste of a faraway farm found at farmers market

One of my enduring childhood memories is picking strawberries in the huge garden we had on my family’s Minnesota farm.

Given Minnesota’s so-called state bird – the mosquito – it was a dreaded task complete with many bites, bending and crouching, heat and humidity.

But, oh, the reward – fresh strawberries full of sweet flavor, eaten while picking or later on homemade ice cream. As young children we mashed them up to put on just about anything. My mother’s jam, though, was the star. In an era when winter fruit and vegetables seemed to come mostly from cans, it was summer in a jar, a welcome treat during harsh winters.

I first started shopping at Sacramento’s Sunday farmers market because I wanted strawberries that tasted like home. It’s where I learned that there are different varieties, and that the small berries from local growers most remind me of the kind we ate as children. They don’t last long, but they’re packed with flavor.

Sacramento’s famed tomatoes became the second draw as I failed at one attempt after another to grow them in various, too-shady spots around my house. Once I started buying heirloom and cherry tomatoes, it was easy to add a bunch of basil and cilantro.

The list of favorites has grown longer over the years, depending on season: Almonds and pistachios. Peaches. Asian pears. Brussels sprouts and beets. The best prawns I’ve ever tasted. Pretzel croissants. And, last week, some of the last Satsuma mandarins of the season.

Think about all the times you’ve heard Sacramento described as the city close to something – Tahoe, San Francisco, the ocean. This capital region is establishing itself as the epicenter of all things food. We have our backyard gardens and cutting-edge food science out of UC Davis. We have incredible tomatoes and a growing wine industry. We’ve been called a cow town, and maybe it’s time to start taking pride in that label. Consider, for instance, our access to quality beef.

Perhaps best of all, we have farmers markets all over the region that allow us to meet some of the families and businesspeople who work to provide this bounty.

Bee reporter Richard Chang met Lynda Austin, 70, at the farmers market behind Country Club Plaza last Saturday and learned that she’s been shopping at the markets for 35 years. That would add up to a lot of strawberries.