June 20, 2007

5 Steps to a Better Farmers' Market Experience

I was graciously invited to join a blog carnival focusing on small actions to change the world by Oliver Adria of Sustainabee. I'll admit that I actually had no idea what a blog carnival was until he clued me in: basically, a host assembles a group of posts from multiple blogs on a given subject. The idea is to hop around from post to post on the given day and enjoy the sites. So here we go...

I'm on a farmers' market kick as I discover the joys of spending $10/week on fresh, organic veggies and fruits and eggs. One thing I've discovered, though, as I return week after week: there is an art to shopping your local farmers' market. Here are a few tips to help make your first (or third, three hundredth) trip to the farmers market a bit more enjoyable:
1. Find one.
Seems obvious, doesn't it? Start by doing a quick geographical search at Local Harvest or the USDA (which may be less current). If neither of those resources work, contact your state's agricultural department and ask if they can point you in the right direction.

2. Grab a bag and use it.
Your bag should be reusable (canvas totes are great), roomy and comfortable to wear. Backpacks and courier bags are great options, as they're easy to manipulate and they'll hold enough produce for a whole family. Once you've got your back, make sure you tell those vendors that you don't need a plastic bag. For some reason, farmers just really want to make it convenient for you to carry your stuff around, so they automatically reach for a plastic bag. Just let 'em know you've got your own.

3. Arrive as early as possible.
Although it can be painful to pry myself out of bed at 8:00 am on a Saturday, it's often less painful than getting jostled by the shoulder-to-shoulder crowd that always seems to gather by noon. Of course, that may be because I live in San Francisco, an overpopulated city of rather insular people. You may find that your local market is just fine a little later in the day (check it out at different times and see for yourself). There's one more good reason to go early, though: you get your pick of the best produce available.

4. Talk to your vendors.
These are the ladies and gents putting food on your plate! Don't you want to know where they came from? Ask 'em a question or two, let them know how much you loved the strawberries you picked up last week, and ask them how they like to prepare their foods. You'll learn a lot about how to cook different foods, what to look for when picking an eggplant, and when to show up for the zucchini blossoms that are only around for a week or two.

5. Show up regularly.
Once you start to show up at the farmers' market every week, you'll start picking up on things you couldn't possibly know if you only went occasionally. Things like which vendors offer the best bargains, who likes to add a few ounces to their scale, and who shows up with the best tasting citrus. You'll also discover that your grocery store has been lying to you all these years: that asparagus you bought out of the cold case last week was shipped in from Chile after spending a week in transit (yes, they spray veggies with "stuff" to keep it pretty for you). As weeks and months go by and your farmers' markets visits stay regular, you will learn what foods grow best in your area and when they are at the height of flavor. This is kind of a remarkable discovery. If we all thought a little bit harder about what we eat and how we eat it, we might feel differently about a lot of things.

Bonus! Cook the foods you bought with friends.
Now that you have all this fresh produce grown by folks who live just miles from your door, invite a few friends over and savor it! Food, after all, tastes better when eaten in the company of others.
So there you have it. With just a few sinple steps you, too, can eat better, make more of your weekends, and support your local economy.

Hey! If you dig this post, please digg it!


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4 Comment(s)

Anonymous Alina said...

Hmm, what do you look for in an eggplant? Please, do share! Now I'm curious if I've been doing it right :D Great post.

1:45 AM  
Blogger Jessie Jane said...

Well, you'll want a smaller one, with smooth coloring and slightly spongy push-back (so when you push it gently, it bounces back), and a nice green cap.

Don't ask me how I know this, because I don't even eat eggplant!

—JJ

6:11 PM  
Anonymous deliberately said...

The great thing about your post is that it introduces folks to some of these ideas. I have to regularly remind myself that despite daily blogging about this stuff, visiting other blogs, and reading myself silly on the topics, the vast majority of my neighbors (meant globally) are totally oblivious to these ideas. Great, succinct, intro to the farmers market experience!

3:59 AM  
Blogger Dani Nordin said...

you don't eat eggplant? blasphemer. we are no longer friends.

...just kidding. You must eat eggplant. soon. I actually just cut them in half lengthwise, brush them with a bit of sunflower oil, salt and pepper, and bake at 375 for about 45 minutes to an hour, until it's nice and mooshy. then you either mash up the insides with some tahini, lemon and parsley to make baba ganoush, or you mash it in the skin with a bit of tomato paste, raisins, pinenuts and garam masala and bake it for a bit longer - then eat it with some brown rice or whole wheat couscous.

Yep, I'm a foodie.

9:10 PM  

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