Shopping at the local farmers’ market is my favorite activity of my week. I love seeing the gorgeous produce on display, finding a new fruit or vegetable I’ve never tried before, chatting with the vendors about how they prepare various ingredients, and looking at the gorgeous seasonal flowers. I hope that when I have children I can have them join me at the farmers’ market every week; I think it’s such a great way to show them who and where their food comes from, and how in nature, food isn’t always perfectly shaped and shiny but that doesn’t mean it’s any less delicious.
Some tips for visiting your local farmers’ market:
- Visit Local Harvest or do a simple google search to find your local farmers market and the days of the week it’s running.
- Before you buy anything, do your best to walk the length of the market to see who’s selling what, and at what price. Also take notice of which farms are organic, sustainable, or conventional. You might think you’ve found a great deal on heirloom tomatoes only to find five minutes later another vendor is selling them for a dollar less. You might think the only flowers available are roses only to find seconds later that a farmer has their own apple blossoms for sale for half the price (if you find apple blossoms, don’t ask questions- just buy them! They’re usually only available for one to two weeks and are so fragrant and beautiful. The same goes for peonies, lilacs, baby artichokes, and squash blossoms).
- If you have a fold-up cart for shopping, bring it to the farmers’ market. You’ll be much happier not carrying all your goodies and everyone else will be much happier they’re not getting whacked in the face by your huge bouquet of sunflowers (Sorry to everyone I’ve whacked in the face in Brentwood or Santa Monica).
- Ask questions! The farmers love to talk about what they’re selling and how to prepare it. This is especially important for meats; sustainable, pasture raised meat sellers will often have unfamiliar cuts because they are selling the whole animal and not just the choice cuts like a rib eye or lamb loin chops- it’s good to know which cuts should be cooked low and slow, like a braise, and which should be cooked quick and over high heat, like a steak.
- Taste! there’s a reason they have all those samples everywhere- they’re trying to prove theirs are the most delicious strawberries, or oranges, or snap peas available at the market. But just because one guy is selling three pints of strawberries for $22, doesn’t mean his are any more delicious or sweet than the guy who’s selling them for $15 (and often they’re not!). Taste a few, decide which is the best, and buy from them. Don’t feel bad about it.
- Look at your farmers’ market shop as inspiration for your weekly meals. See what’s available, buy what you want, and use that to plan the meals ahead. You will likely have to go to a grocery store to pick up some extras (ie. this week I found beautiful tomatoes and basil but no mozzarella so had to go to the store for that), but try to visit the market first then the store, so that you’re not trying to find specific things at the market based on the recipes you wanted to make. It is Murphy’s law that whatever you’re trying really hard to find will not be there (trust me, I’m a Murphy, I know).
It is definitely more work, and usually a little more expensive, to shop at a farmers’ market. In my mind, however, the benefits far outweigh the cost. You’re getting exercise, you’re getting your food straight from the source, you’re eating the best produce on the market, and you learn something – every. time. About that more expensive thing though- when food is really delicious, I usually find that I need less of it to be satisfied. And you’re not going to find bland, flavorless produce or meat at the farmers’ market. It just doesn’t happen.
I am officially challenging you to go try out a farmers’ market this week- let me know how it goes!
Taste. Embrace. Savor. Appreciate.