Every Sunday, the farmer’s market comes to my town, and most weeks, you’ll find me there. The layout is simple: two long aisles, with canopies on each side, each for a different vendor selling all kinds of food; from seasonal fruits and veggies, to nuts, honey, flowers, meat, fish, fresh bread, pasta, and even prepared foods from french pastries to ceviche. It’s an amazing assortment of stuff, from the basic to the indulgent.
The food available at the farmer’s market is similar to what you usually see in the stores, but also different. You can usually find more obscure stuff. For example, when I can find them, I love to purchase brussels sprouts on the stalk. I also love that there is a much wider variety of single items. I love the citrus guy who has 5 different types of oranges. There is the mushroom stand that has the basic brown mushrooms, all the way to exotic chanterelles and porcinis. There is a fantastic tomato stand in the summer that has at least 6 or 7 varieties of heirlooms, in all colors of the rainbow.
The selection of foods is of course, amazing. However, it’s not like a supermarket at all. In general, you won’t find foods that are boxed. You won’t find veggies that are out of season. You won’t find much in the junk food department either. Going to the farmer’s market is not just grocery shopping, it’s an entire experience. It’s outdoors. You can see the product under natural light. Some of the same people who weigh your produce and take your money are the same people that grow the food. Pretty much every stand offers samples of their products, which comes in handy when buying fruit.
Some of the vendors are pretty entertaining too, like the sausage guy at my market with his cheesy pitch: “One you try, you cannot deny, don’t walk by, don’t be shy!” We also have a guy who sells awesome peaches in the summer, and he has this great pitch–after he weighs your fruit, he’ll always throw in a few extra pieces if you bring the total up to an even dollar amount. He’s slick, but you don’t mind because he has a very vivacious personality. Then there are the cattle ranchers with the grass-fed beef that always wear huge cowboy hats. Call me crazy, but I like this zaniness. You won’t find that kind of personality at your local grocery store.
What’s also fascinating about the farmer’s market is the economics of it. In most cases, you’re supporting the local economy because most of the farmers that show up are only a few hours away at the most. Washington Apples are delicious and famous, but they’re pretty far away. I’ve got a lady at my market who produces some beautiful and tasty apples, and she’s right here in California. It’s also interesting because you are cutting out the middle-person. So much of the food we buy goes from a farm to a distributor to a store. Why not just buy from the farm directly? In addition to the financial benefit, you also get a time benefit–your food is actually more fresh when purchased directly.
Of course, there tend to be some environmental benefits as well. Food that is produced locally has to travel a shorter distance, requiring less fuel. Many of the vendors also specialize in producing organic fruits and vegetables, which of course eliminate the need for synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, some of which are toxic. Because organic farming is more challenging, there is a general emphasis on being closer to the growing process, and nurturing the food more closely. This sort of extra effort produces food of excellent quality. Tasting one of my apple lady’s apples next to a supermarket-bought apple was an awakening experience.
I’ve been trying to purchase more food from my farmer’s market, although I do recognize that it isn’t always practical. Regardless, I know that every week, I have access to the freshest, most delicious produce available in my area. If you enjoy the best food that you can get, why not check out your local farmer’s market? A great resource for finding a market in your area is Local Harvest.