Saturday, May 1, 2010
Navigating the Farmers' Market
Some of the sellers have grown everything they sell, others supplement some of what they grow themselves with things purchased from farm auctions. Some occasionally have items from a neighbor grower who for one reason or another is not at this market. Everything ought to be grown within a specified distance of the market, but this doesn't always hold true. Here are things to look for:
• Avoid any stall that is selling something that is out of season (sweet corn in April for example) or something that never grows in your region (bananas or pineapples in Missouri)
• Avoid vendors who can't answer basic questions about what they have supposedly grown. I remember one time asking a vendor what variety of potato they were selling. The response was a bored "I dunno." A grower will be able to speak knowledgeably about their produce.
• I find that growers and farmers that are really growing what they are selling are very proud of and often excited about what they have. They will be willing to talk to you about it. When they handle their produce, they will handle it with care and respect.
• There are a few stalls at my market that each week have the exact same items as each other in the exact same kind of containers. I'm not sure what this indicates, but it looks suspicious to me. Since these vendors also occasionally sell marginally out of season items. I avoid them. Trust your gut. If something looks off, shop somewhere else, there are many real growers with beautiful stuff.
You will probably have noticed that much of what I know about my market I know because I have been going week after week, year after year. The growers recognize me and I have a history with many of them—if not by name, certainly by sight. Markets are easiest to navigate if you are familiar with them. So get to know your market. Also, become familiar with the rhythms of the growing season and what grows in your area so you will know if something is out of place. You will occasionally make "mistakes" with your purchases. But how bad can a "mistake" be when it results in some tasty food? The benefit is that you will eventually be bringing home things that were mostly grown in your region. And you will have a connection with the people who are growing it.
After all this, you may be wondering what I brought home this week. For the most part I purchased the things I expected to be able to get: asparagus, lettuce, spring onions, spinach and strawberries. There have been morels now for a couple of weeks, but I live with someone who doesn't care for them and they are just too expensive to buy if you don't love them. But that's OK because I also found the first beets! I almost missed them. The grower hadn't set them out yet when I made my first pass through the market. I spotted them on my way out. They were next to a bunch of beautiful baby carrots. I exerted great will power and didn't buy the carrots. So it begins, the battle every week to restrain myself from purchasing far more than we can possibly consume in a week. Even if the weather is still a little too cool for the first of May, the market is truly warming up.....