Farmer’s Market Shopping 101 By
We know that all of you like to shop at a farmer’s market instead of going to the big box grocery store. Yes, all of you. We’re lucky in that we get to deal with some vendors and growers that we’ve grown to trust, so they kind of do our shopping for us. But what of you? Do you just grab the first thing that you see? We hope not, for shopping in a farmer’s market is very different from dashing in and out of the mega-mart. And if you’re hitting up the local guys, there is a pretty good chance that you’re doing it wrong.
What time do you go? A real popular time for most folks, and some of the most lucrative days for the vendors, are the weekends. It’s Saturday, and it’s noon. What do you feel like doing? Let’s find some local produce. First of all, the farmer has probably been up since at least dawn, and they got to the market to spread their cornucopia just after coffee and a quick cow feeding. If you want the best that a farmer’s market has to offer, get there early. And remember that vegetables and artisan cheeses don’t punch a clock. If they want to be ripe and ready on Tuesday, then Tuesday it is.
Don’t just shop for potatoes. Certain fruits and vegetables can be stored for longer periods. Part of the allure of the farmer’s market is the freshness of the food, so buying something that has been hanging out in a root cellar for a few weeks kind of defeats the purpose. Another perk to doing this kind of shopping is the ability to broaden the horizons of your pantry. When you go into a grocery store, the apples that you see are grown for very specific characteristics, and you lose some of the variety as a result. There are hundreds of different types of apples, and you’ll only see a few of those in the grocery store. A good farmer’s market will have different types of apples, lettuces, tomatoes, and other fruits and vegetables. And not all cheese is neon-orange, sliced, and individually wrapped. Don’t know if you were aware of that.
Look at the food. Really look at it. Much like our lesson on cheese, not all produce looks alike. Your wonderful tomatoes look plump and ripe and red because they were gassed. Ethylene gas occurs naturally in many fruits and vegetables, but if you pump in some extra they will ripen in the truck on the way to your grocery store. Many of your grocery produce items are treated in a similar fashion. When you go to a farmer’s market, you may notice a blemish, or something that isn’t perfectly shaped, or…ready for this…has dirt on it.
Nature is not perfect. If it were we wouldn’t have presidential candidates. But nature creates warts and dirt and bruises and scrapes. The stuff in your farmer’s market should reflect that. When you see these signs of nature, it’s a signal that what you are eating is something that was picked out of the ground by a real live person. And that’s often the person who is staring at you from across the bin.
And let’s talk about that person. We like to think of ourselves as having some knowledge on these matters, but that person behind the bin is your real expert. And you should take advantage of this resource. Do you want to know what’s ripe? Are you looking for a new green? Need something to spice up a dish? The vendor is more often than not the one who grew the food that you’re looking at, and we’ll bet dollars to donuts that they eat it on a pretty regular basis.
Lastly, be prepared. A farmer’s market is generally a cash & carry business. These folks don’t usually go for credit cards and checks, so bring your wallet. And there will be no happy checker walking your purchase across the parking lot, so bring your bag…an eco-friendly reusable grocery bag, thank you very much.