I am New York City born and bred but have the spirit of a country girl living deep inside of me. I love traveling to the south and would be as happy as a clam to live in a house on the prairie with my family. But alas, my husband says it is not going to happen. So I find other ways to feed that southern belle spirit: Long drives through the countryside; visiting small town fairs; perusing locally owned antique shops; and even taking medical assignments in rural communities. These things make me feel closer to my roots. Of the myriad ways I tap into my country roots, visiting my local farmer’s market is the one in which I can indulge most often. I wish I found a bumper sticker to declare my love of farmer’s markets. Does it make me a nerd that I think they are cool? I mean, you can find fruits, veggies, yarn, lampskin rugs, fresh flowers, fresh herbs, lavender sachets for your home, honey, peanut butter, soaps, and so much more! I don’t mean to brag, but I am lucky in that New York City has exposed me to some of the best farmer’s markets in the country. It’s the truth! We have great farms. Although I have never been to any in LA, I have a suspicion they have some pretty awesome markets as well. My goal is to get over there and find out for myself.
Farmer’s markets do so much for the community. Patronage at local farmer’s markets keep farmers in business. They are essentially small business owners. They labor very hard to provide non-GMO products to consumers. We get so caught up in modern conveniences that we often forget what life would be like if traditional farmers were out of work. Not having fresh crops would mean no real food. No real food means no true health. This is not the life we want to propagate.
Certain farmer’s markets give refugees other immigrants places to work and make wages to support their family in exchange for farm work. They often bring special crops to communities by sowing their native seeds.
Farmer’s markets make healthy foods affordable by cutting out the middle man. You can expect non-GMO products at a fraction of what you might pay at places like Whole Foods.
If I’ve convinced you to shop your local Farmer’s Market, take these 5 tips with you.
1. Get there really early! Some people come to farmer’s markets to shop. Others come for the experience. If you came to shop, get there early! Market hours in many cities are limited to half the day. In order to get the best selection of goods and beat the crowds, you have to show up very early. My suggestion is when the market first opens. Parking is usually limited as well. Sometimes farmers have a limited supply of highly sought after herbs, plants, etc. The only way to know is if you show up within the first hour of opening. I have made “Farmer’s Market” a recurring Saturday morning event in my schedule. I wake up early every day and Saturday is no different. The early bird always catches the worm.
2. Bring cash! Many market vendors today take credit cards. However, you don’t want to take the chance and not have cash when you spot that gorgeous basket of oyster mushrooms calling your name, but the farmer is cash only. Just come prepared. It makes transactions easier.
3. Be friendly. Most of the vendors are the actual farmers. By simply smiling or showing interest in a product, you could gain a wealth of knowledge on your product, get an extra apple, a coupon or freebie, or just a new friend. If you want to make the market a regular part of your routine, your face will become familiar and you will want to leave a good impression. I once saw a lady carrying a beautiful, tall stalk of shiny green leaves. I had to know what variety of eucalyptus this was. She told me it was basil! And the vendor had already sold out of it for the morning. Well, needless to say, I now show up when the market opens every time I visit. And that lady is now a good friend of mine.
4. Be open to tasting different foods. So much of what I love to cook and eat now has come from trying a free sample at a market. I turned my nose up to what I thought were weird names like Bok Choy and Rainbow Chard. Now they are staples in my fridge. If you are a meat eater, it is a great opportunity to try delicious grass-fed meats, before buying. You can ask the farmer how they raise their cattle and know exactly what you are eating. The markets also often have food trucks or prepared food to try. I am on a hunt to find the best avocado toast in Houston. The Richmond Avenue Market has a decent avocado toast. But the hunt is still on.
5. Bring your own shopping tote or basket. There are a few reasons to do this. First, there is something about buying a head of cabbage and placing it into a straw basket or brown paper bag that feels way more natural than placing it into a plastic bag. Ever notice how you rush to put groceries carried in a plastic bag into the fridge when you get home? But if you carry it in a paper bag, there are times you set it on the counter or floor and walk away for a while before you scream, “oh goodness! I almost forgot to put the food away!” Another reason to take your own bag is because if you love your body enough to shop healthy organic food, you probably love the Earth too. If you love the Earth, you will want to prevent waste and use sustainable, reusable products. Lastly, it’s way easier to throw your goods into your own bag then keep collecting bags and cartons from each vendor you shop. I often get one or two things from several different vendors which could equal about 6-10 plastic bags if I did not carry my own. I will be investing in a straw tote!
It is hard to remember to bring your own carry-all so try to leave it in your trunk. once you put all the groceries away, leave the tote by the door. This way you’re reminded to take it back to your car.
What are some of the things you learned about shopping farmer’s markets? What cities are your favorite markets? I would love to visit them!