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June 18, 2018  |  Login
The Farmers' Market Experience
By Ted Lamm

While farmers' markets are—first and foremost—sources for produce, the benefits of shopping are numerous and varied:

  • You’ll  find local and seasonal—two cornerstones of New Green Cuisine. Only the food that can be taken from the ground (or off the tree, bush or vine) in the morning and driven a short distance to market. All produce is available during its proper growing season.
  • While many stalls may not have an ‘organic’ label, the odds are that these producers follow organic standards, or even stricter ones; they simply cannot afford the high cost of USDA certification. The best thing you can do is have a conversation with the seller, Confirm with the seller who will be honest and forthcoming about his or her product and how it is grown.
  • A farmers' market can be a great place to learn about not only farming, but also interesting insights about food. For instance, you may learn that the orange carrots we all enjoy were in fact originally a rare strain that was bred into dominance as a sweeter alternative to traditional white and purplish carrots, which were bitter and stained everything they touched.
  • Most producers are familiar with what they farm or raise and have cooking ideas —feel free to ask for recipes (or even your fellow shoppers!).
  • Farmers' markets are also great sources for new varieties of common produce, such as the delicious husk tomato, which has hints of pineapple and cheese.

Knowing What to Look for

The freshness and variety available at farmers markets is hard to replicate at your local supermarket or natural food market. Small farmers cannot control for appearance like larger farmers can, bringing to market a larger share of their crop than major sellers and letting you decide what to take home. Here are a few tips for selecting produce at a common farmers’ market:

  • Corn: Select corn based on girth before length, and look for tassels (the clumps of hairs that extend out of the husk) that are dark and matted, which indicate freshness and moisture.
  • Peaches:  Choose peaches that give off a strongly sweet smell, which will tell you they’re ready to eat regardless of how they look.
  • Watermelon: Should have a nice big spot of yellow or brown discoloration somewhere on the top or bottom, which shows they’ve been resting and are ripe.
  • Onions:  Onions should feel tight but not hard.
  • Eggplant: Look for ones that are small, firm and shiny.
  • Buy fruit and vegetables that still have their greens attached, as this helps retain moisture and flavor. Don’t be afraid of discoloration or spotting—not only are these signs that the produce was grown under natural conditions, but if you look hard enough, you might even be able to get a discount on visually unappealing pieces.

Tips for common farmers' market meat, fish and dairy:

  • Red meat should be deep red, and fish stalls should have little or no fishy scent surrounding them.
  • Don't be afraid of temperature: if it’s at a farmers' market, then it was most likely caught or butchered that morning, meaning it will be perfectly fresh for you to cook or refrigerate on your own. Similarly, high-quality eggs and dairy don’t require as much refrigeration as factory-produced, and can last much longer in heat.
  • Look for a meat seller who is certified humane, which almost always indicates an organic level of production.
  • Choose stalls that sell all the various products of livestock—for instance, a great beef guy might also have liver, lard, tripe, scrapple and other delicious innards. Or, a farm that supplies lamb might also make milk, cheese and yarn. These are good indicators that your seller cares about his product.
  • Make sure you ask exactly how the meat is raised—if the seller can fully and proudly answer your question, then you’re probably in good hands.

Experience and explore with all kinds of meat and produce and your shopping trips and your cooking will only get better with time.

Maintaining Local Year-round

Enhance your diet with easy techniques to translate the seasonality of the market into year-round flavor. Towards the end of their respective seasons:

  • Look for vegetables like corn, beans and okra that freeze especially well, and keep some stocked for winter soups.
  • Freeze whole tomatoes and thaw before making a delicious pasta sauce. more


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