My Farmers Market Manifesto

Farm Stands at the Vista Farmers Market

I know I’ve mentioned it a million times before, but I love shopping at Farmers Markets.  It’s kinda like church for me.  Not the sermon-y part, (well sometimes,) but the after-service socializing – where you visit with friends you haven’t seen all week and catch up on the latest news and gossip.  I always feel so much lighter, joyous and hopeful.  I love heading home with bags full of promise and sustenance.

But I didn’t always feel this way.  My search for the perfect farmers market was sorta like the search for the Holy Grail.

The first farmers market I ever shopped at was Pike Place Market when I lived in Seattle.  I was so excited to buy “fresh” produce, meats, spices and other tasty things.  Unfortunately at the time, it seemed more like a tourist attraction than a market.  But I sucked it up and paid waaaay more than a peach should cost because I was supporting local farmers, right?  I bought my cucumbers, lettuce and nectarines and took them home.

I swear, 15 minutes after I got home my produce was a moldy, mushy mess and I realized after a few trips that rather than allowing me to choose my own produce, the worker would pull the older produce from behind the display and bag it up.  When I finally wised up and asked if I could choose my own produce the vendor shot me a dirty look and I was told that I wasn’t allowed to touch the display.  What the…?

I never went back.

Flash forward six years and I’m living in San Diego where, at the time, most local farmers markets sold strawberries, flowers, houseplants and a few random produce items.  I was sorely disappointed.

Ten years after my first farmers market visit I had managed a few more hits than misses, but I still wasn’t there.  Surprisingly, the market in Truckee – although short in season – was long on variety.  It was the first time I tried an Asian Pear.  It was also the first time I struck up a conversation with a grower and asked a question, “What does an Asian Pear taste like?” which is how I got to taste it.  It was then that I realized the importance of interacting with the growers.  This wasn’t some random suburban strip-mall-big box-grocery store I was shopping at.  This was the guy who actually grew what I was eating.  Who better to ask a question?

I know that some present the argument that farmers markets are expensive, but my experience has (mostly) been the opposite.  If you’re buying in season, the produce is usually cheaper – it’s simple supply and demand.  Plus, I feel better knowing that 90% of my money is going directly to a grower who will probably turn around and spend it in my community.  I’ve also found that once I’ve developed a relationship with the grower, he/she is more likely to throw in a few “extras” each week.

On a visit to Portland, my buddy Bill shared the Portland Farmers Market experience with me.  (Ironically, in the time I lived there I never went.)  It is THE thing to do on a Saturday afternoon and we always made it a point on my subsequent visits back to stop at the market, eat brunch and pick up ingredients for dinner – meat, onions, produce, dessert, bread.  This market had it all!  My friend Nancy made a similar trip to North Market when I visited her in Columbus a few months ago.

Which brings me to my point, sorta.  One of the best ways to participate in a community is by shopping at a farmers market.  I guarantee you’ll learn more about the local culture, news and politics than from some snippet online, a newspaper or by reading a guidebook.  And you never know what you might get to taste, (or who you’ll meet!)  I’ve also found that sharing the process of creating a meal – even with self-professed non-cooks – is such a bonding experience that I often remember those meals more than an expensive visit to an exclusive restaurant.  And I love trying new things!  Have I mentioned that yet?  And I love fresh ingredients!  Surely I’ve mentioned that, right?

Which is why I shop at the Vista Farmers Market, one of the most complete, friendly and diverse markets I’ve ever been to.  And because I’ve already digressed/preached/meandered around my original point so long that I forget what it even was, I’ll share all of the details tomorrow!

To find a farmers market near you, visit www.localharvest.org.     I have – at least a million times.

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