Whether you live in a hip urban locale, the midwestern ‘burbs, or a rural wasteland, chances are there is a treasure trove of the best food you’ll ever taste within biking distance. I’m not talking about a hot new restaurant. Nope. I’m talking about a farmers market.
They Don’t All Look Like That^^
That’s the Mercado San Josep in Barcelona Spain. You could shoot on an iPhone 3 and get great pictures. The place guarantees good pictures. Each individual stall has some sort of colorful, fresh food. From beans to spices to fruit to candy. We were introduced to the market on a tapas walking tour of the city and returned the next day to grab juice and a half a pineapple and fork (do you really need anything else?) the next morning before heading out to explore. It was absolutely gorgeous and easy to shop at.
Why is it that it’s so easy for us to fantasize about farmers markets but harder to put them into practice? Often they are closer to our homes and far more enjoyable than walking around under fluorescent lighting and through frigid air conditioning. Both the Saturday and Tuesday farmers markets in my town are just steps from my door and yet it took me a little while to start going.
Some of it is routine. Most of it is routine, actually. So today let’s dissect the myths, develop some strategies, and commit to grabbing our reusable bags and hopping on our bikes to do our shopping.
3 Reasons Why Farmers Markets Are The Ethical Choice
When I say ethical, I don’t just mean for the planet, although there’s a lot of that. Here’s why you should consider breaking up with the grocery store, or at least agreeing to see other people.
- Farmers market food is healthier. The majority of food at your grocery store is processed. That’s the not so fancy way of making a joke about how you can’t pronounce what is in it. Preservatives, salt… all sorts of stuff goes into food to make it last longer. Food shouldn’t last a long time. Fresh foods rot after ripening. Farmers market food doesn’t need additives because it was picked or killed and brought to the market. It didn’t travel for a long time and it certainly hasn’t been sitting. By eating from the farmers market you’re eating naturally ripened, fresh food and zero other stuff.
- Farmers market food supports your local economy. When you spend money locally from a mom and pop shop, farmstand or farmers market nearly 50% of every dollar stays within your community. When you spend money at a chain, that drops to only 14%. While shopping locally can be slightly more expensive, you are helping the economy of your community and encouraging others to do the same. You’re also getting a better product.
- It’s freakin’ fresh. Much of the produce you can purchase at the store, especially the stuff that is out of season, presents two issues. First, it is old. It’s been sitting in a warehouse, on a truck, out back. It’s not nearly as fresh as something from a local farm or greenhouse. And yes, that might mean you can’t get certain items year round, but it doesn’t mean you can enjoy the freshest flavors of the season. The second issue is that much of the produce found at grocery stores is gassed. This is the process of using a lot of energy to injure produce so that it ripes faster. No, thanks.
- It’s humane. Of course that bacon you’re eating was once a living pig. I struggle with eating animals and will continue to do so. I feel better about eating a well cared for animal that experienced as little stress in death and life as possible.
Going to the farmers market is a very different experience from grocery store shopping. Here’s how to start shopping at the local farmstand or market.
Leave Your Expectations Behind
First, ditch your meal plan. Unless your farmers market provides the same items each week or posts a list on their website, you’re going to have to walk in blind. Embrace this. And then try out this method.
- Do a circuit. Start by walking around the entirety of the market and see what they have that week. Start with one item you know you want and then build your meal plan around that. Consider leftovers and the many ways they can be used (like on tacos and pizzas).
- Take notes. Whether on your phone or on a scrap of paper or in your bullet journal, jot down some ideas to make sure your bases are covered.
- Start with non-cold items, end with cold. One complaint I hear a lot is that things don’t seem quite as fresh once they get home. I carry two bags, one for non-cold stuff that I fill first and one for cold stuff that I fill last. Right before going home. This means my non cold stuff doesn’t get wet from condensation. It makes a big difference. It also means I can get the cold stuff back in the fridge as quickly as possible.
- Ask questions. As you’re buying ingredients ask if the farmer plans on being there the next week and what they’ll be bringing. You can plan ahead based on what you learn.
- Allow one impulse buy. I buy one thing that serves no purpose almost every time I go to the farmers market. Maybe it’s a pastry or a loaf of interesting bread. Sometimes it’s a sauce of some sort. Experimenting exposes you to new flavors and farmers. It’s also an incentive to go back.
Break Yourself In Slowly
You don’t have to start by shopping exclusively at a farmers market. Try doing it once or twice a month for a meal or two and then increase your trips. Eventually you’ll wonder why you ever shopped any other way.
Don’t be Fooled – Red Herring #1
Whole Foods is bull shit. They do not help YOUR local farmer unless you live in California. But they do love to hang images of local farmers and make you feel really good about what you’re putting in your cart. This means they are still trucking lots of food, rather than actually helping local farms. They also treat their workers poorly. And there was that whole asparagus water thing. I mean, if nothing else… the asparagus water should be enough to get the world to not take them seriously.
While I admit I love the look of a Whole Foods, and their salad and hot bars are pretty much my favorite meals, there is nothing ethical, local or sustainable about a trip to your Whole Foods.
Don’t be Fooled – Red Herring #2
Eating ethically and shopping at a farmers market does NOT mean you have to subsist on fruit and vegetables. I promise. Believe me, I would not support them if that were the case. Farmers markets offer a variety of options. Our Tuesday market is limited. Saturdays is larger with people selling meat, cheese, honey and gin. Yes, GIN! Our local distillery often sets up at the farmers market and provides samples and sales.
Try It Out
Check out your farmers market this week. If nothing else, walk around and talk to some folks. Then, plan your next visit and try out buying and preparing meals and snacks from your haul.