The Low Down On Green Living
July 9th, 2009
Now that it’s summer, the farmer’s markets are in full swing. The produce is beautiful, full and ripe, and going to the market often inspires a new recipe. In 2008, there were 4,685 farmer’s markets, compared to 1994 when there were only 1,755. This increase is as much to do with the local, organic and sustainability movement. Farmer’s markets also tend to have more heirloom varieties, handcrafted items and specialty varieties. Besides it’s a lot more fun to go to the farmer’s market than the grocery store. But are you getting the most you can out of your weekly trips to the market? Here are some tips and tricks to help you.
Find A Local Market - First of all, do you know where you closest farmer’s market is and on what days? Maybe there’s one closer than you think. Check out LocalHarvest to find out where markets, CSAs, local farms and other events with fresh produce and food. For each market they provide a list of what produce might be available there and at what time of year and recipes for each item. Remember that many farmer’s markets don’t just take place in the summer. Some go all year long.
Plan Ahead - Just like you write down a list when you go to the grocery store, write yourself a list of what you need from the farmer’s market. Sure, all the produce looks wonderful and you want to buy a little of everything, but don’t buy too much that you can’t eat it all. Think about how much you’ll use in the next week and only buy that amount. Naturally, you’re likely to find something that you didn’t know was growing yet and want to buy it, but be realistic about how much you can eat so you don’t waste food.
Shop Early or Late - Chefs have known the secret to getting the best, most flavorful and beautiful food direct from the vendors - and that secret is to get their early. If you’re looking for the freshest, most beautiful produce, get there before the crowd picks it over and takes the choicest items. On the other hand, if you’re looking for a deal, you’ll want to go near the end of the market when vendors are ready to get rid of their products so they can go home. They’ll be much more likely to drop the price and especially give you a deal on a bundle of stuff. Just don’t go too late or else there won’t be many people left.
Come Prepared - Savvy farmer’s market shoppers come prepared with their own bags or baskets to carry their prizes home in. Bring reusable produce bags to keep it all separate and then sturdy tote bags or market baskets to carry them around in. If you plan on buying cheese, meets, fish, dairy products, or eggs, put a cooler in your car to keep things fresh on your ride home. Also, vendors rarely accept credit cards, some accept checks, but most will want cash, so try and bring small bills and change with you. And a hat and sunscreen are highly recommended.
Ask Questions - Farmers, crafts people, bakers and butchers love to talk about their products. Ask questions about how they raise their crops or animals, where they are located, how they get their squashes so big, what they feed their chickens and more. The more you ask the more you know about where your food comes from. This knowledge will help you be more selective about who you buy from. And if you start to develop a relationship with the vendor, you might even start to get deals.
Buy In Season - This is a natural part of buying at the farmer’s market because most farmers and vendors are bringing in produce straight from the farm. But be aware that some vendors buy their produce from other sellers who may get it from faraway places. Know what is in season in your area. You can find that out by visiting the National Resource Defense Council’s Eat Local Guide. Then browse for seasonal recipes with Epicurious, Sustainable Table, Local Harvest or Harvest Eating.
Shop Smart - There are definitely good deals to be had at farmer’s markets and ways to save money. Often times you are buying direct from the grower so you can cut out the middle men. Walk the whole market and see who has what items for what price. You don’t have to buy from the first booth you come to. Don’t be afraid to ask to pay for a sample so you can taste the flavor. There’s no sense in buying a bushel of tomatoes if they don’t taste good to you. At the same time consider buying slightly bruised, small or or imperfect produce - you might get a discount on it. And the best way to save is to buy in bulk. Learn the art of canning and preserve fruits and vegetables for use later in the year.
Farmer’s markets are not only fun, but also a great way to reduce your environmental impact. Buying local and organic is one of the best ways to support your local economy and your health. Markets are also a great way to teach children about the importance of local food when they end up eating something you bought from a farmer earlier that day.
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