How do I buy and cook food from a farmer's market?
Here in Washington the weather is beginning to hint at spring, which brings lots of good things including but not limited to bird songs, tans and farmers markets Today we'll be focusing on the latter and starting a discussion that's likely to have many installations: food.
First lets define food, so we can move forward with a united understanding:
Food is stuff that nourishes our body. However, food can also be nourishing to other parts of our lives.
The fact of the matter is that every choice you make affects two things; you and your community. Choosing what to eat might seem like just another daily choice, but it carries a lot of weight, especially if you make that choice the same way over and over again. When you shop for your food at the farmer's market you're saying: "I care about myself enough to put good things in my body and I care about my community enough to support one of it's members". The alternative is ingesting pesticides and supporting the corporation whose CEO hasn't worked in the dirt for twenty years. When you eat food that is highly processed your mental and physical well being suffers from the lack of nutrition and the over abundance of chemicals. We all know this. The farther things get away from their natural existence the less nutritional they are. Humans were built to eat natural, organic things. There are no ancient cave paintings of a Cheez-it or Big Mac, rather they focused on what they were naturally provided with; the food their bodies were built to digest. In case you've been wondering, the reason people have so many allergens and digestive issues these days is largely because of the processed food people consume. Additionally, by shopping at the farmer's market you're supporting the "little guys", people living a couple hours away and laboring over your could-be food for months. If you spend $10-$35 a week on fruit or veggies that adds up to $40-$140 a month and $480-$1680 a year! Where do you want that money going? Like I said, we need to ask ourselves questions that matter. Areyou going to support the little guy? Are you going to meet the farmer who dug up the potatoes you're going to eat tomorrow night?
Before I dive into tips and tricks to help you become an advanced market goer, let me introduce a concept that I'll be referring back to over and over again. Basically, if you're acting sustainably, you'll be saving money, whether that be up front or in the long run. I can guarantee that if you shop smart and follow my tips, your wallet andyour tummy will thank you for shopping at the local market.
Now to basic Farmer's Market know how. First of all, bring cash. This is important and a lot harder to remember than you might think.
In order to use the cash you've brought efficiently you'll want to do some scouting before you do any buying. Every farmer's market is different, which means that the ways you can save will differ. When we lived in Saint Paul the farmer's market fruits and vegetables were cheaper than at the grocery stores, but when it came to eggs, honey and meats, it was sometimes double the price. At the market in Anacortes (where I grew up) most items are more expensive than the supermarket, but meats are relatively the same and breads are sometimes a steal as well. In order to shop smart at your local market be sure to visit your local grocery store first and do some scouting. As a general rule, most fruit and vegetables you buy in bulk at the market are cheaper than the grocery store, but don't quote me on that. However, greens like lettuce and spinach can be pricier. It's up to you if you want to splurge $.75 and have a farm fresh salad for dinner.
Browsing also helps save a couple dollars at the market. When we lived in Saint Paul it used to drive Cooper crazy that I drug him down every row at our market each weekend, but he was a trooper about it because he knew it would save us money and we'd walk away with great food. When you visit the market ALWAYS have a list of necessities, that way you'll get more out of your money and time. This isn't to say you shouldn't splurge once in a while, but it gives you a mission while you're there.
While browsing, you should look for for two things: price per quantity and quality. For me price per quantity is always the most important because it's where you can really save and I know what to do with a bad product to make it taste good (i.e. soft apples=applesauce). However, if that's not the case for you, find your balance. If you don't do much cooking make quality a bigger factor in your decision so you can eat it raw. (Pro tip: If you can taste test, do!)
As we move along I'll be sure to give real life resources and action steps for whatever I'm writing about each week. The first step to shopping at a market is finding one. The link below leads to a fantastic database that will allow you to find the market nearest you. Of course, you can always google "farmers markets near me" too!
Best of luck shopping, cooking and eating!