I always seem to reminisce around this time of year about summer trips to my grandparents’ home in the Kansas City area. I have vivid memories of not only the visit, but also of playing among the garden they had on the second lot they owned. I’d play hide-and-seek with my younger brother or help my grandma pick cherries. I don’t know that I appreciated it as much then, but I have memories of eating Grandma’s fresh green beans with a bit of bacon, just husked corn on the cob, and cherry pie for dinner.
With that background, I’m right at home with the idea of growing a garden, although it’s a lot harder than it looks. But my neighbors and I have created a few raised beds in my backyard. Last year we had great luck with Serrano peppers and chard. This year, we’ve harvested some bell peppers. The jalapeno peppers are starting to produce and the tomatoes are just beginning to set. And eating summer produce reminds me not only of my grandparents, but also of my commitment to healthy eating.
Still, tomorrow I’ll be sending Dad over to the local farmers’ market to supplement our bounty. In fact, farmers’ markets are becoming an increasing part of Americans’ lives. “Today there are nearly 3,000 farmers’ markets across the United States, while just twenty-five years ago, there were but a handful,” wrote Deborah Madison in her book, “Local Flavors: Cooking and Eating from America’s Farmers’ Markets” (which has great recipes to make from farm stand purchases).
Yet farmers’ markets can be daunting when you first start going to them. In her book, Madison suggests 10 helpful tips:
1. Stroll around the market to scope out what’s available before shopping.
2. If you don’t recognize the produce that you’re looking at or need suggestions of how to cook with it, ask the growers. They often have suggestions of recipes; in addition, some of the growers’ customers may offer cooking ideas.
3. Bring cash in small bills (although some farmers will accept a check).
4. If you want organic produce, be sure to ask the grower if his products are organic and how they’ve been raised. Options can include unsprayed (meaning pesticide-free), on its way to becoming organic (transitional), or organic. Growers who have been certified as organic will probably show their certificate. However, Madison warns that not all organic farmers opt to become certified due to the cost and time required.
5. If you’re offered a taste of something, try it; you won’t be committed to buy. “You might discover something new that you like, or you might find that what a farmer sells is not the same as what you find in the store,” Madison explained. “A taste could change your mind about a fruit or vegetable.”
6. Use a “feast-now” approach when shopping at a farmers’ market. “Unlike at the supermarket, the appearance of a particular fruit or vegetable is often short, and when something’s gone, it’s gone,” Madison said. “When you find something you really like, ask how long it will be available.”
7. Bring a cooler if you anticipate that you’ll be away from home for awhile. The cooler will allow you to store foods and keep them fresh. “”And if it’s berry season, you might want to have a basket or plastic bag for transferring really juicy fruit, such as mulberries, from the paper bags they’re sometimes sold in,” Madison said.
8. Take your children with you and let them buy some items from a farmer.
9. Take a farm tour if you have the opportunity. “It always deepens our appreciation for and understanding of where our food really comes from to walk down the same rows the farmer does,” Madison explained.
10. If you don’t enjoy shopping at a farmers’ market, but want the fresh food, consider joining a Community Supported Agriculture. “In a nutshell, the consumer, in exchange for buying a share early in the year when farmers are months away from receiving any income, receives a steady delivery of produce when it finally comes into season,” Madison said.
And what to do with your produce? Ina Garten recently did a show, “Farm Stand Food”, on her Food Network show, Barefoot Contessa. She made a Cape Cod chopped salad, scalloped tomatoes and zucchini pancakes – all great recipes (which are available at the link above) to try with the produce you buy this weekend at your area farmers’ market.
Published On: June 21, 2010