One of the things I miss most about Austin is the ability to have a year round Farmers Market. I miss having locally sourced food at my disposal all year and I miss seeing the community all gathered in one place. But not to worry; spring is here and the Farmers’ Market is now open until late fall. I especially am grateful that with the popularity of these markets booming, they are not only open on weekends as in the past. I can now shop during the week in different locations throughout my community.
Many cities regulate their Farmers’ Markets through local organizations or the city government and each has different requirements and participation rules. It is important to know just what your Farmers’ Market is all about before you head out for shopping for yourself or your family. Many these days also have websites, like the Greenwich Farmers’ Market that list the vendors and even offer recipes, so do a little research first…
Here are five things to know before you head to your Farmers Market:
Not everything may be as it appears
This is a sad sad fact in more and more Farmers’ Markets as people are watching their budgets and not asking questions. If you ever walk by the market during set up, at many you will see tables in a variety of locations and people taking boxes of nice looking and widely varied fruits and vegetables from the trucks. To many people this variety is great and it is if you are looking for variety, but you need to be aware that much of this produce is neither local nor in season and you need to ask questions of the sellers to learn the difference.
Know your farmer
Take time to get to know your farmer. Ask where their farm is, how long they have been farming, and their growing method. This will allow you to have a better understanding of them and what they grow when and most are more than happy to share this information with you! The other great thing about knowing your farmer is you can chat about what produce you like and on busy days or days when I get to the market late, my farmer often saves items he knows I will want, so I don’t miss out.
There is certified organic and then there is organic
Organic vs certified organic? Becoming a certified organic farmer is very expensive for small farmers, often making it cost-prohibitive for them. But, that doesn’t mean they are not farming organically. When I meet a new farmer, I ask about their methods. I ask directly what, if any, chemicals they use. When a farmer says it is all natural, I question further about what they mean by natural. Organic certification is needed, but it has made it a dirty word for small farmers to use who do farm organically, but are not certified.
This is a huge rule in our house, whether it is a new type of fruit or vegetable or a new vendor. Take time to check it out. The first time I tried nettle was the first time I went up to the farmers that used a forage method. Since then, I have been hooked on nettles.
Another great find were cookies at the Sarasota Farmers’ Market. Normally, I would never head over to the baked good vendors, because of the personal danger of lack of control, but these beautifully displayed cookies were calling my name. They were the best cookies; crispy and they melted in your mouth. They literally changed how I make cookies at home after a conversation with the baker.
Finally, think about signing up for a CSA or Community Sustained Agricultural box from one of the local farmers. This is both a great way to “buy” into the farm to support your farmer and also assure that each week you are getting a box full of what is fresh. We pick up our CSA box each week first to see what is in it and then shop for the rest of what we need. In some communities, they will even deliver the box to your house.