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Farmers Market 101- How to Make the Most of Your Trip

By Anne Danahy MS RD

One of the simple pleasures of summer is visiting your local farmers market and coming home with a bag of super-fresh produce and unique foods made by local food artisans. It’s a wonderful opportunity to meet your farmers and learn more about where your food comes from. Shopping at a farmers market isn’t anything like running out to the grocery store though. To make the most of your trip, it pays to learn a few rules so you come home with what you want or need, rather than an empty bag, or one that’s full of who-knows-what-this-is, that will sit in the refrigerator until it goes bad.

1. Know what’s in season. Remember, the farmers at the market are selling the food they picked this last night or this morning, so don’t plan on finding pumpkins in June, asparagus in August, or strawberries in September. Learn what’s in season and what’s coming up, and plan your recipes and meals accordingly.

2. Go with a plan, but be flexible. If you know you’ll be shopping at a farmers market, plan a few recipes ahead of time and make a list, so you’ll be sure to pick up what you need. Cooking magazines and Pinterest are both always full of seasonal inspiration. Pick up your main ingredients like produce, fresh eggs, cheese, meat or fish at the market, and plan on hitting a grocery store afterwards to supplement the other ingredients. Sometimes though, despite your best plans, you might spy a fabulous and fresh fruit or vegetable that you never thought of, so by all means, be flexible! Some produce has an incredibly short growing season, and if you don’t grab it, you may be out of luck until next year.

3. BYBO&C. That stands for bring your own bags and cash! Many farmers do supply small bags for their purchases, but rather than risk trying to balance several ears of corn and a bunch of tomatoes in your two hands, bring a sturdy reusable grocery bag with a strong handle. Many farmers also appreciate cash (small bills especially), since it costs them extra to accept a credit card.

4. Timing is everything. If you want the best selection and the freshest produce, plan to arrive as soon as the market opens. On the other hand, if you want the best deals (because who wants to tote wilted greens back to their farm), go shortly before the market closes, and you may end up getting some extra goodies added to your bag. Just remember, farmers make very little profit on what they produce, so haggling is generally not appreciated.

5. Step outside the box. It’s OK to like what you like, especially when it’s produce, but if you see something unusual, or even something you recognize but don’t usually eat, ask the farmer what they like to do with it, or how they prepare it. You’ll be surprised at what amazing and creative ideas you’ll get. Sure, farmers can grow things, but most are also pretty handy in the kitchen. Some farmers markets also sell community cookbooks with lots of creative ideas for using all types of produce. Proceeds often support the market or the farmers, so it’s a win-win solution to the “what would I do with this” question.

6. Take it all! The ultra-fresh produce at farmers markets is perfect for canning, preserving and pickling, so buy lots and preserve it for later. It’s important to follow the rules and recipes for preserving foods, but once you learn the technique, it’s not as difficult as it may seem, and it’s such a joy to open a jar of homemade tomato sauce or strawberry jam in the middle of winter The National Center for Home Food Preservation has some excellent information on canning, freezing, pickling and any other method of preserving foods.

7. Volunteer. Farmers markets run on a tight, lean budget, and usually rely on grants and donations, in addition to their profits, to be able to stay open, so they really appreciate volunteers. In addition to doing something good for your market and town, you’ll get the inside scoop on what’s freshest, who has the best selection, and what to do with it once you get home.

If you’re not sure where your closest farmers market is, use this directory that lets you search by zip code. See you at the market!

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Fresh is the New Functional (“7 Nutrition Trends of 2010”)

Let’s take a closer look at one of the recent “7 Nutrition Trends of 2010.” The first of these predictions is certainly a bold prediction, and not too hard to see taking a strong hold in the near future. But what does that mean exactly?
People will be looking to the foods that are naturally full of nutrients and minerals. Anything that says “fortified” or “enriched” might be sitting on the shelf for longer than planned. There’s a significant movement towards our roots, literally speaking. Vegetables and fruits that are grown fresh and grown right are going to be flying off of the shelves in 2010, or so we think.
Things like leafy greens are going to be full of nutrients that help with all sorts of things, ranging from better vision to improved heart health. Any items from the cabbage family are a hot item for cancer prevention. Orange and yellow veggies have lots of nutrients that also help with cancer prevention and heart health, as well as helping the immune system.
Be sure to know when certain vegetables are in season and when they aren’t. Finding a fruit or vegetable when it’s in season is not only going to help immensely with the flavor of the produce, and the cost, but it also will contain more nutritional value when it’s in season as well.
Having a shopping guide to buying good-looking produce, like our ‘Veggie Quickflip’, will help you not only decide what vegetables are worth their price, but ways to help coax the most flavor you can get out of them with complementary spices and recipes.