I LOVE a good Farmer’s Market
If you have never shopped at one, I can understand why it would be a bit intimidating. Farmers standing next to their bounty, hand-made signs for pricing, and little information about each individual farm unless you get close or ask.
But trust me, once you start going, you will be hooked!
Seeing the hands that planted, watered, and harvested your food every week builds value into each purchase. I have found that we very rarely ever throw out any food. This is partly due to my being a bit thrifty, but mostly because I know where it came from.
I respect the hard work and dedication that a small farm must have to survive in an industry very nearly monopolized by massive corporations. An organic farmer has to work very hard to make a living, and the idea of letting even one precious little radish go to waste feels like some kind of small crime.
Another reason to shop a Farmer’s Market is for quality and nutrition.
On average, produce in your grocery store has traveled 1500 miles by the time it gets to you. As soon as it is picked, produce begins to die, thus, losing some of it’s nutrients.
Produce at a traditional store is often sprayed with a chemical so as to appear ripe since they have to be picked green to survive their long journey. Meats as well are shipped from all areas of the world and sometimes treated with chemicals to appear more red, and chicken is often injected with saline to increase it’s weight.
Both of the farmers who I asked last Saturday told me that their produce had been picked less than 24 hours before. One farmer, Zadok had even awakened his siblings at 4:30 am that morning to help him harvest.
That, my friends, is truly fresh.
I love building a relationship with these people and learning a little more about their lives each week. It is so much fun to hear about the crops, their farm, how thankful they are for the recent rain, good weather, etc.
This summer we had had a small draught (over 2 weeks without rain and it was very hot)…it was about 10am at the Farmer’s Market when it started to POUR. Instead of running for cover or rolling up our jeans, everyone began clapping and cheering. My son danced around it in barefoot.
Something about that truly struck a chord with me. It was amazing to see the very primal aspect of farming, how truly dependent they are on a basic need like rain just to survive.
I do a “rough” meal plan before I shop, listing out about the number of veggies I will need for the week and a few meat dishes, as I will work my meals around the produce that I buy. I really enjoy being creative, and trying to only cook with the foods that are seasonal.
If you pick up a food that you don’t know how to cook, do a quick google search and look for a highly-rated recipe, and just modify to make it healthier. Farmers will often give you tips on the best way to cook their produce as well!
My 5 tips for shopping successfully at a Farmer’s Market:
1. Don’t buy anything the first time you go – You may become overwhelmed with trying to organize your thoughts, so spend your first visit just gathering information. I took notes on my iphone the first time I went so that I could go home and price compare between the stands that I liked the most. If there is something that you know you would buy anyway, go ahead and get it, but I would keep first time purchases to a minimum. Once you have an idea of what is available, you will be able to plan for the next visit.
2. Take cash, and give yourself a budget – Many farmers accept debit or credit cards, but it is much more convenient and profitable for them if you pay cash. It reduces impulse purchases, as well as keeping me from buying more than my family will eat in a week. I spend about 1/2 of our grocery budget (paper goods, body products, and dog food included) at the Market, so just take out that amount in cash every week.
3. Go early – The early morning is when you will have the best selection and the market is less crowded.
4. Put your baby in a stroller – Unless you have someone to carry your bags for you, you will need your hands and shoulders to carry your purchases, so bring your own cooler bag and shopping bags.
5. Ask lots of questions– Farmers who are proud of their farming practices will LOVE telling you all about them. They expect for shoppers to ask lots of questions and 99% of the time are more than happy to tell you! I have only had one farm be rude when I asked about their procedures, and it was one of the bigger, well advertised farms, so I simply chose not to purchase from them. In my opinion, if they aren’t proud of their farming practices, I don’t want to buy from them.
Here are a few questions that I ask of any new vendor about produce:
“Your produce is beautiful! Will you tell me about your growing practices?” – usually at this point they understand that you are inquiring about organic/pesticides/chemicals, etc. and will begin explaining what they do. sometimes they don’t, so just ask: “Do you spray or use any chemicals or pesticides?”
If the answer is yes, just be polite and kind. Thank them and move on.
Many, many wonderful farms don’t use any pesticides or chemicals whatsoever but are not Certified Organic, and honestly, that is what I prefer.
The organic certification is very involved and expensive, so some of my favorite vendors can not afford it. As one farmer, James said “Feel free to take my produce and have it tested for chemicals.” See? Nothing to hide. I regularly buy from him.
So, there is a bit of trust involved, but you can usually tell if something is organic or not. It will have imperfections, a few bugs crawling around here and there, greens will have little holes from insects munching away.
As my mother told us growing up “I’d rather eat a bug than a pesticide!”
Me to Mama, me too.
Some farms have both organic and conventional produce, and they should tell you. One lady that has the most beautiful squashes also has apples that are chemically sprayed. She was so kind when I asked, and when I put the apples back, I apologized, explaining that I try to only buy organic.
“That’s fine!” she said. “You have the right to know and choose what you eat”. GOOD farmer. I will buy her organics again for sure!
Here are the questions to ask any meat/dairy farmer (always give a compliment, or at least a “Hi, how are you?”)
Beef/Lamb/Bison/Raw Milk: “Are your animals grass-fed? Are they ever given any grain?”
You want 100% grass fed, with no grain, ever (hay is fine). Some people will tell you that this isn’t possible, but it is. If you simply can’t find it, just be sure they are never given any corn or soy, and if that is the only option, be sure it is organic grain.)
Pork: “Are your animals allowed free access to sunlight, bugs, worms, etc?” “Are your products cured?” (you want uncured) “Do they contain nitrates?” (you want nitrate free).
So what’s the big deal with things being organic?
I don’t need any testing or news articles to tell me that chemicals which effectively kill any bug or weed that it comes into contact with has no business being in my body.
Poison is poison is poison.
Also, any food that is organic can not be genetically modified.
I’ll do posts dedicated to explaining more on these areas in the future.
I hope this inspires you to seek out a Farmer’s Market. Have I missed anything?
live well. be well.