Oh Farmers Market, How I Love Thee…

I have always loved the farmers market.  I remember going to my first market back in college in Gainesville, Florida.  It was a small, sweet little market where I got to chat with the farmers and really get to know my food and what I was buying.  After moving west, I continued to visit the markets when I lived in Berkeley, and finally hit the mecca of all markets when I moved to Marin county.  The Marin Civic Center farmers market was THE market to end all markets.  My roommate and I would get up every Saturday, rain or shine, hung over or not, and hit the market as early as possible.  There I found a cache of amazing farmers selling a bounty of amazing produce available in the bay area, and I was hooked.  I have to admit, I still miss it years later.  When I moved to New York, I would occasionally love up some Union Square Greenmarket when I was working in the city, but it was just not very practical to schlep home my goods on the train each day.

When a market was finally started in my little town of Long Beach, I was thrilled.  I introduced myself to the market manager and we discussed collaborating many times.  I am so excited to finally be able to spend some time at the market this season, and have been enjoying every day there, even when the weather is nasty.  I love chatting with the customers, feeding them, and teaching them new ways to prepare their produce.  I find this so rewarding and fun at the same time!

Today was extra special, as I got to give a market tour to a group of 4th graders.  They were so excited and enthusiastic, and I was thrilled to be able to tell them what is so special about a farmers market.  I think it is so important to teach young kids the truth about real food and where it comes from, as well as expose them to new and different flavors.

Enjoying a cucumber at market

Enjoying a cucumber at market

So what IS so special about a farmers market?? Well, let me tell you.  First of all, shopping outside is really nice, especially compared to the fluorescent lights of the grocery store.  Even on a rainy day, I don’t mind putting on my coat so I can get some fresh food.

The farmers at market are able to sell directly to the consumer, cutting out the middleman, and putting more money into the small farmers pocket.  This also helps to strengthen the local economy.  You are also able to talk with most of the farmers who grew the food, and you can ask them their practices in regards to pesticides and spraying.  Many of the farmers at our market are not certified organic, but do not spray their crops or spray very little.  You have to realize that these are family farms, meaning their family is out on the farm…and I’m pretty sure they don’t want their children running in a field laden with pesticides.  Besides, pesticides are pretty expensive, and the farmers probably want to spend as little as possible on them.

It is also better for the environment and the soil to buy from a farmer who grows many different crops, versus one who grows only one thing.  ‘Monocropping’ as it is called, severely depletes the soil, even if it is done organically.  So I encourage you to think twice about purchasing food grown by the big organic farms.  Yes, they are using natural pesticides if any, but they are depleting the soil through their growing methods.

Lastly, food that is grown locally is harvested just hours before the market, leading to a product that is super fresh, delicious, and filled with nutrients.  Food that is shipped in to the grocery store from far away is almost always picked before it is fully ripe, and may not end up in your shopping basket for days or even weeks.  This compromises not only the flavor and freshness, but also the nutritional value, as nutrient content begins to decline as soon as a fruit or vegetable is picked from the plant.

Not to mention the incredible variety available at the market..purple carrots, gold cauliflower, beautiful heirloom tomatoes.  You will not see many of these varieties on the shelves of the grocery store.  It is important to keep these varieties alive, to save their seeds for the future, and the best way to do this is to buy and eat them!

Now that I have professed my deep love for all things farmers market, I’d love to hear how others feel about them.  Do you have a market near you? Do you shop there on a regular basis?  What do you buy?

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