Farmer’s Markets are popping up everywhere these days! It seems like even the small towns are inviting the farmer’s to set up shop for a few hours once a week. Even the little town in Michigan that I grew up in with population 5,000 and only one gas station started a farmer’s market this year. It’s amazing! Currently my husband and little one and I live in Nashville, where there are at least fifteen or so markets in the greater Nashville area. To be honest, I wasn’t all that impressed with the main downtown market! It’s open everyday, which is convenient, but there really isn’t a whole lot there that I can’t get somewhere else. Now I know, you’re thinking, at least it’s local right? Wrong! On closer examination, a lot of the produce isn’t local! And barely any of it is organic! If it has a Sunkist sticker on it, it probably didn’t come from a local farmer. When I go to a farmer’s market, I’m looking for quality local produce and products for good prices, and if it’s organic I count it a bonus! So how do I find it? I’ll give you some pointers.
1) Seek out the smaller markets. The big farmer’s markets are great, but those guys are bringing massive amounts of produce with the intent of selling lots of quantity. The farmers who are bringing their produce to the smaller markets are only bringing a small amount of their best crop. They go for quality. They’re not bringing 30 different things. They bring 8-10 different crops that they hand-picked that morning before they brought it to market. It’s going to be fresh! Think about it, the farmers who bring a huge quantity of stuff were not out picking it this morning right? You will get the best quality, freshest produce from the smaller farms.
2) Talk to the farmers. The farmers at the smaller markets who are bringing their best crop want to tell you about it. Farming is a labor of love! They love what they do. They’re passionate about it and they’re proud of what they’re growing. And you can totally taste the love when you eat that gorgeous heirloom tomato. Ask them what is the freshest that day. If you don’t know what something is, ask! If you don’t know how to pick the ripest tomato, ask them to pick it for you! If you see something beautiful but you have no idea how to cook it, ask! I ran across these gorgeous pattypan (pictured above) but I had no clue what to do with it! Turns out, it’s just like any other squash! They are more than happy to tell you all about the fruit of their labor.
3) Organic is great. No doubt. However, as I said, these smaller markets draw in local farmers, who are not in it for the money and probably not making a ton of money. A USDA certification label costs a ton of money. Many of them, even though they can’t slap the label on it are practicing organic farming. Again, you just have to ask. And sometimes you don’t even have to ask. They will put a little handwritten cardboard sign underneath the basket that says “organically grown”. That sign is as good as gold to me and even better than a USDA label. These people are not trying to rip you off. They want to sell you quality produce.
4) If you cannot find what you’re looking for, again I say, ask the farmers and people selling their handmade products. If they don’t have it, chances are they know where you can get it. For instance, nobody at the market was selling raw milk (for my imaginary dog, of course) but I was pretty sure the girl selling her extra kombucha mothers and homemade kimchi could tell me where to find it. Sure enough, she did.
5) Bring cash. This is not %100 necessary, but it’s just a courtesy to the vendors. Most vendors at farmer’s markets now have those adaptors they put on their iphones, but they have to pay per transaction when you use your debit or credit card so they would prefer to work with cash. So don’t forget to make a pit stop at the ATM before you go.
I’ve had GREAT farmer’s market experiences (like I had today) and I’ve had not-so-great farmer’s market experiences. The trick is to get out there and find your favorite ones. Go often and get to know the farmers. I can’t stress that enough. Introduce yourself and shake that farmer’s hand. It’s literally the hand that feeds you!