My Love Affair with the Farmers' Market

What I purchased last Saturday at my local farmers' market:
strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, plums,  red onions, green onions, cilantro,
baby greens, and baby spinach (plus the tomatoes pictured below) -- all organic ($40).

If you have a garden, congratulations.  Seriously, I admire and envy you.  I would love to have a large, gorgeous garden full of herbs, tomatoes, zucchini, onions, carrots, peppers, lettuce as well as several fruit trees in my backyard, but that seems to be a few years into my future.  I do have a short-term goal of planting something.

My favorite summer salad: organic spinach and strawberries
from my farmers' market plus toasted walnuts and parmesan cheese.

But while I don't have my own garden, I do have the farmers' market.  Right now with strawberries in season we are loving our whole grain pancakes with strawberries and whipped cream (see this post for details).  I am also now making lots of my favorite summer salad: spinach, sliced strawberries, toasted walnuts, and freshly grated parmesan cheese with red wine vinegar dressing (see photo above).  I buy the organic spinach and organic strawberries at my farmers' market every week, and can get organic walnuts through my CSA.  Now that tomatoes are in season, I will be eating tomatoes on and in everything, including in the delicious caprese salad (slices of tomatoes layered with slices of fresh mozzarella and basil leaves, drizzled with olive oil and balsamic vinegar with a little freshly grated salt and pepper).

There are so many benefits that come from this direct producer-to-consumer arrangement.  Here are some of the things I love most about the farmers' market.  

Flavor. The produce I buy at the farmers' market tastes better than any produce I can buy at Trader Joe's or the supermarket.  If you have never shopped at your local farmers' market, I challenge you to go one week just to sample the fare.  Almost any farmer will give you a free sample.  This is maybe not the most important reason for shopping at the farmers' market, but it's a highly motivating one.  Find your local farmers' market here.

Tomatoes.  Tomatoes deserve their own mention because supermarket tomatoes are so sad and flavorless.  They also are often produced under horrendous working conditions.  The transformation of the tomato from a juicy sweet fruit into a tasteless homogenized vegetable is one of the great tragedies of industrialized food production, in my opinion.  In the spring, I start asking my favorite farmers at least once a month, "when are you going to have tomatoes again?"  I got my first ones last week and they were so, so delicious.  My top priority for preserving (I know nothing about preserving) is tomatoes -- frozen or canned. I have just got to figure this out, because I don't like buying the supermarket tomatoes fresh or in metal cans, and we cook with tomatoes year round.  If you are an expert in tomato preservation, please email me or leave a comment immediately.

Price. The organic produce I buy at my farmers' market is the cheapest organic produce I can buy.   The berries, veggies and greens plus the eight pounds of tomatoes (all organic) pictured in the two photos above cost $40 at last Saturday's market.  If you are trying to figure out how to make eating organic more affordable, this is one of my best suggestions (see additional suggestions here). The farmers' market is cheaper than my CSA (which I also love), cheaper than Costco, cheaper than Trader Joe's.  It's also the best produce I can buy (see above).  Win, win.  And I would like you to know that while I live in the land of milk-and-honey (northern California) as far as produce is concerned, there are only two organic farmers at my local farmers' market.  Still, their selection and their prices are worth my weekly devotion.  Even if it weren't the cheapest option (maybe Costco is occasionally cheaper), it's still worth buying whatever I can at the farmers' market for the other reasons mentioned here.  Farmers' market vendors also always round down, never get upset when your kids cannot resist grabbing one of their juicy strawberries, and always want to give you a free sample.

Fresh.  Often picked the day before or at least the same week, you cannot beat the freshness of the farmers' market.  I've noticed that produce I buy there lasts much longer than produce I purchase in the store (which probably spent weeks in storage/transportation).

Local and in season.  I don't have to decide if I'm willing to eat organic blueberries grown in Chile when I shop at the farmers' market.  I'm shopping local and in season without even thinking about it.  I have really enjoyed re-learning the seasonality of produce through my farmers' market.  There is a special joy in eating strawberries or zucchini or tomatoes again after waiting and waiting for them to be in season again.

Meet the farmer.  I love talking to the farmers.  I love that my kids know the people who grow their food.  The two organic vendors at my farmers' market are a Japanese-American family, third-generation farmers who started farming in 1958; and a second-generation Mexican-American family that has been farming for 30+ years.  Both families love what they do, grow an astonishing variety of produce, are proud of their product, and I never worry that they are abusing labor (which is always a possibility in the large-scale industrial world of agricultural, where laborers are often nameless and faceless to owners), cutting corners, or deceitful.  When I ask a farmer (that is not certified organic) if they spray their fruit with pesticides, I feel confident that I will get an honest answer.  Not every small-scale family farm can afford the organic certification process, so it is worthwhile to ask a vendor if they use fertilizers or pesticides if you are interested in their produce.

All my money supports the family farmer.  If you shop at the supermarket, a huge cut of your dollar is going to middlemen and marketers, not the farmer.  Shopping at the farmers' market helps me to support and maintain a local food economy, healthy agricultural land and open space where I live.

Less packaging.  I can buy lettuce at the farmers' market without a plastic bag.  That's not what's pictured above, because I ran out of bags that particular day, but many weeks I am using only reusable fabric bags.  Containers, like berry baskets and egg cartons, can often be reused instead of recycled, which is much eco-friendlier.

No stickers.  I despise those produce stickers.  You probably do too.  Who knows what the adhesive is made of and I often have to cut them off my food.  When you shop at the farmers' market, you don't need a sticker to tell you whether your produce is organic or not or what state it came from, because you buy it straight from the farmer.

Less overwhelming.  Some folks love Super-Target and Super-Walmart and other one-stop shopping grocery/drug/convenience stores.  I find them completely overwhelming and dislike shopping there.  They also always seem to be out of whatever I went there specifically to buy.  The farmers' market is an aesthetically pleasing and enjoyable experience.  I feel safe having my young children walking near me (instead of in a cart of stroller) at our smallish sized one.  I like to buy my produce fresh and often, so it was wonderful to have a place where I can shop for just produce and nothing else.  No magazines or Hot Wheel cars or candy bars to distract you while you check out.  No sales displays.  No packaged junk food tempting your will-power.  Just produce (and maybe some homemade breads and soaps, depending on your market), plain and simple.

Related Links
Save Money on Food while Going Green
Rainy Day Steals at the Farmer's Market
7 Frugal Food Tips for the Farmers Market (Healthy Child Healthy World)

Where to Find Organic Foods (Healthy Child Healthy World)

What do you love about shopping at the farmers' market?  
What's your favorite summertime recipe?

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  1. I am obsessed with the Farmer's Market this year. We go every Saturday and Wednesday and it is so awesome to get all this really fresh organic produce. I got these onions last week that were insane. And my son loves the music, the people and the kettle corn:)

  2. Ah, the kettle corn. I am too cheap to buy it, but it sure smells good. We only recently started getting some live music at ours -- it's a pretty small market. Farmers' market 2x a week - lucky! There are other markets on other days around here, but they would involve a 20+ min. drive, and I hate to drive.

  3. mmmm Farmer's Markets are awesome and they have yummy food. I feel way safer getting it there than the grocery stores!

  4. Love our farmers market. It's a regular Saturday morning thing for us. Ours is close enough we can walk, which means I'd add the following to your great list above: the farmers market is a community gathering spot. We see all our neighbors and visit much more with them this time of year than any other. And I think that's a good thing!

    (I make the exact same salad, but I never add the parmesan. I'll have to try that!)

  5. We had a Farmer's Market in the town where I grew up way before they were the in thing to do. I miss that old place. Lots of great childhood memories.

  6. Glad to see I'm not the only crazy person who takes pictures of her produce LOL I get so excited when I lay it all out to wash that I can't help myself :)

    Great post, I'm a huge fan of farmers markets and after each trip I honestly feel like I'm both feeding my family well and supporting local families. Win/Win!

  7. You got a lot of great produce there! That's great to help out the farmers and your family. :)

  8. That is a lot of great stuff for $40!

    Do you go back to the same vendors each time or do you walk around the market to see where the deals are and then purchase items?

  9. Jen, there are only 2 organic farmers at my market, so I only shop with those 2 for produce, but they seem to price to compete with the dozen-plus other vendors, so their prices tend to be very reasonable. Plus, they are always willing to bargain, esp. if you buy a lot, and often offer to throw in some free stuff too (like a basket of raspberries with my half-flat of strawberries).

  10. There's nothing like a farmer's market! I grew up in Madison, Wisconsin and we had (they still have) a fabulous farmer's market. There were many other things being sold in addition to the organic produce: soaps, meats, cheese and flowers. I love most of all the lack of packaging and stickers and looking the farmer in the eye.

  11. Great list! The more I go, the more I love it. I actually don't even like tomatoes unless they're fresh, seasonal, local ones. The flavor is so different!

  12. Organic foods are much better as they are fresher.


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