In addition to these benefits, shopping from your local farmers really does result in more delicious fruits & veggies. Why? Because farmers are going to grow & sell what Mother Nature deems appropriate. Unless it’s purely for crazy profit, you’re probably not going to see a local farmer selling you hothouse tomatoes in early December, even if he is based in California. Nor will your farmer sell you oranges in July. Like the weather, food has its seasons, and when fruits and vegetables are in season, they will be more plentiful and thereby more affordable. Not to mention more delicious because they’re at their peak! And when things taste better, they’re easier to turn into tasty dishes that even the most finicky of eaters (read: KIDS!) can enjoy.
One thing I wished I’d discussed with Wendy (but forgot to because I was a li’l nervous….), was how to make the most of your farmer’s market dollar. I suggest the following tips:
1) If you like a better selection, be one of the first customers at your market. Head there slightly before the market opens if you can and you’ll find the prettiest produce.
2) If you prefer cheaper prices, go towards the end of the market’s schedule. By this time a lot of the most aesthetically pleasing produce will be gone and vendors are looking to get rid of the remaining food, so prices can go down quite dramatically.
3) Do a complete round of the market before you commit to buying ANYTHING. Now, if you’re a fresh produce freak like me, this is easier said than done. But it can really pay off if you exercise some restraint. Remember, there will be several vendors selling the same types of produce, so it’s quite possible to find a bunch of cilantro for $0.99 at one stand, with another stand offering the same thing at $1 for 3 bunches. Depending on which market you visit, the stands near the entrances & exits may have higher prices because they’re the first or last folks you’ll visit, whereas the stands in the middle of the market may offer lower prices (sort of similar to how grocery stores are laid out product & price-wise). If you do a quick tour of what’s available and make a mental note of where the cheaper prices are offered, you can save yourself several dollars at the end of your visit.
4) Buy what you NEED. I say this about every place I shop but this really applies to fresh produce. Sure, it can be quite tempting to buy 6 bunches of rainbow chard because it looks absolutely gorgeous and only costs $1/each, but are you really going to use it all? If you don’t think you’ll be able to use or preserve/freeze/dry what you buy, be sure not to buy in excess. The market will be there next week so you can get more, I promise. 🙂
After talking with Wendy a bit more and sharing our common backgrounds in food & cooking, we went our separate ways and I hung around the park until it was time to join the fun of the Follow the Chef Tour with Chef Michael Tuohy of Grange. Many of you may remember Chef Michael from my posts on last year’s Foodbuzz Blogger Festival and my review of the Duck-Off challenge between Chef and Hank Shaw of Hunter, Angler, Gardener, Cook. Because Grange specializes in local, seasonal menus made with the best of our state’s produce, meats, and seafood, and because Chef happens to have an incredible internal seasonal-eating clock, he’s the perfect guide for a tour of the farmer’s market. Today he led about a dozen local writers on a tour of the market, teaching us about seasonal produce and introducing us to his favorite vendors while he shopped. Though I enjoyed learning about the different nuances of the produce that was and ought to have been in season, I personally enjoyed watching his enthusiasm at every stand. Not only did he handle the product and select it with the casual ease of someone as experienced as he; he also asked questions that I never would have expected to ask the vendors. Usually when I go on a farmer’s market run I’m on a mission, so I rarely stop to do anything except for making purchases and obsessively photographing beautiful food. Having listened to they types of questions he asked, I can’t wait to make my next trip to my favorite farmer’s market (the one under the freeway on 8th & W on Sundays), so that I can start learning from and developing better relationships with my favorite vendors.
Now, I don’t know if you remember my raves about pastry chef Elaine Baker‘s incredibly inventive dessert at last year’s Duck Off (I mean, really: who else can make such a delectable dessert using duck fat???), but let me just say that she has swiftly become my dessert goddess. I know, I know, I like to make my own desserts and love them dearly, but my tiny little dessert shots will forever be dwarfed by someone as talented as Elaine. Today she made us a lovely strawberry crostata with creme fraiche caramel, fresh strawberries in strawberry liqueur, and even more creme fraiche on the side. I probably should have taken it home as I was already pretty full but that dessert was so phenomenal I couldn’t help but finish the entire thing. When all was said and done, I needed a forklift to hoist me out of the restaurant because I was so full, but I didn’t mind; a fresh strawberry dessert-like THAT is well worth it.
It was a wonderful day that gave me just the distraction I needed and I learned quite a bit from the entire experience. It was nice to know that an executive chef like Chef Michael utilizes a similar what’s-on-hand approach to cooking as I do (made me feel like I was onto something, lol), and wonderful to meet so many other Sacramento foodies – er, “eating enthusiasts”. I hope I was able to offer some good tips on keeping regular farmer’s market runs budget-friendly to the fine viewers of News10 and all you fabulous readers, and that the lunch menu at Grange can give everyone some ideas of what you can do with all those veggies & fruits that might appear to have such limited cooking options. As I always say, a little imagination in the kitchen can go a long way, no matter what you may have on hand. And if you don’t feel too confident in your kitchen creativity, especially with seasonal fruits & veggies, don’t fret! Ask your local vendor or farmer for suggestions; a lot of times they work with restaurants or have fabulous family recipes of their own to offer.
Happy farmer’s market season! May you all enjoy the best of what your area of this awesome planet can offer, and if you have some favorite vendors, market locations, or seasonal recipes to share, please do so! It’s always great to learn about what other areas are producing with fresh, local foods.