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Mar 162009
 

6. You have the opportunity to spend time with the farmer, asking questions like: “What’s this?”

Any farmer will take the time to explain what they sell. They don’t expect everyone to know everything about their produce, so ask about something new: ask how it’s grown, ask about a recipe. A farmer’s market vendor will let you sample a strawberry or a leaf of spinach or an Asian pear; they’ll have samples of maple ice cream and organic tea, fresh sausage and honey. Does your local supermarket do that for its customers?

7. You’re helping sustain the local economy

You might have seen the bumper sticker that says, “Support Local Farmers or Watch the Houses Grow”. Charlie Reid, a local organic grower, says he has lost about 10 different garden locations because builders have bought the land for houses. Farmers are just holding their own against developers but farmers hire locally when they need help. The money you spend at the market stays close to home and doesn’t go to another state or worse, to another country. You’re helping the local economy.

8. Enjoy beautiful displays

There’s a definite art to presenting your produce: the more attractive the display the more pleasing to the eye. Two women from a farm in coastal Maine display their vegetables so beautifully at the Portsmouth (NH) market that more than once I’ve heard customers say they didn’t want to mess up the rows. Farmers take special pride in how they present their produce … they’re showing you their life.

9. It inspires the gourmand in all of us

Mix-and-match: Picture yourself doing any (or all) of these on a warm summer day — buying fresh blueberries and mixing them with organic yogurt; warm breads with honey or jam or cheese; cold organic milk and warm cider donuts. You sit and eat, watching the people go by or you nibble as you stroll, looking for that next, “Oh wow, look at that fresh (fill-in-the-blank); I’d better get some of that, too.”

Here is some not-so-common produce you’ll find in Farmer’s Markets across the country: dewberries at the Austin, Texas farmer’s market; hazelnuts at the Portland, Ore., market; English toffee at the Los Angeles market; cider donuts at the Portsmouth market; bison at the Dane County (Madison, Wisc.) farmer’s market; freshwater prawns at the Lexington, Ky., Farmer’s Market. You can even buy sod at the Alabama Farmer’s Market in Birmingham. You want it? A Farmer’s Market is sure to have it, or tell you where to get it.

10. The best reason to shop at a farmer’s market:

It’s fun! You’ll have a wonderful time learning new things, meeting new people, tasting new foods. Some folks say it’s best to get there early because the displays are full while others say to go at the end because farmers want to take home as little as they can and they’ll give you a good discount. Both are true: When the market opens the pies are still warm and the variety of goods for sale is astounding; at the market’s close the farmer will sell a $12.50 pie for $10, a peck of Honey Crisp apples for half price or throw in a few cloves of organic garlic with the dozen organic eggs, provided there are pies, apples, garlic and eggs left to sell. My advice is get there as soon as the market opens; you won’t be rushed into buying what you don’t want. But beware, it all looks good, so take your time. If you buy too much the first time some will go to waste and then you won’t want to go back, and that would be a shame.

(Christopher Peake lives in Exeter, NH and was the Farmer’s Market Manager for a family farm orchard, the largest in the state. He now writes about the environment and can be contacted through his website, www.communicategreen.com.)

(Photo credits: greenrightnow.com; San Francisco Ferry Plaza Farmers Market; Los Angeles Farmers Market.)

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