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Farmers' Markets 101

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Linda explores food facts, folklore, and fabulous recipes, one ingredient at a time.

Fresh produce at a local farmers' market

Fresh produce at a local farmers' market

What's Your Definition of a Farmers' Market?

Depending on who you are or where you live, you may have a different notion of what defines a farmers' market. You might think it is:

  • A trendy fad that will soon fade into non-existence, like the pet rock.
  • Your go-to place to purchase the Martha Stewart line of produce.
  • The bastion of granola eating, soymilk sipping, organic-food craving Portlandians.

May I offer another definition . . . none of the above. Farmers' markets are not a voguish whimsy, nor are they filled with over-priced designer fruits and vegetables. And, although the Portland Farmers' Market is one of the largest in the United States, it is not a stand-alone eccentricity.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the growth of farmers' markets in the last 20 years has been dramatic.

Let my words, like vegetables, be tender and sweet, for tomorrow I may have to eat them.

— Anon.

farmers-markets-101

Here's What the Dictionary Says

"A farmers’ market is a seasonal gathering of booths or stands, indoors or outdoors, where foods are sold directly to consumers by farmers. Typical wares are fruits and vegetables, herbs and flowers. Some larger markets also feature home-baked breads, cured meats, preserves, and home-made pastas—one-stop shopping for your dinner."

In contrast, public markets (such as the Pike Place Market in Seattle, Washington) are housed in permanent structures and operated year-round. (Pike Place Market is worthy of an article of its own, and I'll do that soon. In the meantime, watch the video to see real "flying fish.")

How Did This All Get Started?

Was it one farmer with an over-abundance of peaches? According to historians, the Egyptians began operating open-air markets over 5,000 years ago. Today farmers’ markets are operated all over the world. Many are small, with just a handful of farmers selling their produce. The largest is the Tokyo Central Wholesale Market which stretches 54 acres and contains 1,700 vendors.

Tokyo farmers' market

Tokyo farmers' market

Why Shop at a Farmers' Market Instead of a Grocery Store?

There are so many benefits to buying at a farmers' market; I hardly know where to begin.

Benefits for the Consumer

  • The middle-man is eliminated and overhead costs are drastically reduced.
  • Goods are produced locally and vendors sell their own products.
  • Foods are fresher, seasonal, and healthier.
  • According to the USDA, 82 percent of food sold at farmers’ markets is labeled organic.
  • There is often a better variety of foods—organic produce, free-range eggs, handmade cheeses, etc.
  • The market is a good place to meet neighbors and gain new acquaintances.
  • An outdoor walk is good for you.

Benefits for the Farmer

For the farmer, the benefit is quite obvious; farmers are able to take home 90 percent of each dollar earned because:

  • Goods sold are handled less and require less refrigeration and storage.
  • Transportation costs are reduced.
  • The middleman (wholesalers, food processors, large retail grocery outlets) is not part of the chain.
  • By selling in an outdoor market, the cost of land, buildings, lighting and air-conditioning is also reduced or eliminated.
  • The farmer is in control of goods not sold and can sell excess to canneries or other food-processing firms.

Benefits for the Community

  • Farmers’ markets bring traffic (as in consumers) to other local businesses.
  • Help build a unique stamp or character to a town or community.
  • Increase social ties and a feeling of commonality and civic pride.
  • Decrease the amount of land dedicated to food storage.

How to Make Your Trip to the Market a Successful One

  • Arrive early. All goods will be at their freshest and the selection will be top-notch.
  • Bring your own reusable bags. Some vendors don’t have bags, or run out.
  • Bring cash. Easier, faster, and it reduces operating costs for the farmer.
  • Buy what you can use in a few days, but no more unless you encounter an amazing deal and plan on freezing, preserving, or canning your purchase.

How to Find Your Local Farmers' Markets

farmers-markets-101

Roasted Radishes

Ingredients

  • 1 bunch (about 1 pound) assorted small radishes
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon butter, melted
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. Wash the radishes. Cut off the root ends and the tops, leaving about 1/2 inch of the stem. Dry and then place in a shallow baking dish. Drizzle oil and melted butter on top, and then sprinkle with sea salt and a few grinds of pepper.
  3. Bake in preheated oven 10-15 minutes.
farmers-markets-101

Parmesan Zucchini Fritters

Ingredients

  • 2 cups grated zucchini, (see note below)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 tablespoons flat-leaf parsley, finely minced
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 2 tsp. olive oil

Note: When grating the zucchini for this recipe, I suggest that you remove and discard the seeds. That seedy interior part of the squash tends to be very wet.

Instructions

  1. First, prepare your zucchini—cut the stem and blossom end off of your zucchini. Slice horizontally into two halves. Scoop out the seeds with a spoon and discard the seeds.
  2. Shred the remaining zucchini—one large squash should yield about 2 cups.
  3. Place the grated zucchini in a bowl. Add the eggs, Parmesan, parsley, flour, salt, and pepper. Stir to combine
  4. Heat the oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Spoon zucchini batter into pan (about 1/4 cup for each fritter). Sauté for about 5 minutes. Carefully turn over and continue cooking over medium heat for another 5 minutes or until centers are cooked through and edges are crispy.
farmers-markets-101

Creamy Spinach Soup

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, minced
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/8 tsp. black pepper
  • 2 cups Yukon gold potatoes, diced
  • 4 cups vegetable broth
  • 6 cups fresh spinach
  • grated nutmeg, optional
  • 1/2 cup shredded Swiss cheese, optional
  • sour cream garnish, optional

Instructions

  1. Melt butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add onion, garlic, rosemary, salt, and pepper, reduce heat to medium-low and cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes.
  2. Stir in potatoes and cook, stirring occasionally, for 3 minutes. Pour in broth. Bring to a simmer over medium heat and cook until the potatoes are very soft, about 15 minutes.
  3. Stir in spinach and continue to simmer until the greens are tender, about 10 minutes more.
  4. Puree the soup with an immersion blender or regular blender (in batches), leaving it a little chunky if desired. (Use caution when pureeing hot liquids).
  5. Serve the soup garnished with nutmeg and cheese or a swirl of sour cream if desired.

© 2015 Linda Lum

Comments

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on May 17, 2019:

Mary, they're wonderful. I always buy radishes when I make potato salad because that's the way my mom made it--1 or 2 radishes very finely minced.

And then...I have radishes left over, and we don't like to simply eat them "as is." Roasting was a desperation measure, and it worked.

Thanks for your kind remarks.

Mary Wickison from Brazil on May 17, 2019:

This is something we see here in Brazil and often it can be fruit or veg not normally seen in a grocery store.

I was surprised by your first recipe, I have never had cooked radishes. Your articles are always eye openers.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on April 22, 2019:

Cynthia, thank you for reading my article and your kind words of encouragement. 'Tis the season, and I'm looking forward to it.

Cynthia Zirkwitz from Vancouver Island, Canada on April 21, 2019:

I am a big fan of the Farmer's Market. I try to grow quite a bit of our own food, but generally don't bother with larger vegetables because the farmers grow them better than I do. I also like chatting with the friendly people in the stalls and learn quite a lot about food production. Good article!

Kristen Howe from Northeast Ohio on June 15, 2015:

My pleasure, Carb Diva. A local one by me have one every Friday afternoon. But I prefer it to be moved over on the weekends. We'll see.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on June 14, 2015:

Kristen - Thank you so much. I live in the Pacific NW and we have certainly been blessed with favorable weather. I hope that climate will allow you to visit and enjoy a farmers market near you soon. Thank you for your support.

Kristen Howe from Northeast Ohio on June 14, 2015:

Great hub, Carb Diva. I plan to go to my local one this summer, depending on the weather and my weekend plans. I went to one last year with my brother, cousin and SIL. Voted up for useful!

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on June 12, 2015:

Jackie - Thank you so much! My daughter and I like to cook together, and one of our pleasures during the summer is to buy whatever looks interesting and fresh at the Farmers Market and then plan our dinner around our purchases. The Market in our town not only has produce, but there is a vendor who sells fresh pasta and another one that sells sauces and pesto.

Jackie Lynnley from the beautiful south on June 12, 2015:

Very interesting info. I love Farmer's Markets and I haven't been this year yet but should be getting to be a good time. I go wild and end up cooking, canning and freezing when I find great deals! Thanks for reminding me to be checking out the locals! Up and sharing.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on May 11, 2015:

Torrilynn - thank you for stopping by. I'm glad you enjoyed this hub. I plan to write more recipes to use from our farmers' market purchases in the near future.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on May 11, 2015:

Rachel - You and I are kindred spirits. Thank you so much for your kind words and support. Blessings to you as well.

torrilynn on May 11, 2015:

I love going to a farmer's market. every year, around summertime one pops up in the local metro center, where i stay. thanks for the hub. best of wishes.

Rachel L Alba from Every Day Cooking and Baking on May 11, 2015:

I love farmer's markets. We have them here locally in the summer and can get different kinds of fruits then in the grocery store. I love to encourage the local farmers to keep up their farms. We also love the farmer's markets in the Amish country in Lancaster PA. They are very popular there. This was a very nice hub, voted up.

Blessings to you.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on May 11, 2015:

Good morning Bill. That's just it--I don't see it as a craze, but I also acknowledge that it might not work for a large family. Just sayin' that I love being able to purchase fresh-from-the-field produce. And at the right market I might also be able to get some seafood or fresh pasta. Then I come up with a plan for dinner while I walk home. Not a bad ending to a day.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on May 11, 2015:

Very cool look at the farmer's market craze. I think we'll be seeing many more in the years to come and I love that we will. Back to basics, my friend, back to basics. Bring it on!

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on May 10, 2015:

Thank you Melissa, that is my hope as well. The local farmers' market is the place I was introduced to black kale--can't even find it at the local grocery store, and it's delicious. Thanks for your comments.

Melissa Orourke from Roatán, Islas De La Bahia, Honduras on May 10, 2015:

I enjoyed visiting a Farmer's Market in Marietta, GA last week. The variety was fantastic and my daughter bought lots of fresh veggies! Informative post, hopefully it will get people out to the markets!