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Farmers' Markets 101

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:

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  • 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

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