In April, I tackled the topic of How to Shop for Good Produce. It’s something we all do everyday, and yet, there’s a bit of an art to buying and storing great produce. This week we’re tackling the large topic of How to Shop the Farmers Market. This is a daunting post for me to write. I’ve been shopping the farmers market since I moved away from home, 9 years ago, and it still makes me nervous. The market is full of the unfamiliar. I’m leaving you with a couple tips that help me navigate the market, followed by two interviews with the experts—the farmers. I hope you add your tips to the conversation too!
Tips for shopping the farmers market
1. Start with the familiar to calm your nerves.
If you’re feeling out of your element, like me, find something familiar, like a croissant, and treat yourself before or after. Farmers Markets always have the very best pastries. When we lived in Connecticut, John Barricelli, like thee John Barricelli from Everyday Food on PBS back in the day, sold his pastries at the market we frequented. We often find ourselves in front of Solomon’s Bakery stand now.
2. Set a weekly dollar amount ($20ish).
I have decision paralysis. It’s so bad I’ve left the market empty handed on a number of occasions. To combat this, I give myself a spending limit (pastries not included). These parameters empower me to shop, and shop well.
3. Find a farmer and marry them.
From Chicago to New Haven to Minneapolis, I’ve always had my farmer. In Chicago, he wore overalls, had dark brown hair, and sold the best Black Raspberry Jam in all the land. In New Haven, he wore clear blue eyes, deep wrinkles, and white hair. He gave Hal a bag of pea tendrils at 8-months-old and told her that healthy things grow. (See post here.) In Minneapolis, she wears her hair curly and her voice steady. She’s a wealth of knowledge. Her name is Pam. You can hear more from her below.
4. Don’t be afraid to ask questions.
Once you find your farmer, ask a ton of questions—everything from what is this and how do you prepare it. I played soccer growing up. People always said goalies made the best soccer coaches because they could see the entire field. I think the same is true of farmers—they make the best cooks. Andrea Bemis, a farmer who writes Dishing Up the Dirt, is one of my favorite bloggers and instagramers to follow. You should add her cookbook to your list too. Her recipes make cooking from the Farmers Market (or from a CSA box) far less intimidating. Farmers know what to do with their produce. Don’t be afraid to ask.
Other resources to check out: the Fresh Food Matters site, a comprehensive site on what’s in season now and how to buy, store, and prepare it. For Farmers’ Market Meal Plans, check out Huckle and Goose. For more recipe ideas, follow Brooklyn Supper.
5. Store your fresh produce in produce bags.
Farmers Market produce has a tendency to deteriorate quickly because of improper care. Bring produce bags to the market, and store the produce as you would if you were at the grocery store. I’ve been using these reusable bags the past couple of weeks with great luck for everything besides leafy greens. Pam elaborates more below about storing farmers market produce below.
6. Be prepared for flops.
When navigating the new, be prepared for flops and failures. It’s to be expected. Use flops as a learning experience.
Pam of Prairie Hollow Farm
Melissa: People shop the farmers market for a variety of reasons—to shop local, to buy seasonal, to meet the growers, etc. But I think they also come to buy things they can’t get at the grocery store. What are some of the more exotic, for lack of a better word, things that your grow and sell?
Pam: We offer foraged items like morels (recipe idea), fiddleheads (recipe idea), nettles (recipe idea), chickweed (what is chickweed?), wood sorrel (recipe ideas) and more. We also offer many heirloom varieties of vegetables that never show up in the grocery stores, either because they are too delicate to ship or because they are not uniform sizes and shapes.
Melissa: I can still remember the first time I went to the Farmers Market almost 9 years ago. I sheepishly bought bright pink celery stalks (rhubarb). Thank goodness for the internet and Smitten Kitchen or I might have served it raw. I had never had it before! Years later, I still feel a bit intimidated by the market. What advice would you give someone feeling the same way? What’s the most effective way to navigate the market?
Pam: Don’t be embarrassed by not knowing what something is. Vendors are usually more than willing to tell you what something is and how to use it. Think of the market as a scavenger hunt and search out the unfamiliar. Challenge yourself to try one new or unfamiliar item each week.
Melissa: Sometimes my greens wilt within a day from mismanagement. How do you recommend caring for and storing fragile produce to make it last longer?
Pam: Start by taking a cooler bag with you when you shop, especially if it is hot or windy. Greens especially need to be protected from heat and air which dehydrates them very quickly. If your greens do wilt before you get them home, soak them in cold water and then shake off the excess water and refrigerate them in a container that prevents moisture loss. You can place a paper towel in the container to absorb excess moisture. If you have purchased root vegetables with the greens attached, separate the greens from the root as soon as you get them home. Otherwise the leaves will draw moisture from the root and cause it to shrivel.
Melissa: With the rise in popularity of ramps and certain mushrooms, I’ve heard a lot of people talk about foraging. Is this something anyone can do?
Pam: I do not recommend it. Unless you really know what is what, you can easily end up picking the wrong thing. In the case of mushrooms, this can cause severe illness and even death. Also, experienced foragers know how much can be harvested without harming the future health of the plants. With the recent rise in the popularity of ramps, inexperienced foragers have harvested far too many in one location, causing them to completely disappear from areas where ramps have been found for hundreds of years.
Melissa: What’s your favorite thing to eat/cook during the spring?
Pam: Sautéed ramps, nettles and fiddleheads served over wild rice. Asparagus pizza with morels, and a white wine cream sauce. And spring dug parsnips (see my blog)!
Melissa: You can’t ask what you don’t know. What is one thing we should know about you as a grower, as a shopper at markets, etc?
Pam: If you are looking for products grown under organic or sustainable farming practices, ask the vendors how they grow their products. Not all vendors follow the same growing practices, so ask until you find a vendor who follows methods that fit your beliefs and preferences. Come to the market with your weekly shopping list and shop the market first and then fill in the rest from the grocery store or co-op. When you buy from the market, you put money directly in the hands of the farmers who grow your food!
Melissa: Where can Twin Cities locals find you?
Pam: Prairie Hollow Farm is at the Mill City Farmers Market (Minneapolis) every Saturday from May–October and at every scheduled winter Mill City market from November—April. Check our website, read our blogs at prairiehollow.com and growitandeatwell.com, or follow us on facebook.
Tony and Lindsey of Morning Scape Farm
Spring Valley, WI
Melissa: Last year you guys were living in Minneapolis. Now you’re tilling a 16-acre farm on the western edge of Wisconsin and selling at a Minneapolis Farmers Market. How did you guys get into farming?
Tony and Lindsey: When we first met, one of the things that drew us together was that we both wanted to farm, and we have been working toward having our own farm ever since. Our first home together was in Minneapolis and we are excited to be able to stay connected to the city by growing food for people there.
Melissa: Do you have a farming philosophy?
Tony and Lindsey: We want to regenerate our soil, care for our animals with respect, bring people fresh and nourishing food, and eventually make a living for ourselves doing meaningful work we love.
Melissa: What do you guys grow?
Tony and Lindsey: The main things we grow are vegetables, duck eggs, lamb, and pork.
Melissa: I had some of your radish sprouts a couple weeks ago. They were beautiful as a garnish and delicious and bright to taste (see here). Microgreens and sprouts seem to be trickling down from restaurants to home cooking. I’ve only just started to use them here and there. Can you talk more about sprouts and microgreens—what are they exactly and how do you cook with them?
Tony and Lindsey: We grow microgreens in trays of potting soil in our greenhouse. We harvest the plants when they are just a few inches tall. They are great when eaten fresh on salads and sandwiches or added to a dish at the very end.
Tony and Lindsey: Oh, I’d have to say garlic scapes (recipe idea), because it’s in our farm name. We just saw the first signs of them today, so they should be here soon.
Melissa: Where can Twin Cities locals find you?
I think this might be the longest post to date, yet it feels like we’ve only scratched the surface of this topic. Do you have tips, resources, or questions about shopping the Farmers Market? Leave a comment and add to the Fresh Food Matters conversation. Tag your food posts using #FreshFoodMatters on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.