Ahh…spring, when a young lady’s fancy turns to thoughts of…Farmers’ Markets! Yes, the Markets are open again and I find it amazing the number of people who have never visited one.
So, maybe a little primer to help encourage you to explore one of these wonderful places. The photos have been provided by Kevin Stallings and were taken at the Madison City Farmer’s Market, Madison, AL.
Let’s start with some definitions:
Organic—a farming method that avoids the use of pesticides, herbicides, or man-made fertilizers, any of which may leave a residue on the food. Many farmers employ organic growing techniques but, to avoid raising the costs of their products, do not become certified.
Conventional—methods that employ pesticides, herbicides, or man-made fertilizers resulting in higher yields and potentially lower cost. The advantage over conventional store produce is that it is picked at the peak of freshness, taste, and nutrition and brought right to you.
Raw (Straight out of the cow) Milk—has been neither pasteurized (heated to kill harmful microorganisms) nor homogenized (the cream floats to the top and will need to be shaken for best flavor). In Alabama, the sale of raw milk is legal for farmers with a commercial feed license only for pet consumption.
Unlicensed Kitchen—any kitchen (e.g., one located in a home) that has not been inspected or licensed by any agency.
Genetically Modified Organism (GMO)—when the DNA of the organism has been artificially changed.
Grass-finished Meat—results from livestock fed exclusively grass during the last few weeks or months prior to being processed.
Grain-finished Meat—results from livestock fed grains during the last 90-160 days prior to being processed. Resulting in more marbling of the meat, many feel this enhances the flavor and tenderness but may also be less healthy.
Pasture-raised Livestock—livestock that lives in pastures, or may even forage in woodlands, but have access to shelter. Their diet may be supplemented with grain.
So, now that you know some of the lingo, how do you approach shopping? First, you need to understand that this is not the grocery store chore. Think of it as an outing. At our local Market in Madison, AL, you can stroll through the Market or have a seat and listen to the local musicians play while sipping coffee or tea sold by a local vendor. Well behaved, leashed pets are welcome. When they are not busy, chat with the vendors about new products, farming methods, food storage, produce selection, or recipes. They love to share their knowledge and will get to know you by name and tastes.
Civility, which seems to be generally in decline, is delightfully present at the Market. Patrons patiently wait for the Market to open and quickly leave at closing. Lines magically form as each person waits to purchase especially popular or scarce items. If someone appears to be contemplating a purchase, it would be very poor form to grab the item without asking. Occasionally, I have selected the last of an item only to find someone behind me came early to purchase that very thing. Handing it over to another just seemed the right thing to do, and yes, this gesture has been reciprocated!
While it is not an uncommon practice to purchase from wholesalers and resell at low cost roadside stands, this is not allowable at most farmers’ markets. Many of today’s local farmers who share their crops at the Market not only farm organically (producing less quantity) and harvest (sometimes by hand) but also transport (requiring time away from the fields) their wares. In my opinion, this produces a better quality product brought to us in a timely way, and prices have to reflect costs of running the business. Vendors are not used car salesman and do not price their wares expecting to haggle. Happily, you may find they offer a discount for bulk or throw in a new product for you to try. But, if price if an issue, walk around and take a peek at what other vendors have to offer.
If samples are not available and you really want to try something, don’t grab…ask! Many times it will be provided. Produce is gently handled and never squeezed which may cause bruising preventing a future sale. Instead politely sniff for an enticing aroma, and examine with the eyes for size and spoilage. At the Market, food is usually picked ripe because it is brought to sell within hours, unlike the supermarket offerings which are picked to ripen along the journey across the country or around the world.
While some vendors have credit card processing capacity, start by bringing smaller bills until you get to know the ins and outs of who’s selling how. This will also allow you to move quickly through the Market without having to wait for change. Best variety is at opening with limited items going fast. Regulars know this and will head to these vendors first.
So next Market day, slap on the sunscreen and your wide-brim hat, pick up those reusable shopping bags, and head out to your local Market. I will see you there!
Want a bit more information? Join Dr. McCleskey for Shop-with-a-Doc Farmers’ Market edition at the Madison Farmers’ Market, 1088 Hughes Road 7:45 am May 26, 2018. RSVP 256-280-3990. We will meet at the east end of the Market.