In Asheville, we’re blessed to have an abundance of farmers markets, and I feel particularly lucky to be the director of the weekly market in our neighborhood. [Fun fact: before I had the job, Kate ran the market, and before that, Natalie had the gig. It’s only sort of a joke that running the market is a prerequisite for getting hired at Villagers.]
Farmers markets are such a special way to connect with your local community and each of the four seasons as they pass. With supermarkets, we have everything available to us at all times, but nature has always had her own distinct plan. Eating in accordance with the seasons--like all other animals on earth--is one of the healthiest things we, as humans, can do for ourselves and the planet, at large.
>> In the Spring we find lots of bitter greens and roots which flush toxins from the liver and help jump-start digestion after a long winter of eating heavy, fatty foods.
>> In the Summer fruit and berries are abundant which are filled with antioxidants to protect us from the sun, and a combination of water and sugar that give us the hydration and energy to be productive during long, sunny days.
>> In the Fall we find lots of roots as we, too, root back down into our routines, kids go back to school, and we tend to get more grounded and focused in our lives.
>> In the Winter not much is growing. Instead, our diets are traditionally filled with dense, starchy, and fatty foods that can survive in storage and give us the sustenance to stay warm and focus on tasks at home.
Most obviously you’ll want these for cutting down on waste, but they are also necessary for ease and comfort while walking around. Maximum space and minimal shoulder pain make for the best market shopping experience. These string Eco Bags are wonderful for holding all sorts of oddly shaped items, and these produce bags are great for organizing more delicate greens and herbs before you even get home.
When you arrive, get your bearings (and your exercise) by walking around the market to see what is available before you start loading up on purchases. You might spot a new vendor or a new item and it will give you extra time to process whose kale, flower bouquets, or heirloom tomatoes look best that week.
When you get home there are a few things you can do to make your produce last longer. If you’ve bought roots with their greens still attached, cut off the greens and store them separately. Keeping them connected will make the roots go limp more quickly. The greens of beets, turnips, carrots, and radishes are delicious, so consider those purchases a two-for-one.
For your salad greens and sprouts, store them in a bag with a small damp rag or paper towel. The humidity will keep them crisp for much longer. If they do end up wilting, soak them in cold water to bring them back to life.
You can preserve the best of the season by fermenting, pickling or canning your produce to make it last through the year. I recommend the book The Art of Fermentation if you want to go that route, and Food in Jars for information on canning and pickling. We also have a class coming up next month where you can learn about Canning the Harvest in person.
A lot of local farmers follow organic standards but don’t get organic certification, because it can be a cumbersome and expensive task. Every farmer should be proud to tell you their practices and you should feel empowered to ask. If you have any confusion, you can always ask the market staff. At my market, we keep a binder with detailed growing information from each vendor which is available for customers to see at any time. Some questions you can ask to get the conversation going include:
This is less of a tip and more of a recommendation. On the simplest level, it’s good to try new things. Research shows that learning new things and having new experiences are directly related to happiness. A peculiarly shaped squash or oddly name leafy green just might push you to try a new recipe, after all, and no one likes eating the same boring things all the time.
Variety is also important on a larger scale. When you go into a grocery store you tend to only see a couple varieties of carrots or spinach, when in reality there are hundreds of varieties of carrots and spinach, etc. in the world. If farmers aren’t growing lesser-known varieties, and people aren’t buying them, they go away forever. Having the diversity in our fields keeps the soil healthier, the which keeps the plants healthier, which in turn, keeps us healthier.
Your local farmers market can be a great touchstone within your community. Most are designed to be a place to connect with neighbors and other local businesses. They are a place to see familiar faces and build relationships with people who have devoted their lives to the land instead of their iThings, like a lot of us. It’s a special thing to know the people who grow your food, it’s something that nourishes the body and, more importantly, the soul.