“Farming looks mighty easy when your plow is a pencil and you're a thousand miles from the corn field." ~Dwight David Eisenhower
Shopping farmer's markets is a superfun way to grocery shop. You get to spend time outside sauntering from stall to stall. And you get to ask the farmers questions and buy fresh food. The people watching can be priceless as well. What more could you ask for?
It can be confusing though - how does the food at a farmer's market compare to your retail grocery store, and what should you be looking for? MindfulEats breaks it down for you below. First, how the farmer's market compares:
- It can be cheaper. There is no middle man so prices can be better. Some people think of them as a yuppie markets, but they can be budget shopping if you plan ahead and are mindful. Some markets also take EBT and food stamps, so check.
- It is usually fresher and tastes better. All the food is local (farmers driving in), so it can ripen in the field longer before being harvested. Most fresh food in grocery stores has been picked and treated to last longer, so it is usually given a chemical treatment to look ripe.
- You can learn more about the food. The farmer is right there, so go ahead and ask. And, as an added bonus, you are directly supporting the farm to table movement.
We learned a lot from Gramercy Tavern Chef Michael Anthony on his tour of Union Square Greenmarket. The farms are specific to the NY area, but the information is universal. Michael's tips:
- Think about where the farm is located. Farmers that supply NYC Greenmarket are within 200 miles of the city. That's a 400 mile range. The southernmost farms harvest produce first, while the northern farms will have produce as the season ends. Cherry Lane Farms is among the first since it is one of the southernmost NJ farms. Norwich Meadows Farms is the furthest north. Michael suggests keeping annual notes about what appears from each farm and when. I can't see myself doing that, but if someone else does, I'd like to use their notes.
- The farmers in the market represent a wide range of farming practices, so ask. We stopped at Phillips Farms to sample strawberries. They use integrated pest management to minimize the use of pesticides. Methods range from:
- Integrated pest management: farmers trap and monitor insects so they can identify reproductive and flight cycles to reduce crop damage. They use this knowlege to limit sprays.
- No spraying/pesticide-free: avoid sprays on the produce but conventional methods like synthetic fertilizer may be used.
- Organic: farmers rely on developing biological diversity in the field to create a balanced ecosystem so pests do not create a problem, and they do not use synthetic pesticides or fertilizers. Some farmers are organic don't bother with certification since the paperwork is onerous. Michael introduces us to certified organic farmers Zaid and Haifa Kurdieh at Norwich Meadow Farms and comments on the effort they spend replenishing the land. When I ask Zaid why he bothers getting certified, he says that he believes there needs to be a regulating body to make sure there are some types of standards. Good reason.
- If and how antibiotics or hormones are used
- Access animals have to roam (ability to roam is more humane and stresses animals less)
- Whether animals are grass-fed or pastured since that is the natural food of cows and sheep (grass-fed animals get only fresh pasture during the spring-fall season, and stored hay during the winter or droughts)
- If they are closed herd (cattle, sheep and goats that are bred from the same original herd to protect from disease and other genetic problems. There is no in-breeding since there is enough diversity in the herd not to overlap the gene pool).
What to do - Shop Farmer's Markets
- Find your local farmer's markets - ask people or look online.
- Bring your grocery list to the farmer's market and find out what can be purchased.
- Ask farmers about what farming practices they use. The best time to go is early in the morning when the farmer is setting up - they are more chatty when there isn't a line of customers trying to buy food. Don't ask yes or no questions like "are you organic?" If they're not certified, they'll assume that's all you care about and probably say no. As Marcel Van Ooyen, the Director of Grow NYC says, "Ask questions... sure you'll run into a surly farmer once in a while, just ignore them."
Keep in mind, there's a wide range of prices at the market, even for organically grown food.
Special thanks to Greenmarket for defining the market terms!
What I ate: Vegetable juice, 2 fried eggs + garlic + spinach + shiitake mushrooms, 3 oz. macadamia nuts, 1 banana, 1 radish, Oikos yogurt + blueberries + strawberries, coconut water, Mindful Mix, popcorn, 1/4 hamburger, waffle fries, pickle
Exercise: Ran 8.5 miles