Farmers market shopping has completely changed my relationship with food: where I shop, what I buy, what I cook, even my habits when dining out. All of those changes are for the better. If there are farmers markets in your area, here are some of the benefits of shopping those markets.
Not All Markets are Equal
But first, let’s define what I mean by farmers market. The market we frequent consists solely of vendors located within a 150 mile radius of San Antonio. Everything sold there was grown or produced within that area. Truly local food producers.
There are other markets that have no rules. Thus, you don’t really know the source of what you buy. Vendors could obtain their produce from Produce Row – meaning you don’t know where it’s from, how long ago it was harvested, or how far it has traveled. It becomes no different than buying from the grocery store.
Why does this matter? At the market we frequent, the food offered for sale is seasonal and local. The produce for sale is fresh, really fresh: often harvested the day before the market. You can taste the difference!Farmers Market Shopping: Know Your Farmers! Click To Tweet
The best part? You get to know the people that produce your food.
My Farmers Market Shopping Experience
We first started shopping at the Pearl Farmers Market in 2010, soon after it opened. At first, we bought eggs and grass-fed beef and pasture-raised chicken. And the vegetables I already knew how to cook. Which, honestly, was not that many.
Up to that time, most of the vegetables I cooked came out of a package in the freezer. Over time, I got curious and learned how to cook other vegetables. Today, nearly all of our vegetables come from the farmers market.
It wasn’t long after we started shopping the market that our shopping habits changed drastically. The first or second Thanksgiving after we started shopping at the Pearl, I decided to let the produce available at the market determine what we would have with our turkey. Today, for the most part, the farmers market is our first stop of our weekly shopping trip.
The Freshest of Vegetables
The vegetables from the farmers market are incredibly delicious and seasonal. We have gotten to know the farmers we like to buy from. We have a few that we particularly like to support, Hartman Farm and Braune Farms. We’ve also become familiar with the seasonal vegetables and when they will be available.
I was truly blown away the first time we had eggs from the farmers market. Their shells are shades of brown and much thicker than your typical store-bought egg. The yolks are a deeper color. Overall, they taste so much better than what we used to eat. We’ve gotten to know Lori Hartman who raises the chickens that supply our eggs. We know those chickens are loved and cared for. They live in their natural environment and are fed their natural diet.
Over the years, there have been a few times we couldn’t get Lori’s eggs. My first thought is always to panic. How will we survive? I have to remind myself that there are other places to buy eggs, though they’re never quite the same.
We are huge fans of grass-fed beef and buy much of ours from Koch Ranches. There are many benefits to eating grass-fed beef instead of conventionally raised beef. In 2011, a local rancher gave a talk on the benefits of grass-fed beef. The number one benefit is the fact that grass-fed cows are consuming the diet they were meant to consume and that makes all the difference.
Farmers Markets Vary
We are blessed to live in South Texas, where farmers can grow crops year-round. Many parts of the country have their markets for only part of the year.
Last fall, we traveled to North Carolina. We stayed in Elizabethtown and found ourselves downtown on Saturday. For the record, Elizabethtown is small, with a population of about 3,500. They have a farmers market that is open on Saturdays, although I don’t believe it is year-round. We decided to visit the market, just to see what it was like. There were only three or four vendors there, and two of them were selling crafts. I chatted briefly with one of the produce vendors, remarking on the fact that the vegetables they had were similar to ours in South Texas.
Every market is different. If there are markets in your area, research them to find out how they work, what vendors they include, and which ones they exclude.
Is there a farmers market near you? Have you visited it? Tell us about your farmers market shopping experience in the comments.