Thursday, May 27, 2010

Come with Me to the Farmer's Market!

Today I took you with me on my weekly trip to Tulsa's Brookside Farmer's Market. Shopping at farmers markets is a wonderful way to up your eco-green factor by eating locally. It's a real benefit to know where your food comes from and when you shop your local farmer's markets your grower is generally tending their booth, enabling you to ask any question you might have. Before making a trip to your local market, research what kinds of produce might be available seasonally in your area and do a bit of menu planning in advance. Having a bit of game plan can make your shopping experience more fun and make your food prep come alive!

Here are some helpful tips to make your Farmers Market experience the best it can be:

Do Some Meal Planning Ahead of Time
Once you've researched what seasonal produce you're likely to find at the farmers market, you can really map out a bit of meal planning and shop accordingly. For example, if local strawberries have just come into season and you can't get enough, you know you'll want to make Strawberry Lemonade or put together a Strawberry Fields Salad. If you have planned ahead, you'll know just how many pints of berries to buy and that you'll also need some fresh mint, basil and mixed spring greens to make those recipes happen.

Bring Your Market Shopping Bags & Plenty of Small Change
Some farmers market vendors offer bags, but they are usually the thin plastic ones that are not eco-friendly nor do they hold up under the pressure of any substantial produce purchase. Try to stay prepared by keeping sturdy canvas or nylon bags in the trunk of your car. If you live close enough to bike or walk to your local market, a basket, bike rack or backpack can make the hauling easier, especially if you plan to pick up more weighty items.

Although most vendors or market managers come ready to make change, your purchases will go more smoothly if you have small bills and change. Your farmers will really appreciate you.

Go Early or Shop Late
When looking for the very best selection, you will need to plan to be at the market when the opening bell rings. The very best items always go first. Depending on the growing season, there may be limited or unique items, like berries or fava beans that are guaranteed to sell quickly. Now if you are a "deal shopper," go to the farmers market towards the end. Farmers and other vendors would usually prefer to discount what they have left than to load perishables back into their truck, schlepping them back to their homes, restaurant or farms.

Be Spontaneous
As we've already said, your best trip to the market may be the one that is more well mapped out and planned. However, some of my best experiences have been when I went with a "hang loose" frame of mind, just looking for the best and most vibrant deals of the day. If you leave a bit of wiggle room, you could be delighted to find unexpected treasures like wild blueberries or an abundance of squash blossoms. Even if you're not quite sure what to do with these items, it is so easy to come home and find amazing recipes on the internet or in books on how to incorporate these foods into your meal plan.

Buy in Bulk
If you are open to the idea, some of the best deals at farmers market happen when you buy in bulk. You can experience the best flavors and the best prices when you buy in quantity of whatever is at peak harvest. This is the perfect opportunity to try new recipes with favorite fruits or vegetables. It also a time to get back in touch with the homesteader inside of you, trying your hand at the lost art of preserving food. Freezing, dehydrating and even canning are just some of the ways you can learn to savor the seasonal tastes you've found at the farmers market for months to come.

Get Expert Advise
When you find an unfamiliar fruit tor vegetable at the farmers market and want to give it a try, simply ask the farmer how to prepare it. These salt of the earth folks are usually quite adept at offering the best food prep tips. Besides specifically asking how they like to eat the item in question, many farmers provide weekly newsletters which contain a few recipes for what is currently in season.

Keep It Simple
Produce from farmers markets is about the freshest you'll ever find, unless you grow it yourself. So I encourage you to let the produce stand on its own, being careful not to over processor cook what you find. Keeping your preparations simple will provide the optimum nutrition and it will make things easier for you. There is nothing like enjoying the taste of fresh food in its most natural state market next week.

To visit any of the vendors you saw featured in today's video:

Tomorrow I'll be back with part 2 - Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food
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