It is harvest time. Farmer’s market signs are cropping up all over, even in the midst of the concrete jungle (Rockefeller Center), increasing foot traffic and pointing people to where they can purchase local healthy bounty. Everything from just picked produce to homemade jams and marmalades, to fresh baked ethnic breads, to cheese making classes, to spices grounded in a home kitchen, to family owned and operated vineyards are available. What a marvelous way for local artisans to display their wares; born from the desire of their hearts, grown from their soil, made by their hands.
There is something about fresh produce that makes us feel wholesome. Touching, feeling, squeezing, pinching, comparing, sniffing. Suddenly we are experts at selecting the ripest, freshest and sweetest of whatever we are considering. We assume we are getting the highest quality, less the additives and preservatives, and to a great extent we are. We are happy to encourage and support our proud local farmers, excusing, even justifying their higher prices. No one knows their product like them. They can explain the growing methods and conditions, when and how they were harvested, its nutritional value; describe the recipe handed down through the generations, and the best way to prepare it for your next meal. Such detailed and specific information about our grocery picks are rarely offered at Stop-n-Shop. Even restaurant chefs have been known to frequent farmer’s markets. I like to follow their lead.
Oftentimes, what makes these markets so alluring are the choices. How often do you see green zebra tomatoes, or rainbow colored fingerlings? The mini fruit pies made and sold by the Amish are irresistible. If you are an artisan like myself, browsing the variety at the farmer’s market is like being a kid in a candy store. “So many choices…what should I try?”
If you’re interested, some farms offer opportunities to pick your own fruit and vegetables. Much like apple-picking, lots of summer and fall produce can be harvested by you and your family. Long Island, for instance, has many farms that encourage family picking. Curious? Check out the following link: http://www.pickyourown.org/nylongisland.htm. You will find a thorough listing of farms throughout Long Island that allow customers to pick their own produce.
Spirits are making an appearance at more and more farmer’s markets. I don’t necessarily consider vintners to be farmers, but they do grow produce…grapes. They harvest the grapes, then begin the process of making wine. Many times the representative is the owner and/or operator of the label. I was offered free tastings and a tour if I committed to a visit. Many of the vineyards offer tours and tastings. It is a great way to expand your knowledge of wine and discover your favorite varietals.
As I have stated on my wine page, every state in the union produces wine. It will become more probable to now see an offering of locally produced reds and whites, not just at farmer’s markets, but at restaurants as well. The next time you dine out, ask your server if they offer local wines. Whatever the venue, chances are you will be able to sample the wines. Nothing compliments a salad with locally grown greens like a local Chardonnay.
Believe it or not, the government is involved in encouraging farmer’s market patronage. Check out Know your Farmer, Know your Food, where it touts “every family need a farmer.” Again, supporting our farmers (who are often our neighbors) can be an education.