Most of us are more accustomed to hurrying through brightly lit grocery store aisles wheeling metal carts around unblemished produce and choosing from animal parts that are perfectly sliced, separated, and glossed over with the clean, aseptic sheen of plastic. With that in mind, the agrarian farmers market can be a bit intimidating for the uninitiated.
Lets face it, grocery shopping is a chore. I am usually on a mission; I get in and out as quickly as possible, and if there isn’t a long line or some type of issue at the checkout then I feel like I got something accomplished. The farmers market, rustic and picturesque, is definitely not a race to the checkout line, and this is why I love West Reading on a Sunday. Take time to stroll and get to know the vendors. If you go to a farmers market in a hurry, you’re not only going to stress yourself out, you’re going to stress out everyone around you, shoppers and vendors alike.
Farmers and artisans are not cashiers, they are the hardworking people that sow and grow the real food that nourishes your soul. Take the time to appreciate what they do for you and your family, linger and don’t be afraid to ask questions. The produce isn’t supposed to look perfect, because it’s real food, it hasn’t been genetically modified, and the ground hasn’t been treated or sprayed with toxins. These people, quite literally, grew, milled, baked, brewed, fermented, pickled, gathered and harvested everything themselves. Since Berks area farm stands and markets should still be going strong into late October, here are a few tips and tricks to help you understand farmers market etiquette.
If you want to learn more about something but aren’t quite sure how to ask, use open-ended questions such as “How should I prepare this?” or “What does it pair well with?” They know exactly what kind of wine will pair perfectly with those roasted garlic scapes. If they look busy and you still have questions, ask if they have a website or how you can get in touch with them after market day. It shows that you’re being sensitive to their time and that you’re genuinely interested in what they do.
Some vendors offer samples. Others don’t. Typically vendors who offer samples need a food handling permit from the Department of Health and are subject to on-the-spot inspections. If you don’t see a plate of sample-size food, it doesn’t mean the farmer doesn’t want you to try their product; it’s okay to ask if you can buy a small sample to taste it. For those vendors who do offer samples, make sure your child doesn’t park herself in front of the snack table, the market isn’t a free for all; one sample per person is appropriate. As you taste, make conversation with the vendor and show interest in what he or she has worked hard to produce.
Just like us, dogs like samples too and tend to scarf down anything within their mouth’s reach. Pets also love marking new territories. In case it’s not obvious, vendors don’t appreciate either of those things, and neither do mothers of small children. Keep your pooch on a tight leash.
Return policies vary according to individual vendors, but if you suddenly realize your purchase is damaged or defective, the vendor will typically swap it out one for another at no cost to you. Just be conscious that if you buy a plant and you don’t have a green thumb, that isn’t their fault.
Small town vendors appreciate a cash transaction with small bills and exact change. Save your $100s and your credit cards for the big-box stores.
Farmer’s set their prices with a lot of thought and consideration. Know that most farmers aren’t getting rich, they are just trying to make an honest living.
Organically grown food has a reputation for being more expensive, and that is because there is an increased cost associated with maintaining the organic certification; it takes a lot of effort and attention to detail. Organic is a word which refers to biodynamic farming methods and means that fresh produce (anything grown in the ground or from a tree) is not sprayed with any chemicals or pesticides. Each year, the Enviornmental Working Group (ewg.org) puts out a list which outlines the ‘Dirty Dozen’ and the ‘Clean 15.’ Dirty Dozen refers to the most heavily sprayed produce, and Clean 15 refers to the least sprayed. If you don’t like paying the organic premium, go to the big-box discount grocer. To read more about the benefits of consuming organic produce and produce that has not been genetically modified, visit my website at asilentcure.org and type in keyword “organic produce”.
This recipe is courtesy of Maria Sweigert of Wyomissing. I had the pleasure of attending a dinner party at her house where she served this delightfully pungent arugula salad. It’s the perfect balance of peppery arugula and shaved fennel to bring a light meal together on those long summer nights. Bon Appetit!
1 bunch of arugula
1 bulb of fresh fennel (shave into ribbons with a vegetable peeler or mandolin)
2 lemons (organic)
1 Tbsp. first-pressed, extra virgin olive oil
Half or quarter one of the lemons, depending on size, then use the slicing blade on a food processor or a mandolin to shave slices. Don’t forget to use organic lemons since you are consuming the rind. Juice the other lemon and add the sliced fennel to the juice to prevent oxidation. Refrigerate the fennel and lemon until ready to serve. When ready to serve, fold arugula into the lemon and fennel, and sprinkle with olive oil and salt.