local growers

Posted: June 17, 2012
By: Clay Cerny

[“Sabbath” is this blog’s Sunday feature on life beyond the workplace.]

Good New and Bad from the Farmer’s Market

This is one of my favorite times of the year.  It’s warm, sunny.  Fresh fruits and vegetables are back on the shelves and the prices are good.  In my neighborhood, we have two weekly farmer’s markets, which have increased options for healthy eating and exposure to local farms.

Employees in the produce section of most grocery stores know very little about the products they are handling.  They know where to put the carrots, potatoes, apples, and strawberries.  They are stocking products just as they would cereal or soup.  Shopping at a farmer’s market is very different.  Most vendors will talk your ear off because they are proud of the produce they have grown.  I’ve learned important lessons about how food is grown, how to store it, and often even how to cook it.

Last year one farmer schooled me on peaches.  I told him that his peaches were both sweeter and firmer than those offered by another farm.  Both are from the same section Michigan, so I asked what was different.  He boiled it down to one word: soil.  The other farmer’s orchard was a sandier type of soil, which affected the fruit.  Don’t get me wrong.  Both farms grew good peaches, but the quality was different.

Markets also expose us to different varieties.  Today one farmer had 5 types of beet and 4 different kinds of onions.  He also had two different kind of strawberries.  When I asked how they were different, he told me to look at them.  One version was smaller, the other broad, but not as broad as the cardboard variety found in supermarkets.  He told me the small ones were a little more bitter and often use for pies or jam.  The broad ones are sweeter and better for my purpose – snacking.

The good news is markets are back, and I’m able to explore new ways to cook food like kales and beet greens.  That’s the good news.  The bad news is coming in the fall.  My favorite apple vendor is the same person who gave me today’s lesson in strawberries.  When I told him that I look forward to Fall for his selection of apples, he said it would not be so good this year.  A major frost has hit fruit trees throughout the Midwest into the South.  That means apples will be less available in the Fall and their prices will increase, which does not make this apple eater happy.

As bad news goes, high-priced, low availability apples is more of a nuisance, not a tragedy.  Because of the farmer I talked to today, I will be prepared and enjoy cheap apples now, knowing what is to come.  Part of what I’ve learned from farmer’s market is to enjoy what is seasonal, which is the way people lived for hundreds of years.  In some ways, it’s not a bad thing to remember how our grandparents lived and follow their example.  Yes, it does cost a little more for market produce, but it tastes better.  And I get to know the people who grow the food.  That’s pretty cool.