By Sara Barry
1. DISCOVER NEW FOODS. You’ll find plenty of green beans and lettuce and tomatoes at most markets (in season, of course), but you’ll also find items you may not have enjoyed yet. Have you ever had celeriac or husk cherries? You might just find them at your farmers market. Don’t get intimidated by unusual vegetables. Ask questions: What is that? What does it taste like? How would you cook it? Choose something new to take home.
2. SEEK OUT A RAINBOW. We know that eating a variety of different color vegetables and fruits is good for our health. See if you can find and buy a full rainbow. This may be easier in some seasons than in others, but by looking around you will discover foods in colors you never expected: black radishes, green tomatoes, purple carrots, blue potatoes … If you don’t try a new food, try a familiar food in a new color.
3. GET GROWING. If you want to grow your own garden, farmers markets often have seedlings to get started. Ask vendors for advice on planting and growing the plants you are choosing.
4. NOTICE WHAT’S IN SEASON. With food shipped all over the country, we get used to having every kind of food available to us at any time. When we buy foods in season we are more closely connected to local changes. And when we have to wait for a food, we appreciate it more. As an added benefit, you may find varieties bred for taste rather than sturdiness for shipping.
5. CONNECT! Some people catch up with friends and neighbors at their weekly farmers market. Parents chat, while kids run around together. Families make plans for dinner with the ingredients in hands. You can also connect with the vendors and learn about their farming or production practices.
6. HAVE A SCAVENGER HUNT. Give your kids a list of things to look for while you shop. Think a red fruit, a green vegetable, the biggest vegetable, the smallest one, a fungus, an animal product. Remind them to be aware of other shoppers and to point out items rather than grab them, unless you plan to buy all the items on your list.
7. LISTEN, DANCE, DO. Some farmers markets offer more than shopping. You may find anything from live music and dancing to activities for kids, like stories, crafts, or visiting animals. Also look out for food swaps, workshops and demonstrations.
8. WHICH PART OF THE PLANT? The fruits and vegetables we eat make up many different plant parts. For example, we eat the seeds of peas, the roots of carrots, the leaves of lettuce, the stem of celery, the flowers of broccoli, and the fruit (along with the seeds they contain) of cucumber. See how many different parts of plants you can find for sale. How many different plant parts do you like to eat?
9. HAVE A SNACK. With the variety of food around, you are likely to get hungry. You can chomp on the carrots or nibble lettuce you buy—or you may find other tempting delicacies. Many markets feature bakeries and prepared food vendors too. I’ve sampled bread, flavored oils and vinegars, hummus, jerky, cheese, kimchi, pickles … and seen sandwiches, soup, gelato and other snacks ready to enjoy on the spot.
10. MAKE A MEAL. Going to the farmers market with a list of specific ingredients can be an exercise in frustration. Maybe the peaches aren’t ripe yet or they sold out of spinach. Instead, try going with a looser list: salad, fruit. Go with the intention of creating a meal. Start with whatever catches your eye and riff on that. See how many items for your meal you can get from the farmers market and supplement at home. Two ways to use almost anything you find: make pizza and top it with market veggies or use veggies and eggs and cheese from the market to make an omelet.
Each market is different with different vendors and different feels. Some are like a festival. Others are more straightforward. There may be a handful of vendors or hundreds. You may find only farm raised foods or prepared foods, handcrafted items, and other goods.
Find a farmers market that is convenient in location and time and make a family date to check it out. And then go back. Some of the magic is in revisiting. As you get to know the people and learn more about cycles of food and new ideas, the farmers market becomes more than just a place to grab something for dinner. It’s a connection to local food and community. Join in!
Sara Barry is a writer, gardener, and lover of seasonal foods. She loves the farmers market to help get her garden started, fill in the gaps of things she doesn’t grow, bring her fresh produce in the dead of winter, and introduce her kids to veggies they might not try otherwise.