Navigating the Farmer’s Market

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Shopping at the farmer’s market makes for a great weekend activity, strolling through the stalls of fresh produce, sampling locally made products, smelling the aromas of flowers and honey and that freshly made artisanal grilled cheese sandwich, chatting with farmers and neighbors and community members… it’s a complete five-senses experience! Buying items at the farmer’s market is not only a great way to support local farmers and entrepreneurs, it’s also an excellent way to incorporate healthier choices into your diet.

Most farmer’s markets have stalls dedicated to a few categories, similar to a grocery store: produce, meat, dairy, bakery, canned or packaged foods like salsa, jams, honey, hot sauces, and prepared foods to eat on the spot like sandwiches, tacos, breakfast items, juices or smoothies. Some markets may also sell flowers, herbs, and handmade items like soaps, lotions or crafts. Raw, local honey is a real treat, and although it is one of the pricier items at the market, it is a wonderful natural sweetener that is filled with phytonutrients that provide antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits (Healthline).  This is an item worth splurging on!

When shopping for produce, note that most markets will only stock seasonal items, which means fruits and veggies will be at the peak of freshness and flavor– think juicy strawberries and tomatoes in the summer, and sweet squash and cauliflower as the temperatures get cooler. If you’re not sure what’s in season, don’t be afraid to ask the farmers. A good sign is also any fruit or veggies that are in abundance, e.g. lots and lots of cartons of bright red strawberries, heaping piles of potatoes, bundles of asparagus, etc. Look for produce that is well-formed, skin intact, with minimal bruising or dents, and definitely no rotting spots. Leafy greens should be perky, not wilted, with no holes. Don’t be too concerned with dirt when buying your produce, but make sure to thoroughly rinse your produce and check for any small critters before storing. Produce from these local vendors is usually straight from the farm to the market and is often organic. This means they may not have used any chemical pesticides or herbicides (a good thing!) so produce won’t be as well scrubbed as the packaged or imported varieties in the grocery store.

Meat and dairy items are also often organic, pasture-raised and hormone-free, but it’s always best to ask the farmers if the signs are unclear. Eggs may have a brighter, more orange colored yolk than the supermarket variety; this yolk color is only an indicator of the hen’s diet. Typically, free-range hens have access to more plant-based food with higher carotene-content, so they may produce eggs with darker yolk. There is no real difference in flavor, nor nutritional content, of the yolks, however. (Food and Nutrition Magazine).

You may also be able to find different types of meat than what is typically offered in the grocery store. Cheaper cuts, like pork shoulder or beef brisket, are a great bang-for-your-buck if cooked long and slow in a slow cooker with a flavorful spice rub and some beef broth or stock. Shanks (either beef, lamb or even goat!) make a great alternative to the pricier short ribs option and can be braised or slow-cooked in a delicious stew with potatoes, squash, onions and carrots. Shanks contain exposed bone marrow, which adds a deep, rich flavor to the dish as well.

When in doubt, don’t be afraid to ask questions! Farmers and vendors love to talk about their work and are often very knowledgeable about cooking methods and recipe ideas, too. Knowing not just where your food comes from, but also who it comes from, is a great way to feel more appreciative and excited about the sustenance you’re giving your body. Shopping at the market is also a fun way to build connections with your community, support local businesses and reduce our environmental footprint.

-Emily Koches, Nutrition Coach and Fitness Instructor

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