Do you dread the run to the grocery store? Especially on weekends, do you find that buying food at a chain supermarket (if you’re lucky enough to have one near you) is akin to slow torture? If you are able to give up reading People or Us magazine while you wait on an incredibly long line to buy food mostly wrapped tightly in plastic, then come with me to the farmers’ market.
There are farmers’ markets springing up all over. If you don’t believe me, try this US Department of Agriculture site that lets you search for farmers’ markets by zip code. The site came up with 23 farmers markets within 5 miles of my Washington DC zip code and 49 within 10 miles! Fabulous, but what about sparsely populated areas? Legitimate question. I went to a zip-code-by-state directly, randomly picked a town of 700 in West Virginia (Bramwell, in Mercer County) and using the USDA directory found 2 farmers markets within 20 miles of Bramwell. While there may not be a farmers’ market near every town, there sure are a lot of them in every state.
Another great resource for finding farmers’ markets is a directory from Local Harvest, a site that promotes the Buy Local movement. It provides reviews of markets too and allows you to search for other means of getting locally grown food, directly from nearby farms and from CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture) – producers who provide food by subscription.
If you live in Puerto Rico, Brazil or elsewhere, I bet you can find farmers’ markets too. I don’t know of directories to farmers markets outside the 50 states and DC, so if you have directories for other areas, post them in the comments section of this blog post.
If you think farmers’ markets are only for rich and trendy food snobs, think again. A new study – and my personal experience – is that farmers’ markets have competitive prices on many conventionally grown items and that they are almost always cheaper than grocery stores for organically grown items. (While we’re on the subject, check out Barry Estabrook’s article on the study.) You just have to shop smart – buy in season, comparison shop, and know what you’re buying – but then, you had to do that anyway, no matter where you go to buy food. Plus, a number of the markets listed in directories accept vouchers from WIC and senior food programs.
My preference is to develop relationships with just a few stands, and to patronize them regularly. This is the second year that I’ve shopped at the University of the District of Columbia Farmer’s Market at Van Ness and Connecticut Avenues in NW Washington DC.
On most days, the front of the UDC campus is just a bricked-over plaza on a major thoroughfare – not very welcoming and certainly not a place you would hang out. But come Saturday morning from June through fall, it is transformed into a delightful, bustling corner that looks and feels friendly. The farm stands set up covers for shade, bring out great produce and other food, and a diverse group of shoppers appears.
My favorite stand at the UDC Farmers’ Market is the one set up by Hickory Lane Farms.
The farmer/proprietor, Anthony Leese, comes from an area of Pennsylvania not too far from DC, bringing whatever he has picked that week, some produce from other farmers with whom he has relationships to add variety to his own fruits and vegetables, as well as eggs, home-made pickles, salsa, spreads and jams. He carries a mix of organic and conventionally grown produce. Anthony takes the time to answer any questions shoppers ask and lets us know what we can expect in the next couple of weeks, as various items come into season throughout the summer.
I’ve gotten to the point that I no longer linger over coffee on Saturday mornings once the farmers market opens. Starting in mid-June, I grab my travel mug and head over to there before all the good stuff gets snapped up. And besides, there is no better way to start a weekend, than with a bag overflowing with fresh vegetables, sweet-smelling fruit, and maybe a jar of something intriguing I’ve never tasted before, filled up while chatting with Anthony and my fellow farmers market shoppers.