August 7-13th celebrates National Farmers Market Week. These community markets have been growing across the country in recent years in record numbers. According to the USDA, as of mid-2010, there were 6,132 farmers markets operating throughout the U.S., up 16 percent from 2009. Want to get in on the celebration? Here are some ideas for first-timers and dedicated regulars.
1. Visit a new market: Most cities have at least one farmers market, but they may also have dozens (or hundreds if you live in Los Angeles). Whether you're visiting one for the first time or trying a new location, you'll no doubt stumble on something yummy.
2. Try something new: Sure, the staples are a must, but embracing new foods is a lot of fun, and they're abundant at farmers' markets. Try a dragon fruit, a kohlrabi, trumpet mushrooms or lamb's quarters and see if you find a new favorite.
3. Bring a friend: The community 'vibe' at farmers' markets is much more, well, 'vibey' than a supermarket. There are often musicians, crafts and prepared foods you can enjoy while shopping. It's a great place to connect with old friends, or make brand new ones.
4. Got a farmers market backpack?: We love this cleverly designed backpack from the folks at Betabrand, especially if you bike to your local market. The bag features zippered compartments that function as shelves to protect fruits and vegetables from bruising, and can also be opened to accommodate long baguettes or fresh flowers. There is even an easy-to-reach money purse within its big mouth, so you can pay and pack as you go! Nice.
5. Get to know a farmer: They're there, selling you the food they picked that morning, so asking them about their farm and their food can be a really rewarding experience.They might even share some cooking secrets about their delicious eats!
6. Make a meal entirely from farmers market food: It's a great habit to start looking at these foods as meals in their own right, rather than as snacks or sides. Think complete meals when you shop, and try making at least one meal a day entirely from your farmers market!
7. Embrace local: Grapes from Chile and bananas from Ecuador may taste good, but the impact of importing them is devastating to the environment, and they lose nutritional value as the days in transport and sitting in the market drag on. So if you don't see tomatoes at the farmers market in December, maybe instead of running to the grocery store to get them, you opt for something seasonal.
Keep in touch with Jill on Twitter @jillettinger
Photo: Jill Ettinger