Guest Blogger: Farmers Market Essentials
by Brenda Price
It all began in my early childhood… the grand-daughter of a farmer in rural Iowa who fell in love with an orchard under whose trees I would lie on the soft blades of fine grass and look up at the clear blue sky through its strong branches uplifted and floating leaves; a damp, gray cement cellar that smelled of rain and dirt housing shelves filled with jars of jewel-toned preserved harvest that shone when the sunlight hit them just right; a manicured garden abundant with the life of vibrant summer produce simply waiting to be chosen for dinner while ladybugs tickled my arm; a way of living that sustained a family of eight before I even arrived on this earth… this is part of what makes me who I am.
I love shopping the farmers market from April through October and I plan meals around it. Nothing tastes better than produce straight from the farm – spring asparagus or snap peas with balsamic brown butter, fresh strawberries still warm from the sun, the delicate texture and taste of a salad made from butter lettuce harvested the day before tossed with a simple homemade vinaigrette, summer tomatoes sliced and drizzled with a little olive oil and sprinkled with flakes of fleur de sel (French sea salt). I get inspired by the exquisite colors and seasonal flavors. It’s a lovely thing to do to nourish yourself and your family. It takes a little effort, but I hope you’ll find it’s worth it.
Here’s what you need to know to have the best experiences:
The best of the best produce may be gone within an hour of market opening, especially the seasons first berries, etc. If you can’t go early, go anyway. You will still find some wonderful things.
Bring cash, small bills preferably.
Most farmers do not take credit cards or have the ability to make change for large bills.
Bring your own bag or basket.
Many farmers will have a plastic bag option if you forget, but it’s better to get in the habit of bringing your own. Besides, there are some adorable options of bags and baskets out there.
Eat with the seasons.
Part of the joy of eating this way is to learn what items are grown and harvested at the best time for optimum taste. There is anticipation for the season’s firsts. Before your eyes, you will see spring harvests blossom into summer’s bounty. This chart from the University of Oklahoma may be helpful: http://www.ouhsc.edu/onie/documents/oklahomaproduceguide.pdf
Plan ahead, but allow for spontaneity.
Knowing what might be available to you will give you an idea of what to plan for your menu. A little chef’s tip here is to keep it simple. When produce is this fresh, let it shine. You don’t need to do much to it. That’s the beauty of it.
Stroll a lap of the whole market, then purchase.
This gives you a chance to see the totality of what is available and comparison shop. After a while, you may find that you develop your own list of go-to farmers.
Talk to the farmers.
Greet them, ask their names. If there’s a vegetable you’ve never tried, ask them about it. Not all farmers are certified organic, if that’s important to you, talk to them about their farming practices. If you’re trying to grow your own, they are a fabulous resource for advice. If there’s something you don’t know how to prepare, ask the farmers about their favorite ways. Most farmers would like to hear about what you enjoyed or how you prepared an item.
Take the time to learn about food storage.
Carrots need the tops cut off right away (save the tops for garnish or in soups, if desired). When you get a giant head of lettuce home, cut or tear it, wash it well two or three times in plenty of water, and dry in a salad spinner or with paper towels. Store in a container or gallon bag with a folded paper towel (this will keep your lettuce fresh for several days). Tomatoes belong on the counter with the spot that attached to the vine face down (never refrigerate). Onions and garlic need to be stored in a cool, dark place (not the refrigerator) away from potatoes. There are many helpful info graphics like this: https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/food/ten-fruits-and-vegetables-youre-storing-wrong/2014/10/21/a7d8adb6-4b44-11e4-891d-713f052086a0_story.html
But wait, there’s more…
The farmers market isn’t just for fruits and vegetables. You’ll find locally sourced milk (cow and goat), butter, yogurt, raw cheese, goat cheese, free-range eggs, grass-fed beef, minimally processed pork and poultry, real bread, homemade granola, and even pro-biotic popsicles. There are plants that thrive in Oklahoma soil and flowers to bring a little joy into your home.
Cultivate appreciation as a spiritual practice during food prep.
There’s something about washing the dirt from the earth off a head of lettuce or finding a tiny bug within while cleaning produce in preparation for eating. I find myself feeling a deep connection to God with an overwhelming sense of gratitude for the earth and the labor of those who worked hard for what I am about to eat, for the Lord who provided the sun, the rain, and the soil to make it possible, and for the nourishment provided physically and spiritually.
For the beauty of the earth, for the beauty of the skies,
For the love which from our birth over and around us lies,
Lord of all, to thee we raise this our hymn of grateful praise.
A hymn from Folliot S. Pierpoint 1835-1917
People often ask why I choose to shop the farmers market when it’s easier to get it from the grocery store and there’s more selection. For me, the reasons are many, but include:
- knowledge from where my food comes and the opportunity to support of local farmers (it’s not easy to do what they do – a great deal of science, art, and hard work goes into farming)
- a way to help the environment (to buy local, sustainable produce that doesn’t sit on a truck for a week to get here is simply an extra step of care for the earth)
- a way to nourish myself, eating seasonally is an invitation to eat a variety of fresh vegetables and fruit during their peak
- a chance to connect with community and with God in a way that is meaningful to me
A little bit of etiquette for those who are curious…
Leave the pets at home. Refrain from bargaining. Respect the produce (don’t squeeze tomatoes, etc.) – if you’re not sure if something is ripe, ask the farmer (it can be recognized by sight or scent as experience grows).
Farmers markets in the Tulsa metro area:
Cherry Street Farmers Market
15th Street, just east of Peoria
7 – 11 a.m., Saturdays
April – October
Brookside Farmers Market
41st and Peoria, Whole Foods parking lot
8 – 11 a.m., Wednesdays
May – October
Jenks Main Street Farmers Market
Second and Main
9 a.m. – 12 noon, Saturdays
opens in May
Rose District Farmers Market
First and Dallas, Broken Arrow
8 a.m. – 12 noon, Saturdays
opens in May
Owasso Farmers Market
8300 North Owasso Expressway, YMCA parking lot
8 a.m. – 12 noon, Saturdays
opens in May
Claremore Farmers Market
200 South Lynn Riggs Boulevard
7 – 11 a.m., Saturdays
opens in May
Two recipes to get you started:
Balsamic Brown Butter (for roasted or steamed vegetables)
2 tablespoons grass-fed butter
2 teaspoons low-sodium soy sauce (or tamari)
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
freshly grated lemon peel (optional)
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Toss approximately two pounds of vegetables (asparagus, green beans, brussels sprouts, and snap peas are especially good in this method) with a little olive oil or coconut oil, kosher salt, and freshly ground pepper, then spread on a baking sheet and roast in the oven for 20-30 minutes, until browned to your liking. In a saute pan over medium-high heat, heat butter until browned (it will smell nutty, watch carefully so as not to burn). When brown, whisk in soy sauce, balsamic vinegar, and lemon peel, stir and toss with vegetables. Serve immediately.
Honey Garlic Vinaigrette (for the best salad, any salad)
1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
3 tablespoons local honey
2 cloves garlic, smashed into a paste with sea salt using the side of a chef’s knife
1 cup olive oil (or any oil)
Mix the first three ingredients together, then drizzle in olive oil while consistently whisking (or shake in a mason jar). Allow flavors to meld for an hour or so before using.
I hope you’ll give your local farmers market a try. If you find this is a lifestyle for you when you’re ready for the next level, consider a CSA (consumer supported agriculture).
Brenda Price is a Speech Language Pathologist who works in the public school setting in Tulsa and the University setting as a clinical supervisor/adjunct professor at OSU-Tulsa. She is a thoughtful friend who loves music, books, children, theology, and traveling. Brenda is also a phenomenal cook and is my go-to person when I need kitchen tips and new recipes.