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10 Reasons to Love Farmer’s Markets

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I’m a sucker for farmer’s markets. I find them a 100% reliable source of fun and inspiration. There’s the atmosphere, for starters, which buzzes with the same energy that local market days undoubtedly have for centuries. And there’s also the sense of occasion.

My favorite local market, at the Evergreen Brickworks in Toronto, is only on Saturday mornings, which makes it much more of an event than popping into my local grocery store, which is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Our conviction that every visit will be fun means that we’re dedicated to getting up early, fortifying ourselves with some strong coffee, and getting down to the market to beat the rush. The last time that I was there, wrangling my two over-excited children by myself because my husband was out of town, I took a moment to note down some of the things that make farmer’s markets so darn fun.

1. Good smells. As I walk through the market, I can smell big, bold bunches of basil, fried onions from a vegetarian hotdog stand, wildflower bouquets, handmade soaps and just picked peaches. So different from the grocery store, where I smell…nothing.

2. Eccentric hats. I think hats of all stripes are in fashion now (thanks Madmen!), but nowhere are they on more impressive display than our local farmer’s market. Yes, there’s the usual baseball caps, but on recent visits, I’ve also spied pork pie hats, fedoras, toques, beanies and sombreros. These hats disappear the rest of the week, only daring to come out in the happy, convivial and playful atmosphere of the market.

3. Fiddlers. OK, maybe a few farmer’s markets out there are fiddleless, but if there’s a soundtrack to farmer’s markets, this is it. The fiddler at our local market is a child-magnet: right now she’s got a crowd of toddlers and their parents in front of her, watching, clapping and dancing.

4. Inspiration. I love to cook but sometimes my imagination fails me and it’s hard to come up with just the right idea for dinner. When I’m at the market though, and all that splendid fresh food is in front of me, my thoughts run rampant. The first new beets? A beet, goat cheese and walnut salad! Miniature peppers? Tuna and vegetable skewers! Kale? The kale pasta from the Family Dinner cookbook! Heirloom tomatoes and basil? A Caprese salad! And on it goes.

5. Farmers. The catch-phrase goes, “Know your farmers, know your food”, and where better to meet your farmers than the market? Farmers are farmers because they’re passionate and knowledgeable about food. This means that they’re great informal teachers, be it about growing, preparing, or storing food. Today, one of our favorite farmers, Jim Hayward from Haystrom Farms, has fresh baby onions that he tells me will become buttery when grilled. Delicious!

6. A sense of abundance grounded in the seasons. Although the average grocery store carries something like 4,000 items, they somehow don’t convey the same feeling of rich abundance that a farmer’s market does. Farmer’s markets overflow with the best of the season: right now I’m looking at tables piled with the last of the luscious everbearing strawberries, new tender young greens, early beets, miniature peppers and fat freestone peaches. Next week it will have changed again, reflecting the produce that are in their brief moments of glory.

7. Freshness. There’s a wonderful vitality in the food at farmer’s markets because it’s so fresh. So far, I have bought a dozen just-laid brown eggs, and potatoes, strawberries, corn and kale that were picked just yesterday. The only way to get fresher food is to grow it yourself. And besides the sheer fun of having something just off the tree, vine or bush, fresher food is tastier and better for you too. What’s not to like?

8. Happy children (your own or others). Farmer’s markets are terrific environments for kids. All the things that we enjoy, the smells, colors, people, music, freshness and so on are perhaps even more exciting for them. In my sight now, there are children munching fresh fruit, learning how to choose produce, dancing with their siblings and parents, chatting with farmers, petting other people’s dogs, and just wandering up and down, taking it all in. And the market is a great, fun way to teach your children about where food comes from, and healthy and responsible shopping and eating.

9. Beauty. There is a raw, real beauty at farmer’s markets that’s a potent reminder of the all loveliness and variety in nature. Although all food can be beautiful, it’s at farmer’s markets where you’re likeliest to see heirloom varieties of produce that surprise and dazzle the eye, like purple carrots, heavy tomatoes with the green piping of watermelons, white raspberries, purple snow peas, and baby white turnips.

10. Life. As I look around me, I can’t help thinking that above all, farmer’s markets are a celebration of life. The food, children, freshness, beauty, music and abundance all carry with them a happy pulse of energy. Even though I’ve been running after my children for two hours, I feel uplifted and connected to my food and community. Life gives life.

Check out your own local farmer’s market to see if the same things strike you. You can go to localharvest.org (for US) or farmersmarketscanada.ca (for Canada) to find a farmer’s market near you.

Lisa Reichenbach is an Oxford-educated anthropologist, writer and consultant. She has worked extensively in healthcare, studying first-hand the ways in which culture and behavior shape health and illness. She is currently writing a book on the relationship between fun, play and well-being, and thinks that family dinners are a great way to enjoy them all! Visit her blog at lisareichenbach.wordpress.com

 

 

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