Now that the torrential downfalls of April are hopefully behind us, it is just a matter of time before crops start sprouting and a bounty of fresh and local food becomes available across the nation.
I don’t have to tell those in northern climates just how difficult it can be to eat fresh during the winter months. You either need to pull out the ‘101 Ways to Prepare Squash’ cookbook or resort to buying items shipped in from across the country or globe.
But all that will change in about a month when farmers market stalls will open and brim over with flowers, fruits and more. Before you start shopping, learn how to make the most of the local harvest coming your way.
Where to buy local produce
While many supermarkets have taken steps in recent years to stock their shelves with more local items, the best way to get the freshest produce is still to go straight to the source: your local farmer. There are three main ways farmers sell directly to consumers.
How to find markets and CSAs in your area
The internet is your go-to resource for locating farmers markets and CSAs in your area. Several websites, run by both public and private sources, serve as clearinghouses for information on local markets.
Popular directories include the following websites:
What to expect when buying farm fresh produce
Buying from a farmers market or a CSA is a different experience than running into the grocery store for a couple items. While produce bought from these sources can be cheaper than supermarket fare, don’t assume it’s a given.
Small farmers can’t always compete on a cost-basis with big farm operations which have the economies of scale on their side. You may end up paying more, but not only are you supporting your local economy, you are getting food that is likely fresher and more nutritious than items shipped over long distances or stored for a period of time before being sold.
At the same time, you can’t always assume the food you get at a farmers market is local. Especially at the start of the season, it’s not unusual for some farmers to ship items in from other states while they are waiting for their own crops to mature. If it is important to you that your food be locally grown, be sure to ask about the source. Most farmers are happy to answer questions.
To get the best deal on farmers market items, you may want to arrive near the end of the day. While the selection may be more limited, you may be able to cut a deal with a farmer who doesn’t want to haul all his items home.
With CSAs, be aware that you generally don’t get to pick the items you receive so be prepared for some adventurous eating. In addition, while farm and farmers markets may not open for another month or so, now is the time to sign up for CSAs. Many have limited shares available so get yours now.
Then, enjoy a season of good eating. Bon appétit!
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