Friday, April 29, 2005

Farmer's Markets -- and VI!

Farmer’s markets are alive and well, year-round, in California. With seasonal crops of something-or-other, California never ceases to amaze me as I drive through the surprisingly-frequent open areas. Granted, there is plenty of cement jungle and urban sprawl, but fields of strawberries, tomatoes and produce of every description appear where you may least expect them.

Whether these fields of plenty belong to individual family farms or large-scale producers, they help to keep us connected with the magic of growing things. Who wouldn’t be impressed? One day, you are driving along the freeway and see rich, brown earth plowed in straight rows that converge as they reach the middle distance, way out there, somewhere.

Before you know it, the next freeway trip, days later, discloses the very same field, now dotted with short, green plants, in the same straight rows. As you zip past, at freeway speeds (if you’re lucky and the freeway gods are smiling!), you catch a glimpse of the leaves’ shapes. Were those tomato leaves … or radish … or squash? Your eyes feel as if they can’t quite reach out and make the connection – yet you would like to know.

As the days pass, and the freeway beckons again, eyes strain once more to catch a revealing glimpse of vegetation-in-progress. Have yard-high, wooden stakes been added? Aha! It must be tomatoes! Are the leaves still too small to focus on from your vantage point, but spreading horizontally, hugging close to Mother Earth? Of course! It must be strawberries! Have the leaves become huge, reaching out to clasp hands with each other, plant to plant, in every direction? Ah yes! It has to be squash – or maybe pumpkins that will reflect children’s late-October smiles in shiny, orange skins!

The vegetation identification (VI, to we sleuthing types!) is confirmed, some time later, as crates of fruits or vegetables line the edge of the field. Workers labor, hats and scarves protecting heads from sun, stooped over the now-lush rows of bounty, as they collect the ripe produce that will feed all of us soon. Perhaps, as we sit down to comfortable dinner tables, we will sense the aching legs, sore necks and calloused fingers that this harvesting entailed – and be grateful not just for the food but also for those who worked so hard in order to bring it to us.

The realization of the good, honest labor that food entails is one of the things that I love about farmer’s markets. It helps me to remember that the food on my plate didn’t just fly into those plastic packages in the supermarket. Real people did real work, hard work, honest work – and lots of it – then hoped, and likely prayed, that step-by-step the growing process would proceed without the trouble that Mother Nature sometimes delivers.

When I see the smile on the face of the farmer, as he or she entrusts the fruit of back-straining labor to me, I also see the fulfilling pleasure that comes from production. What a lovely way to honor each other – producer and consumer – as we all make our way in this world. Little wonder that food straight from the fields seems to taste sweeter and nourish us more-fully. We have become part of its picture, part of its circle of life.

In my mind’s eye (that’s the same one that makes hindsight 20-20, by the way), I can still see the face of the farmer who tended his small display of herbs recently, at a Saturday farmer’s market nearby. I told him that I needed some nice, fresh cilantro. He smiled with gentle eyes and then stretched calloused hands over the stacks of fragrant herbs piled on the well-worn, wooden table. He chose two bunches of bright-green cilantro, turned them over carefully in his hands, smelled them, smiled again, then proudly handed them to me for my inspection. “Here, these are the best ones,” he said. Actually, I only needed one bunch – but I bought both. How could I not?

As planting season begins anew, the picture is drawn again. Each seed, leaf, vine and worker colors in the part that only each can paint in this way. It is the hope of the Ingredient Sleuth that each of us may experience the revitalization of the year’s harvests, as they progress from season to season.

The bounty is out there – or will be soon, in colder climates – as farmer’s markets set up in parking lots across the land! To help you find locations near you, here are some websites that list details about farmer’s markets coast-to-coast. Check them out and, if you possibly can, please go! You’ll find the best produce and meet the nicest people there. If you think of it, please tell them that the Ingredient Sleuth sent you! (California farmer’s markets, searchable) (Los Angeles’ famous farmer’s market, established in 1934) (U.S. farmer’s markets by state, searchable) (U.S. farmer’s markets by state, searchable)

(A link to the nationwide farmer’s market index will be maintained in the Ingredient Sleuth website’s sidebar, on an ongoing basis, for your convenience.)

Farmer’s markets have many items to offer. Products that I have seen recently include eggs, cheese, bread, flowers, fish, seafood, sausage, nuts, honey, herbs – and, of course, fruits and vegetables! If you prefer a more “observational” approach to exploring the wonders of the outdoor market, you may enjoy Paris in a Basket: Markets – the Food and the People (Konemann Publishing, Cologne). This book, by Nicolle Aimee Meyer & Amanda Pilar Smith, explores outdoor markets in all twenty of Paris’ districts, with enough gorgeous food, people and Paris photos to make you feel as if you’ve spent a glorious day strolling through the culinary capital. Vegetation identification – from the armchair!

Bon appetit!


Jennifer said...

Oh ... I LOVE farmers markets. We get the very best mushrooms there at a much better price than the supermarket. I didn't know that there were so many of them. Thanks for the URLs listing the locations and times. We can explore some new ones now!

Anonymous said...

I have read this book about the paris outdoor markets and it's great. Good recommendation.

Marc said...

didn't even know that Irvine HAD a farmers market and it looks BIG! have to check it out ...... thx a lot!

Carolyn said...

It's hard to believe how much better things taste when they're really fresh. FM's are the best place to get fresh produce. If you take along a shopping bag, it will make things easier to unpack when you get home.

Anonymous said...

The Paris markets book that you mentioned is wonderful and also has recipes to use all the fresh products from the outdoor markets.

Rickie said...

thx for the website info!!

Pat R. said...

This is SUCH a great blog -- thank you again for all the useful information that you write about and for the good ideas. My whole family loves it.

Anonymous said...

hadn't ever seen this listing of farmers mkts b4 & its good. appreciate it.

Rochelle said...

Markets outdoors are just the best! You described them so well and shopping there is fun, compared to the supermarket where it's so impersonal. OUr favorite one is in Corona del Mar. It's always jampacked and the parking is hard to find but the produce is so much better that we go anyway and love it every time.

PAT R. said...

the herbs at the farmers markets ARE the best ... and you can tell by the aroma!

Anonymous said...

The farmers markets here in the DC area are wonderful in the summer too. There is even one at Colonial Williamsburg that has the usual produce plus some things that are typical of colonial times, like breads and baked items. marc&terri