Thursday, March 1, 2012

Navigating a Winter Farmers Market

Does your community have a Winter Farmers Market? Are you trying to eat more locally sourced seasonal produce? If so, this post’s for you! I adapted it from a post I wrote for the Union Square Farmers Market this past fall when the market manager decided to extend the season until November 19. The same rules apply for shopping at a winter farmers market, so here are some of my tips to help you navigate your way through local produce during the colder months:
Photo courtesy of @miccitysons
 Plan ahead! Many markets solicit product lists from their vendors and share them on their websites, via email, on their Facebook pages, or through twitter. This time of year, you can expect to find great root veggies, like carrots, potatoes, radishes, rutabaga, turnips, and celery root. Farms are also producing dark leafy greens like collards and kale, which tend to taste even better after light frosts. They’re full of great nutrients to rebuild your immune system. Many markets sell root veggies, squash, cabbage, and apples until cold storage stocks are depleted. Some markets have resellers that source produce from farms further away. I've even found fresh Florida citrus at my winter market!
Circle the market before you buy anything! This is a good thing to do at any farmers market because many of the vendors will have similar produce. You should compare the quality, price, and farming standards. Not all carrots are created equal! If you know you want potatoes, how important is it that they're organic? Are you willing to pay an extra $.50/lb for the peace of mind that no pesticides might provide? 
• Know your budget! Will this be your only grocery purchase of the week or will you be stopping by the grocery store on your way home? Some items at the farmers market can carry a price premium while others are cheaper than you would find at your local supermarket. Be savvy and don't forget to bring cash, in case your market doesn't accept credit/debit cards. 
 Try something new! See a vegetable you’ve never cooked? Ask the farmer about their favorite ways to prepare and eat it.  Take it home and look up some recipes online or in your favorite cookbook and be adventurous. There are lots of cookbooks on the market now that organize the table of contents by season. Magazines are also great sources of fresh new recipes using seasonal ingredients.
 Bundle up! Don’t let the cold weather stop you from going to the market. Just put on some extra layers and a pair of those cool fingerless gloves if your local market is held outside all year. I’m lucky to have a wonderful indoor market held in old Armory down the road from my house. For you Bostonians, the Somerville Winter Market is held every Saturday that is held from 9:30 – 2:30 every Saturday. 
 Track down the farmers! Not all of the vendors will be at the market all of the time, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find them. Talk to the vendors about where you can find them when they’re not at the market. You can check their websites for more information.

What tips do you have for shopping for locally sourced produce in the winter months?