Tips on Making a Complete Meal from the Farmers’ Market

by Amber on February 10, 2010

I recently attended an event on sustainable food. A supporter of the movement told me, “My problem with farmers’ markets is that you can’t make a whole meal from shopping there.” [Insert the sound of my jaw hitting the floor here.]

Yet, when I think back a few years, I certainly wasn’t making the farmers’ market my main grocery supplier. Back then, I wasn’t thinking about the distance my bell peppers had traveled to get to my table in the middle of winter. I wouldn’t have hesitated to grab a jar of pasta sauce made in Italy off the grocery store shelf. I’ve come a long way since then. It’s been a wonderful journey from my former life as a robotic grocery cart pusher to someone fully awake at the whisk.

Perhaps others just need to know the tricks I use to make local eating practical. After all, I do this in addition to my 50-hour per week job—just like other busy folks.

Going Local—My Latest Undertaking to Convert the World to Shopping Farmers’ Markets
This recent conversation gave me an idea: I will share my farmers’ market secrets so everyone can begin to see how easy it really is! From here on out, you’ll see a new twist to my recipes. I’ll be dividing ingredients according to those you can find at your local farmers’ market, those I’ve picked from my own garden, and those supplemental ingredients (flour, sugar, salt, black pepper) that I’m required to buy at the local supermarket.

My recipes already focus primarily on seasonal, locally grown fare. Now, you’ll find it easier to trace the food back to its place of purchase so that you, too, can believe in the power of making complete meals from the farmers’ market. Believe me—it’s well worth your trip, even on a crisp, rainy, winter morning. You’ll feel so glad that you’re trying!

Practical Tips to Being a Full-Blown Farmers’ Market Shopper
Let me begin by providing my most basic tips:

Make a shopping list: I keep a running list every time I run out of an item. That way, I don’t have to guess when I arrive at the market about whether I have enough eggs at home.

Visit the farmers’ market first: Take your shopping list straight to the farmers’ market. Deplete as much of your shopping list here as you can. Head to the grocery store afterwards. You’ll be surprised by how many items you can purchase—and even substitute—right from your local farmers. They’ve got it all: olive oil, cheese, bread, jams, rice, eggs, herbs, and even meats, not to mention fruits and veggies.

Make substitutions: Do you have bananas on your grocery list? Why not buy some seasonal fruit instead? We’re lucky here in California. We can eat fresh fruit year round: berries in Spring, stone fruit in Summer, pears in Fall, and oranges and apples all Winter. Do you have orange juice on your list? Why not buy a bag of fresh oranges and juice them yourself?

Think outside the box: We tend to get trapped in a food rut, making the same familiar meals over and over again. Why not step outside the comfort zone? Instead of making another cold cut sandwich for lunch, how about making a fried egg sandwich with eggs from your local farmer and bread from the local baker? You can even find all the ingredients for a classic PB&J at the farmers’ market, but you’ll need to swap your typical peanut butter for local almond butter.

Ease into it: Don’t purchase five vegetables you’ve never seen before and don’t know how to cook. You’ll end up frustrated once you’re at home, and will probably throw half those veggies away because you get busy and return to the recipes you’ve been cooking for years. If you see something new and interesting, purchase just one. You’re more likely to use it, and you’ll feel more accomplished. I like to try one new veggie each week: a dikon one week, an opo the next. Little by little, you’ll start to incorporate them into your everyday recipes with ease.

Commit to one farmers’ market-only meal a week: “If every U.S. citizen ate just one meal a week (any meal) composed of locally and organically raised meats and produce, we would reduce our country’s oil consumption by over 1.1 million barrels of oil every week. That’s not gallons, but barrels,” (Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver). As part of the “ease into it” plan, try making just one meal a week that’s completely purchased from your local farmer. You can buy corn tortillas, onions, and cheese (yes, all from the market!) for an easy quesadilla supper. Or you could buy croissants, honey, and quark for a gourmet farmers’ market breakfast. After you’ve tried one meal a week, you’ll want to make it two meals, then three! But start with one, and see how truly easy—and delicious—it can be!

Limit recipes to those that are seasonal: If you’re trying to make peach pie in the middle of January, you’re going to miss out on the wonders of a fresh, seasonal apple pie or orange muffins. And I challenge you to find delicious peaches in January that stand up to the quality of a peach purchased in August. If you want to succeed, you’ve got to start with the right tools: a seasonal recipe is essential. This very blog is laid out by month, which makes it easy for you to click on a date and find something seasonal that tempts your palette.

You’re Not Eliminating—You’re Adding!
I’m not a die-hard hippie who chokes down flavorless food mindlessly. I’m a passionate foodie who believes any good meal should engage all your senses: sight and presentation of a dish; smell and the aroma that fills your kitchen and your nose; sound and the noise of a sizzling sauté, touch and the textures that move through your mouth; and of course, taste and the powerful flavors of a well-cooked meal!

Eating locally is not at all about what you’re eliminating. Indeed, it’s about the richness you are adding to your life and your diet!

Join me!
What are you doing on the Internet? Grab a re-useable bag and let’s get out to the farmers’ markets! Check back here for recipes, to post questions, and to find more tips about making farmers’ markets practical. Upcoming features include ideas for a seasonal, romantic Valentine’s meal, ideas for making the farmers’ market fun and engaging for kids, and in celebration of the upcoming Sacramento Beer Week, recipes that include locally-brewed beer!

(Adjacent photo by Johanna Carson)

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: