The trouble with farmers markets is that they feature stunningly beautiful, fresh, locally grown produce. And before you say “oh, he’s just being ironic, calling that a problem”, let me assure you that I am not. You see, the problem with local produce is that it is beautiful and fresh, and you are very likely to chance upon something like a ridiculously good deal on perfectly in-season kohlrabi, only to realize, once you make it home with your bag full of kohlrabi, that you have no idea what it is or how to cook it.
And going with a list is an equally bad idea, because you might be so intent on your quest to find broccoli and potatoes that you completely miss the stand selling bushels of basil or handing out samples of goat cheese.
But, farmers markets are one of the things I look forward to most in the summer, and over time, I’ve worked out a plan.
- Arrive at market, head straight to the food stalls for breakfast. This is important. Attempting a farmers market on an empty stomach will result in paralyzing indecision or buying absolutely everything. The food stalls will be fairly obvious, as they will smell heavenly, and there is a good chance that someone will be bbq-ing something, and making a lot of delicious smelling smoke.
- Buy breakfast. I’m sorry, but you’re just going to have to choose. I know, it’s a rough life. There are so many delicious options, and sometimes we just have to grit our teeth and make a decision. Ideally the vendors are season regulars, and you can try a different one every week.
- Breakfast in hand (portability is key), wander the market. Don’t feel stressed, this is just the first circuit. On the first wander, only buy something if a) you know you need it, b) it looks amazing, and c) it’s clearly going to be sold out in the next few seconds. Otherwise just meander, and look at all the lovely veggies.
- Look at the veggies and talk to the people (I don’t recommend reversing that). I don’t know what to do with Jerusalem artichokes, but you know who does? The person selling them. This is one of my favorite parts of farmers markets, talking to the sellers, saying, “hey, what’s this, how do I eat it?” I’m not big on talking to random strangers, but talking to a gardener about cooking food? Genuinely the best possible conversation.
- This is where it gets sticky. Having finished your breakfast, and walked around once, you have to go back and buy things. Ideally you have some idea of what looks amazing, and what you can do with it. Don’t worry too much about price. In my experience, produce in different stalls is fairly similar price wise, and it’s almost certain to be good value for your money. More and more vendors are accepting cards, but it’s good to come with some cash, just in case. (Also, if you have a wad of random bills in your pocket, it’s harder to keep track of how much you’re spending, and your bank account can’t judge you later, both pluses in my book…there’s a reason I’m a blogger and not a banker).
- Buy cheese and/or honey. Unlike the produce, this is probably going to be a bit pricey, and you might be tempted to skip it. Do not. If you have access to locally made cheese and/or honey, buy it. The bees will thank you. Your local dairy animals will thank you. You will thank you.
And there you are, that’s all there is to it. Go home, revel in the produce you purchased and make sure to come back to another one of Southwest Montana’s wonderful farmers markets next week.