The Local Plate: A Beginner’s Guide to Farmers’ Markets

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Is there anyone who doesn’t like strolling through their local farmers’ market early in the morning to shop for fresh produce? It’s fun, it’s exciting, and it’s something the whole family can enjoy.

 

Support the local economy.

When you shop locally, you’re putting money back into your community and also into the hands of area farmers. This way, money stays in the local economy and these farmers can stay competitive. It also drives the market, because if there’s a demand for a particular item, such as kale, then more farmers are likely to include it in their crop selection.

 

Local food always tastes better.

farmers1When you buy locally at your market, you can’t wait to get home and try those vegetables that day. That’s because the farmer picks it at precisely the right time for optimum freshness and taste. The produce you find in grocery stores has often been harvested days or even weeks in advance and allowed to ripen en route to your supermarket. This also applies to meats, dairy, eggs, breads, and preserves.

 

Get seasonally educated.

How do you break into enjoying the benefits of eating and supporting local growers? Often at farmers’ markets, a CSA (community supported agriculture) program is set up whereby a farm, or several farms, will provide you with a weekly offering determined by what they’re currently harvesting. Usually a fee is paid up front. All you need to do is show up, collect your week’s worth of local goodies, and start cooking. When buying eggs, you may notice a difference in the colour of the yolks as the season goes on. This is because the chickens have been shifted from grain to pasture. The more carotenoids in their diets, the darker the yolk. Cheeses made at different times of the year are also subject to changes in colour and in some cases taste.



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Build relationships with local farmers.

farmers2More and more people want to know where their food comes from, especially when it relates to the treatment of animals or pesticide and insecticide use. Talking directly with the farmer allows you to get the answers you seek because they know firsthand how they produce their product. A few questions you might ask are: What is your feed program like? Do the animals eat pasture or is it a mostly grain-based diet, or both? How do you control insects/pests without the use of an insecticide?

 

Learn cooking tips and expand your cooking horizons.

Cooking is all about experimenting with new tastes and exciting flavours. It’s possible you’ve never seen an ingredient before, such as garlic scapes or zucchini flowers, but are interested to try it. Quite often farmers grow different varieties than you’re used to seeing in grocery stores, sometimes called heirloom varieties. Odds are, if you ask the farmer for cooking tips, they’ll have a few recipes up their sleeve to help best showcase that product. Ask the farmer what pairs best with it, such as sauces or herbs. They will also probably be able to tell you the best way to store the product until you want to use it.

 

Help the environment.

farmers3Imported food requires lots of shipping and thus using large amounts of fossil fuels, as well as large amounts of packaging, which contributes to pollution. Many foods at farmers’ markets are transported much shorter distances and generally grown using methods that minimize the impact on the earth. Additionally, lots of farmers participating in local markets use non-modified or non-GMO seeds. These farming practices are better for the soil, for the environment, and of course, for you.

A word for the wise though: be wary of ingredients that seem out of place or out of season at the markets. Some vendors shop from larger terminals or different regions. If something seems a bit farfetched, be sure to ask where it is coming from.

Shopping local markets is a fun and exciting way to eat food that is more nutritious and better tasting. And at the same time, you are supporting the local economies and local farm businesses. It’s a win-win for everyone.

 

The Peterborough Farmers’ Market takes place every Saturday at 7am to 1pm in the Memorial Centre Parking Lot, or inside the Morrow Building during winter.

The Peterborough Downtown Farmers’ Market takes place every Wednesday from May to October at 8:30am to 2pm in the Louis Street Lot.

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Jeremy Fletcher

Jeremy Fletcher

Jeremy Fletcher, co-owner at Electric City Bread Company, has worked in bakeries, restaurants, and exclusive clubs throughout Ontario.