This article is written by Collin Philips and was originally published on Selva Beat, an online, environmental magazine with a strong focus on the palm-oil industry and conflict-free living. Selva Beat will be publishing some farm to table recipes in the upcoming weeks, so be sure to check back for more Farmers Market fun!
One of my goals this year was to transition to completely local perishables. I made this mostly lofty goal after noticing that the apple I was eating in Houston, Texas was from New Zealand, and possibly over half a year old. To lower my carbon foot print another 4-5%, I would have to eat local and seasonal fruits and veggies. I already make my own vegan dairy like milk and butter and can buy rice, flour, nuts, and legumes at my local grocer or co-op. So, how hard could it be?
Well, there's certainly a lot of trial and error. After all, how many times have you dropped by the store after work to grab an extra tomato or garlic? To get you started on the right foot, here are five tips I wish I had kept in mind before making the switch:
Be (And Stay) Realistic
The market where I live has the best organic fruits and vegetables, most of which I would never see at a national chain grocer. Nothing beats the atmosphere either! But, I have to be realistic about what I can make with what I buy. If you have a routine where you make similar dishes each week, shopping this way may be a little jarring at first. I can always find amazing herbs, gourds, mushrooms, etc but sometimes I can't find good citrus. How does that affect the dishes I will make? Eating this way requires adaptability but thankfully, that is just something that strengthens with time.
If you're not great at cooking on the fly, consider buying a seasonal cookbook for your area or city. Here's one just for Connecticut! General farm to table cookbooks are great too but note that most of them are not vegan. If all else fails, food blogs are your friend!
Simply put, start out with an open mind and a little patience.
Pick The Best Market For You
If you’re looking to transition your home too, you first have to become well-versed in the farmer’s markets in your city. If you don't know where to start, here is the USDA Farmer's Market Directory. Sometimes googling your 'zip code + farmer's market' is all you need. Chances are your area has more than just one and each is going to have a different array of vendors, some more suited to your needs than others. In Houston, the two I love are only on Saturday and Tuesday. Back in Austin, there was a farmer’s market five days out of the week. All markets have fruits and veggies, most have eggs, meat, fish and cheese, and some have bread loaves and flour, etc. You can also find kombucha, pickled goods, coffee, and likely a variety of food trucks.
Make note of your favorite stalls and take a photo of their banner to keep in mind for later (more on this below). Introduce yourself whenever possible, though some stalls get really crazy; how often do you get to say you know the people who grow your food?
Okay, so you’ve found the perfect fit for you, and your stomach. Now you need to stay friends. I recommend adding your farmer’s market on Facebook or Twitter, as they’ll likely post tidbits on which vendors will show or highlight certain fruits and veggies (like the best watermelons!). The same goes for your favorite vendor — it’s a real bummer when you really need something special like vegan bread or kombucha and that stall is a no-show. Be the first to know about sick days and early bird specials. The more informed you are, the more positive this process will be and you’ll be less likely to burn out six months down the line.
TIP → Scope out each market’s cash or credit options. The markets in the last city I lived in were practically all electronic and card friendly, whereas Urban Harvest, my current beat, leans way more towards cash transactions. It can also get really crowded, so sometimes handing someone a five dollar bill is just more efficient.