In Praise of Farmers Markets

Hurricane Irene hit farmers in the Northeast really hard a couple of weeks ago. Many lost their animals and their crop, as they were getting ready for the harvesting season. So this guest post by Gloria of Lolailo seem especially fitting today as she explores farmers markets and the benefits of buying from local farmers. ~karen~

I spent a long time living and working in the Napa Valley, where wine is still seen as a special product.  Despite the efforts of many a winery to convince us that we should not be afraid of it, there are some people in the wine establishment and peripheral industries that still foster the idea that wine should not be casual, but something to revere and worship (insert disrespectful raspberry here).

As wine and food come hand in hand, you can imagine that the culinary offerings in the Napa Valley are polished and sophisticated.  Many restaurants have their own gardens, where precious herbs and vegetables, judging from their price tag, are painstakingly cultivated with tweezers.

San Francisco is at the forefront of the food movement in this country.  Every week it hosts a variety of farmers markets, but in some of them, the tweezers analogy is not misplaced.  Last year I followed with interest the adventures of Paco Nadal, (in Spanish) a Spanish journalist, along the West Coast:

When he stopped in San Francisco, he visited a farmers market, where he bought a tomato, avocado, some cheese, and a few other ingredients for a salad.  He calculated that the salad he prepared cost him about $30, and left him so hungry that he had to go to the nearest fast food joint, where for $8 he got stuffed.

His conclusion?  It is easy to eat cheap and badly in this country, and it is expensive to eat well.

He is not alone in this belief.  Many people have the impression that farmers markets are the prerogative of the wealthy.  There is a market for fresh, organic and local, but it is expensive and only those that are willing to pony up some good money have access to it.  Who can, after all, afford to pay $5 for a tomato?

Enter Fairfield, California.  Population: 105,000.  San Francisco is about 50 miles due southwest, Sacramento is 50 miles northeast.  We’re next door to the Napa Valley, a couple of hours from the Sierra Nevada, even less from the redwoods.  I feel truly fortunate to live in such a wonderful place, with so much at the reach of my hand.

But Fairfield, for all its proximity to San Francisco and the Napa Valley, is by no means a culinary mecca.  We are, after all, pretty blue-collar, with a distinct sense of pride about it.  We are the home of Travis Air Force Base, a Budweiser plant, and Jelly Belly (yeah!).  Chain restaurants abound.  “Fine” dining experiences are hard to come by.  We are certainly the yin to the Napa Valley’s yang.

And this is why it is paradoxical that we have not just one, but TWO Farmers Markets every week, with fresh, local, organic and extremely affordable produce.

Every Thursday from 4 to 8 pm, May through October, a short section of Jefferson Street in downtown Fairfield is closed to traffic, so that a couple dozen farmers can set their stands.  In addition to the produce, you can find chicken, duck and quail eggs, cheeses, honey, sausages, gourmet funnel cakes, kettle corn, and very cool music.

Every Saturday from 9 am to 1 pm, a vacant field on Green Valley Road becomes the Totally Local Farmers Market.  Very much like in the one downtown, you get all sorts of fruits and vegetables, farm-raised chicken and lamb, coffee and pastries, a BBQ truck, and many more things.  There’s also music (but the folks downtown book better gigs, shhhhh….)

You will not find $5 tomatoes at either market.  Prices are already ridiculously low, but the savvy shopper waits till near closing time, when farmers drop their prices, eager to get rid of their produce, so that they don’t have to haul anything back.

I look forward to the farmers markets all week long.  I wonder what will make its first appearance of the season this week.  I wonder which kind of eggplant I will choose this time: Indian?  Japanese?  Filipino?  Variegated?  White?  The old Italian classic?  Regardless of which one I take home, I end up learning something new every time.  There is always a new discovery to be made.  There are many non-conventional supermarket vegetables at these markets, and I am slowly making my way through them.  Have you ever seen fresh garbanzo beans, Chinese spinach or sticky corn at your usual grocery store?

It is refreshing to see little quirks in your fruits and veggies, because nature is whimsical and things happen.  There is no such thing as a standard tomato in this market.

I don’t have to expound on the many benefits of shopping at a farmers market.  Many people have done a more eloquent job than I ever could.  My point here is to dispel the notion that farmers markets are necessarily elitist and expensive.  Fairfield proves the point that “If you build it, they will come”.  If they haven’t built it yet in your community, get out and make some noise!  Create the demand!

This post is written by our team member Gloria of Lolailo. All photos are used with permission from the guest writer.

Comments

  1. Here in Hilo, Hawaii, we’re blessed to have the famous Hilo Farmers Market. The prices are much more reasonable than the big name grocery stores. Locals and tourists flock to the Hilo market every Saturday and Wednesdays. In addition, the popularity of the market has created more farmers markets to open in more rural areas. To get a glimpse into our Hilo market you can see pics here, https://www.facebook.com/ManilaExtract#!/media/set/?set=a.10150369475168784.399511.204666533783&type=1

  2. Thank you very much for your link, Gloria. I firmly believe in healthy food and organics. But we must not allow end up being just a luxury for wealthy people. In Spain you still can buy healthy and cheap vegetables and fruits in small towns. Why do cities have to be so expensive for the same products?

  3. What a fantastic article highlighting one of my favorite markets! I sell my handmade goods every other Saturday at the Green Valley Totally Local Farmer’s Market and I ADORE that market for it’s low prices and freshly picked produce. I do my week’s produce shopping there every Saturday and it feels great to support the local farmers and artisans. Thank you for letting people know that it IS possible to eat well and not break the bank ;)

  4. what a great story! loved the photos too. I live in greece and spend my time between athens, where farmer markets are plenty but bio produce is a tad expensive (not $5 per tomato though! ouch!) and the lovely island of amorgos where most people grow their own veggies (sth l plan to do soon) once again thimbs up for this post!

  5. The Northeast farmers have been hit real hard from the past storms that hit our area. Many lost their livelihood and it’s great to see stories like this that encourages supporting local farmers. Love your vibrant photos with the story too. The photos speak for themselves and how can you deny these beautiful produce and buy the old, forced ripen ones from grocery stores?

    Great job Gloria!

  6. This is the first time I write something for a blog. Thank you so much for the nice comments!

  7. Great article! I am just starting to get into shopping at my local farmers market, and I just love how fresh and delicious everything is!

    It is more expensive than conventional produce, but is about the same price as Organic from the grocery store, and at least the stuff I get from the farmers market is ripe, can’t say as much about organic from the grocery store.

    As I transition into vegetarian eating, I find the farmers market and my own organic garden are essential components.

  8. A great post. I was just thinking about all these while I was beading this morning. A new craft show is coming. So I had to wake up a couple of hour earlier on this Saturday morning to catch up…I have to go to the Farmers market. I look forward for that too, like you,

    I think we need to pay attention to our local farmers or we cannot get fresh food. We’ll end up buying fruits that were in the cold storage for months , and have traveled half the world! Yes, you eat mangoes in December!

    We buy cheaper products from China while our local artisans can not sell and stay hungry. We need to change, think a bit deeper when we decide to buy something just because it is cheaper.

  9. I read this article with great interest since I run our local farmer’s market in the village where I live in Canada. I have lot’s of contact with local farmers and am very familiar with the challenges of growing my own vegetables too – we have a big produce garden.
    Why does organic produce seem expensive? Because the big factory farms (which are usually subsidized) who have dubious farming practices are cheap. Also there is a growing imbalance between those with and those without in North America.
    See this article on the hidden costs of factory farming: http://www.organicconsumers.org/organic/cheapfood012304.cfm
    Organic farming is very challenging and hard work not for the faint of heart.
    While $5 for a tomato is a very high price I think we should be expecting to pay more for quality produce. Organic farming methods simply take more time, are rarely subsidized, hand weeding instead of herbicides and pesticides, read more here:
    http://www.organicconsumers.org/organic/costsmore082405.cfm

    I understand the concerns around farmers markets being perceived as elitist and that lower income people are being forced to buy low quality food. What we need are more community gardens and programs to help lower income folk grow their own. Consumers demands for cheap food are what drive the farmers to give up and sell out. Non of the farmers I know are rich and they are the hardest workers I know.

  10. Gardening with tweezers! Ahahahahaha! Dang! Thats’ funny! but so true in some large city markets.
    Here in Northern Idaho, we are blessed with many local farmers markets and low prices. Unfortunately, they are all seasonal and our winter/cold season is long. The only solution I can see, is to can like crazy during the garden season and eat home preserved foods during the months that fresh produce is not readily or economically available.

  11. An excellent post here Gloria! Right now for my final paper in Intermediate Comp we have to write a position paper. I chose to write mine on why buying organic, local produce from the Farmer’s Market is better for your health, the health of the environment and the local economy than going only to the grocery store. I love to see other people sharing that sentiment because the FM is definitely the place to be!

  12. Gloria – that’s a great story! I would love to see such an awesome market in my part of New Jersey. We do have seasonal farmers markets, but the pickings are darn slim and not always organic. So instead we buy overpriced organic veggies at the local health food store. Why does organic have to cost so much?

  13. Great aeticle. Hoorah for Fairfield, CA and all those farmer’s markets, local farm stands, backyard orchards and the like. We here in Essex Count, MA still can fond fresh produce from small farmers everywhere. it is expensive to live in the Northeast, but no $5 tomatoes in my neck of the woods, thankfully.

  14. What a great post Gloria! Our farmer’s market here in MI is today (Saturday). My son and I go in the morning to pick up the “fresh goodies” for the week. Like you described your market, ours is also quite affordable for most items. I’m sad that in a few short weeks the season will end here and we’ll have to wait until May to pick back up our Saturday morning visits.