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. â€œFineâ€ 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, shhhhhâ€¦.)
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 â€œIf you build it, they will comeâ€. 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.
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