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Making the Most of the Summer Markets

The Farmers’ Markets here in NYC are riotously abundant now, and I have to contain my enthusiasm as I walk the aisles. I simply want to buy every vegetable and herb I see.

Kohlrabi and Garlic Scapes
Kohlrabi and Garlic Scapes

I don’t have a garden this year, not having discovered a way to transport to Brooklyn the Hudson Valley garden I built last year. But I’m a long way from despair: my lack of a garden means that I can benefit from all the other farms in the region.

To help me manage my enthusiasm, I have developed this short guideline for “marketing.” Perhaps it will be of use to you, too.

Take an experienced guide

The Field Guide to Produce is a fantastic little book that can accompany you to the market. Photos and descriptions of over 200 fruits and vegetables are provided, as well as handling and preparation tips and seasoning suggestions. Not sure what to do with kohlrabi? Don’t even know what it looks like? Then this book is for you!

Know the schedule

Near my apartment in Brooklyn, there are markets happening on three days of the week. As a stupendous bonus, I work near Union Square, where one of the best greenmarkets happens on four days each week. In fact, the only day on which I might have trouble getting something is Thursday. In other cities where I’ve lived, markets have been held on multiple days of the week, too. So if you’re in NYC, Dallas, Denver, Santa Fe, Saugerties, Mendocino…anywhere, get to know the schedule and make it a part of your weekly routine. I guarantee you that it’s much more pleasant than ducking into Whole Foods, not to mention enormously “greener.”

Go early, go often

If you can manage it, get to the market just as it opens. The greens and herbs will be fresher, and all the produce will have been handled the least. However, if you’re going to buy potatoes or carrots or other more ‘durable’ vegetables, go just as the market is closing. You can possibly score a better price, as the farmer would rather sell than pack it all back home. Also, if you’re buying delicate items like greens and herbs, purchase only what you’ll need for the next 3 or 4 days. Nothing is more de-motivating than watching things go bad in the fridge. When you’ve reached the end of the salad greens, hit the market again. It will become a very pleasant and peaceful routine, not onerous at all. Plus, you will have a wonderful variety of foods in your diet and on your palate.

Eggplant and Okra
Eggplant and Okra

Try something you’ve never had

Find a bouquet of epazote? Or some purslane? Go for it. Don’t fear the arugula. Embrace the amaranth. Honor the okra. And of course, love the lovage. Imagine the call you can make to your partner: “Honey, I’m feeling like some shishito tonight. How ‘bout you?”

Ask the experts

Having bought that glorious bundle of purslane, feel free to ask the farmers themselves what to do with it. They wouldn’t be growing it without knowing some great ways to use it. Also, most markets have cooking demonstrations, recipes, and a website full of information about the produce.

Master a few techniques

You’ll need some hardcore skills to prepare all this bounty. Be ready, at a moment’s notice, to: rinse, peel, slice, scoop, crank a salad spinner, shake a jar. Most of all, master the art of low oil sauté. When in doubt, this is the way to go with most summer produce that you’re not eating raw. Put a good pan on medium high heat, add a little oil, toss in the prepped vegetables, and then toss them another time or two. If you want them a little more done, then cook them till they’re a little more done. You are the master!

Have sketches instead of recipes

Since the produce at a market will fluctuate more than that at a traditional supermarket, apply some flexibility to your recipes, too. If you have a great recipe for Melon & Cucumber Soup, remember that with little effort it can be transformed into a Cantaloupe & Raspberry Soup. Pasta Primavera—in Italy it’s called “greengrocer’s pasta”– is about the most flexible idea around: buy the currently available fresh vegetables, pair them with pasta, and add a light sauce. For this, a simple herbed aioli will support all the variations. Even more than Pasta Primavera, summer salads are open doors for just about any herb, flower, fruit, or vegetable: garlic scapes, nasturtiums, squash blossoms, beets, celery root, berries, apples, fresh uncooked peas or corn. Recipes are great for generating a shopping list, but the shopping list shouldn’t be bound by the recipe.

Market Leeks

Market Leeks

Buy mindfully

To me, this means “buy organic.” Make your own decision, based on your own principles and in keeping with your budgetary limits, but remember that conventional agricultural methods contribute to depleted soils. As a consequence, nutrient levels in foods have been dropping over the past 50 years. Organic methods, such as those espoused by the Real Food Campaign, produce richer soils, and therefore richer foods. Your body gets more of what it needs. If improving your health isn’t enough, you’re also supporting the health of the farm workers themselves.

Even if you’re not missing last year’s garden, I encourage you to seek out the Farmers’ Market in your area. Many of us talk about eating seasonally and locally, and practicing a more healthy intercourse between our bodies, our foods, and our lands. There’s no better place to enact this than at the Farmers’ Market. We often hear the phrase, “vote with your dollar.” There’s no better way of doing this than handing that dollar to the farmer who grows your tomatoes—thereby enabling her or him to make the most of the summer market as well.


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