Friday, April 23, 2010

CARE AND KEEPING (How to get the most out of a farmer's market trip)

The first farm box of 2010 is just around the corner and 
I can't believe how fast it came around! 
Over the weekend, I was reminiscing about how difficult I found
 the first few weeks of the season last year and 
how much easier it is for me now that I have a system. 
I admit I was pretty overwhelmed by my first box last year 
(4 types of lettuce? what do I do with 4 types of lettuce?) 
and it took several exasperating mornings for me to sort myself
 out those first few weeks. A
bout mid-summer, I got a good rhythm going 
and now I've got Saturday morning market visits down 
to a well-timed routine. 
I thought it might be useful to share the things I learned 
that help me maximize my Saturday market time. 
I'd also like to hear about your food philosophies or 
how you keep up with the market.

In full disclosure, I think it's fair for me to disclose my 
approach to food in general. 
Everyone has different food strategies and expectations
 for their market experience. 
I have seen people come to the market, 
stroll around for an hour and leave with one little melon. 
My eating philosophy is not nearly so calm or esoteric. 
I am usually on a mission when I get to the farmer's market 
and I have lots of energy and enthusiasm for food. 
My food philosophy is to eat food that is as fresh 
and tasty as it can possibly be. 
To that meet that end, I try to eat as locally as possible. 
If organic is available, I like that but I won't pay double for it (for veg). 
I am very particular about meat and want the animals to be cared for 
sensibly (without irresponsible dosing of anitbiotics or hormones) 
and humanely. 
I also want sustainability in most of the food that my family consumes. 
Finally, I want to eat with the seasons as much as is possible so I can
 savor the gifts that come along during the growing season.

So that's my philosphy. 
It's not rigid and I don't beat myself up if I eat a highly processed 
hot dog or something. 
The reality of my life is that I have two small children, 
I work a full week, 
and I live in a suburban/urban area. 
My family goes through 2 gallons of milk and a staggering amount
 of assorted cheeses in a week. 
We also use common western staples like rice, pasta, and chocolate chips.
 I am not a tee-totaller. 
I won't get up from a meal if I'm served food of unknown provenance 
and I love Biscuitville (who I'm certain doesn't use free-range, 
hormone free ANYTHING).
 I believe that the way I eat is realistic for the society that I live in
 (although many people think I'm an extremist 
and others think I'm a light weight foodie. 
egh......i eat for myself, not for a group).

I try to put about half of my weekly food budget into the farmer's market. 
I buy all vegetables, meat, and eggs from the market. 
I also get most fruit and some dairy/bread options from the market.
 I usually have to make a stop on the way home at a storefront grocery
 store to pick up milk and assorted staples. 
Once a month or so I do a run to a wholesale club or an importer
 for things we buy in bulk (wine) or specialty ingredients 
(like spices) that I can't get from a local source.

How we roll....

A typical Saturday morning involves getting up the whole family, 
packing the car w/reusable bags and a large rolling cooler w/a handle. 
We go to the farmer's market to pick up breakfast and coffee. 
The North Hills market has a Starbucks and several bakers. 
The Western Wake market has a coffee roaster who will sell samples. 
We eat breakfast together and then hubby and kids usually go to listen
 to the music or start to stroll while I begin hunting.

I take one pass through the market, 
pick up my box from Edible Earthscapes and 
then go back to fill in any gaps. 
Since what's available at the market changes weekly, 
it's difficult to write a menu or a list and stick with it. 
I find it's easier for me if I think in terms of weekly 'servings' or sources. 
In any given week, I need to leave the farmer's market with the following
 or else I'll end up having to go to a normal grocery store mid-week:
8-10 vegetable sources
1 dozen eggs
1-2 loaves of bread
3-4 meat sources
1-2 cheese sources

We get most of our vegetable sources from Edible Earthscapes 
but I sometimes need to fill in some things to suit my recipes
 or our family's individual tastes. 
I also try to get several fruit servings-
this year I'm going to try and freeze some since fruit 
has a shorter growing season than the vegetables. 
Everything goes in the big rolling cooler to keep it from 
wilting or getting crushed.

Before we go home, we stop off to get milk, cheese, etc. 
Then we head home for the real work. 
The biggest lesson from last year that I learned: 
It is imperative to deal with the produce as soon as possible. 
What do I mean? 
I mean that you can't treat farmer's market produce 
like produce that has been grown for its ability to sit on a shelf. 
Farmer's market produce is typically not treated with preservative and the farmer chose to grow it because of it's taste
-not because it won't bruise easily. 
This is not produce that can sit on your counter all day.

Wash all greens. 
spin it in a salad spinner to remove excess water
Go ahead and divide stems from leaves for more hard greens
and chop them so they're ready for stir-fry.
Put greens into gallon ziplock bags with a dry paper towel
and store in the fridge until ready to use.

Root Vegetables:
(Carrots, Beets, Turnips, Radishes)
Take the greens off of root vegetables and store them separately (see above)
 if you want to use them (and you do want to use them!). 
If you don't take them off, 
the root is likely to get mushy as the leaves pull out energy and water. 
If you really want to leave them attached, 
you can put the whole thing into water-
similar to putting flowers in water 
and then stick that in the fridge. 
Just don't stuff those carrots into the bottom drawer with the leaves
 still attached and expect them to be firm in 4 days.

Non-root Vegetables:
(Eggplant, peppers, okra, squash, cucumbers)
Wash and dry these.
Store in a cool, dry place
which might be your veggie drawer
if you don't need to prep them for a meal.

Herbs (and scallions):
Either store in a vase like you would cut flowers
make into pesto immediately.
Most herbs do not keep well without a lot of prep in the fridge.
You can store the vase option in the fridge if you have room
but if you're going to use them within the week, on the counter will work too.

Big stuff:
Melons, sweet and white potatoes
Ripe melons need to be eaten within a day or two.
Unripe melons will ripen faster on the counter
but can also be stored in the fridge.
You need to check these daily!
Most white potatoes from the market
will need to be eaten within a month.
They are not treated with inhibitors the way store bought
potatoes are.
You can store in the fridge or in a bin-
just keep them away from onions unless you want them to sprout.
Sweet potatoes have been cured before being sold
which means they are fine in your kitchen for a couple of months.

Store tomatoes in the fridge.
On your kitchen counter will do fine thank you very much.

A note on bugs:
You should wash everything and make sure you don't have some passengers. Most produce from the farmer's market is not treated with pesticide so 
bugs like it as much as you do. 
That's a good sign! 
(You just don't want to put your stowaways in your fridge for later). 

Final Life Saving Tip:
If you already know what's on the menu for the week, 
it's a good time to do some sou chef prepwork. 
Chopping a gallon of strawberries took me 10 minutes last week. 
But once they're chopped and safely stored in the fridge, snacks are easy. 
I usually make up any condiments that will be needed that week-
refrigerator pickles, salad dressing with herbs and pesto are handled 
at this time so that I don't do 'double duty' 
when putting away the components and then have to 
repack them again once the condiment is made.
I also prep chop onions, peppers, squash, celery and carrots
and put them away in containers so meal prep is easier.

By the time I'm finished, it's lunch time-
just in time to sit down to a nice, local meal.


Dee said...

I wish everyone had your attitude about doing the best you can to feed your family the best fresh food and then fill in the gaps with other stuff as needed. I live about 4 miles from Edible Earthscapes and love what they are doing. They inspired me to grow some of my own food this year and I love being able to assemble a salad from my own backyard.

If you enjoy reading about sustainable farming and food, check out my blog Sustainable Grub at

Best wishes,

Jeni said...

Sounds like a fantastic Saturday morning. I admire your dedication to eating so much from local growers. I wish I did more!!!

Sucar said...

Dee-I do actually follow your blog already (thanks to the link on Edible Earthscapes). You've given me some useful info!

Jeni-it's been a slow build. Mostly I like to eat and I want to show my kids a different way to live (even while being inside my little suburban existence).

Thanks to both of you for reading!