If you’re reading this magazine, chances are you are a pretty healthy person and have probably gone to a farmers’ market at some point in your life. We hear health gurus everywhere telling us how great farmers’ markets are and how we should shop there, but when your neighborhood Whole Foods or other natural grocer has the same organic produce, why go out of your way to find a farmers’ market?
At Taste of Pace, we get almost all of our produce from various local markets in the Los Angeles area. Some ask why we do this, especially as a company that buys in such large quantities, and we always say– we do it for the same reason you should be!
Building great relationships in your community.
I have to say, this is one of my favorite parts about the markets. Going to farmers’ markets allows for so many opportunities to build relationships in your community. Going down the isle at a grocery store can be such a cold experience (both literally and figuratively) – you’re in your own world, there is little opportunity to engage with fellow shoppers and you don’t really know where your food is coming from. We always encourage shoppers to talk to people (vendors and consumers!) as much as possible – ask questions and learn all you can about the food you’re eating. If you see someone buying a vegetable you’ve never seen before, ask them what it is and how they prepare it. People are usually super friendly. Building relationships with farmers can be rewarding, as well – first, you learn where your food is coming from, what kind of pesticides they use (hopefully they’re the natural ones, i.e. lady bugs) and details on various selections. Then, once you start having a relationship with those vendors, you can start coming back to them each week for their season best. Finally (and my favorite), the more friendly you get with them, the more likely they are to throw you a couple extras!
Fresh and in Season!
Ever been to a grocery store and see tomatoes that are firm with a sad yellow hue? This happens when tomatoes are picked out of season. Most of the time, produce has been traveling or sitting in the back for several days before it hits the stands, so even the fresh stuff isn’t actually that fresh. If you go to a farmers’ market at the height of tomato season (summer), you’ll never be able to eat one of those fake ones again. We have a philosophy at Taste of Pace: every vegetable should taste great with just a little bit of olive oil and salt. If it needs anything more than that, you didn’t buy a good one. Just walking around the markets, it is easy to spot produce that is in season – it’s always the ones that are most prevalent, and piled high. If you don’t know how to pick a proper artichoke, ask the vendor to pick some for you and tell them which day you plan to make it so he or she can give you one that will be ripest on the day you are cooking it. A farmer’s produce is their passion, and most of them are extremely knowledgable, so use them as a resource! Getting the ripest produce is not only the height of taste, but it is also at the height of nutrients.
Better for the environment, the economy and your wallet.
Most farmers’ markets only allow vendors from farms within a 100 mile radius of the market, meaning the carbon footprint is significantly less than importing from say, Mexico or New Zealand. In addition, most of the farms being represented at these markets are small, family owned businesses. This means two things: one, they are less likely to use the gas-guzzling heavy cultivating and sorting machinery that larger farms use, and two, you support small, local businesses which helps build a better economy. As if this wasn’t already enough, organic produce is normally cheaper at the markets because you don’t have to pay for all that travel and store front overhead.
You get your own personal Iron Chef challenge!
I love going to markets without any idea of what I want to get. I normally go and take a couple of laps to see what’s lookin’ good before I commit to buying anything. Then, I go wild and grab anything that looks vibrant and delicious!
When I get home, I take inventory of everything I procured and start dreaming of recipes to make throughout the week. It’s a fantastic way to add variety into your diet and challenge yourself to combine ingredients that you hadn’t thought to tie together before. Taste of Pace offers cooking classes three times a week, and all of our classes are technique driven instead of recipe driven like most other classes. Our philosophy behind that is so that instead of being locked into a recipe and only being able to use specific ingredients, you can walk through a market, purchase whatever your heart (or taste buds) desires and come home knowing six different ways to prepare your hand selected produce. Now doesn’t that sound way more fun?
I recognize that while we would all love to gallivant from market to market, chit-chatting and taste testing, most of us live in the real world and sometimes we just don’t have the time to venture to the markets. Don’t let your produce procuring stop there! There are great CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) programs all over the United States where you can sign up to get a weekly seasonal delivery to your home. Google local programs in your town – they are growing in popularity in most major cities now!
Taste of Pace offers a number of various cooking classes that are appropriate for all levels of cooking. We offer the following classes: Farmer’s Market, Vegetarian, 3 Part Basic Cooking Series (Knife skills, Pantry, and Meats), and a 3 Part Dinner Party Series (Hors D’Oeuvres, Entrees, and Desserts). For more information on Taste of Pace cooking classes, visit our website at www.tasteofpace.com and click on our “Cooking Classes” page.