Leanne Battelle lives in the San Francisco Bay Area and with her blog The Real Deal Marin reports on food system reform efforts and shares flavorful recipes prepared with seasonal ingredients. The blog serves as a link to The Whole Pantry, a service that simplifies and inspires home cooking by improving efficiency in the kitchen. You can subscribe to the blog or follow on Facebook and Pinterest.
Farmers Market Update: Marin County
by Leanne Battelle
Buying, preparing and eating produce from the farmers market is nutritious, supports local growers and is good for the environment. But it is also more convenient and economical than you might think. As a bonus, it lifts the mundane drudgery of food shopping to a level where it’s not just a chore, but an experience that blends sensory enjoyment, social connection and new discoveries.
A farmers market visit can be looked at in a number of different ways. For some, it’s an add-on to the grocery store rounds, as a quick in-and-out to fill the crisper and fruit bowl. For others, it’s an occasional gourmet meandering for specialties.
But too often it challenges time, effort and/or income limitations, creating a perceived barrier between what might be lovely but isn’t necessarily feasible.
In reality, the farmers market is a great way to get affordable, delicious, wholesome food on the table with little effort. And when it becomes part of your routine, the shopping process gets easier as you learn to visit only those booths that meet your quality, price and selection criteria. While you’re at it, you can even pick up a pre-cooked portion of dinner.
In Marin County, outside of San Francisco, we are fortunate to have at least one farmers market a day, with the exception of Mondays. The two largest take place at the Civic Center in San Rafael on Thursdays and Sundays. The Sunday market is the largest with close to 250 vendors and a typical attendance of approximately 10,000 to 12,000. See this link to Edible Marin and Wine Country’s full list of local markets.
With so many options, those of us who live in this region can’t easily fall back on the time and effort excuse.
It’s true you may be waylaid by this fall season’s unusual eggplant varieties from the impressive Full Belly Farm including globe, Rosa Bianca, Thai, Chinese and Japanese. Check out the Full Belly Farm website where you can check out a broad selection of produce, information and recipes.
Or you might briefly debate whether you should target items whose seasonal lifespan is winding down––like orchid and crimson sweet melons––or instead gravitate to the newly-arrived-but-not-going-
Maybe it’s a day to stick with the standard white and crimini mushrooms, or you might prefer to branch out with a wild variety like shortcake, port, oyster, maitake, chanterelle or royal trumpet, which the growers at Solano Mushroom Farm say taste a bit like abalone.
Either way, a farmers market trip, whether it’s a requisite or an elective, never lacks the enjoyment factor.
Beyond time and effort, another common hindrance challenging farmers market attendance is the perceived high price. Certainly they vary greatly, especially between conventional and organic fair. But, if you whittle the stops down to just those vendors who can provide you with your week’s worth of preferred produce and you learn proper storage techniques, you will save yourself a bundle.
As an aside, a personal analysis of prices among our local farmers markets, Whole Foods and Safeway consistently show a cost variance between 10-40%, with the farmers market being the least expensive and Safeway being the most. Not what you’d expect.
Tip: Buy in bulk and save significantly. A full flat of organic strawberries can be found for $20 in the summer and early fall. That’s a little more than $1.50 a basket which can go for up to $4 at the grocery store. Here are some more tips for strawberry storage and recipes.
Tip: Buy bread for the week and beyond. As soon as you get home, cut it into the proper usage size and freeze in a Ziplock bag. When ready to eat, take what portion you need and slowly defrost on the lowest setting of a toaster or regular oven, or take out an hour before needed and leave on the counter.
Overall, the most rewarding reason for visiting a farmers market is the pleasure of discovering foods at their freshest––they don’t take much effort to prepare, because they are inherently delicious.
A quick meal can be pulled together without much more than a sprinkle of a good seasoning salt and fresh or dried herbs. Once you become accustomed to this way of shopping and cooking, it’s difficult to look at the travel-weary, taste-challenged, out of season fruits and vegetables from the grocery store the same way again.
Enjoy the delicious bounty of the fall season!