Stuff We Love: Farmers Markets
Posted by Toni in Health + Beauty,Stuff We Love
The cravings begin the moment I see the first posters marking the return of the farmers market to my town: tangy, succulent tomatoes just firm enough to eat like an apple, the drippings splattering onto the sun-dried pavement beneath my bare feet. My dreams of perfect tomatoes transport me to childhood summers in suburban Chicago, the late afternoon air equally thick with mosquitoes and humidity. My father, shirtless and tan, digging in his impressive vegetable garden, planting lettuces, spinach, beans, sugar snap peas, corn taller than the grown-ups and of course, tomatoes. I'm told his gardening mentor was out tending her back yard veggies hours after giving birth to him at home in a small coal mining town in Pennsylvania. My grandma's best gardening advice to her youngest son - spoken in her native Ukrainian - was that air is more important to plants than either food or water, so properly aerating the soil is essential. So many powerful sensory memories from one poster spied on a dreary April morning - this is the power of great tasting food.

While I savor those memories, I haven't yet located the green part of my thumb from my paternal ancestors (though I'm still looking). But I do love a well-stocked farmers market. Last week's Fat Girls Guide explored what it means to be a "foodie," and one reader commented that to her, being a foodie meant cooking with fresh, locally grown produce. While we realize the definition of "foodie" is both subject to debate and likely broader than this, there is something to be said for cultivating an appreciation for fresh fruits and vegetables. I grew up a skinny kid-turned-yo-yo-dieter because all of the cool kids were doing it. One unfortunate consequence of all those diets was the association of fruits and vegetables with deprivation and denial. I know better now, and one of my favorite lunches is a combination of: mixed greens, goat cheese, cucumber, tomatoes and grapes dressed with vinegar, oil and cracked black pepper.

Right now, farmers markets around the country are offering amazing salad greens, herbs and spring berries - perfect for creating a favorite lunch of your own. If you haven't been lately, this is the perfect time of year for a visit. You can often plan an entire day's meals from a morning trip, as many farmers markets also offer locally prepared breads and cheeses and farm-raised eggs, poultry and meat. Not only do your dollars often go to local businesses in your community, but visiting a farmers market is just plain fun, offering a chance to chat up local growers and artisans and feel connected to your surroundings. Not sure where to find the nearest farmers market? Local Harvest has a comprehensive search engine for U.S. markets, including organic farms and CSAs. Farmers markets aren't just for rural communities and small towns; Pike Place Market in Seattle is one of the most famous urban markets, and Green City Market on Chicago's North Side features organic produce and other goods.

There is no comparison between the tart-sweet flavor of a recently picked in season berry and its waxy facsimiles flown in from afar during winter. Perhaps there's something to be said for scarcity and delayed gratification as a better model for eating than deprivation, and perhaps this is one of greatest gifts of farmers markets - they offer the chance to get excited about even everyday ingredients, with good reason.

Girls, tell us about your childhood memories of gardening, your favorite summer eats, or share your fave farmers market and what makes it worth a visit.