Monday, June 2, 2008

Why Shop at a Farmers' Market?

Farmers' Market Fresha. The vendors are local, and that means what you buy is, too.
b. The food is fresh, just picked or baked.
c. You'll find varieties you'll never see in a supermarket.
d. In many cases, the produce is organic.
e. It's convenient.
f. All of the above.

The answer: f, but we could go on with a list that runs all the way to z.
Instead, let's have a farmer answer the question:

"The food products are fresher, plus you're helping the local economy," said Rory Bray, who runs CCL Farm in Keysville, Va., with wife Mary and son Justin and produces all-natural pork, poultry and eggs.

"It's not being trucked across the country," he said. "You're helping us local farmers, and everything just tastes better."

Local, local, local. And fresh, too. "We gather ours up one day before coming in so it can be fresh," said Rosa Fleming, who has sold her sweet potatoes, greens and more for more than 50 years.

Gina Collins, who owns Victory Farms in Hanover County, Va., with husband Charlie, brings heirloom vegetables to market. "They don't travel so well, so they haven't been mass produced to be able to ship across the country or across the oceans," she said.

"These are the things that are going to be a little more perishable, a little more fragile, but they're just full of flavor and interesting shapes and sizes and colors, and they just make your plate look incredible, too."

Organic. Chemical free. Many farmers' market vendors raise their wares this way, but, until you learn your way around, ask questions.

"It's important to find out whether people use chemicals or not," Fleming said, "because chemicals are not good in this day and time. We do not use chemicals."

Consider the source. "It's nice to come to the farmers' market, because you get to actually know your farmer," said Eli Green, who works for Hicks. "And you know where your food is coming from. When you come here, it's just 20 miles away."

You get what you pay for. Sometimes farmers' markets cost more than supermarkets; sometimes they don't.

It helps to carry prices in your head -- or last week's supermarket receipt in your pocket.

But you can't put a price on this. "My experience is the vendors here offer a quality product that has a lot of love infused in it," said Heather Glissman, who owns Grammy O's Sticky Buns and also shops at the market. "They really bring a lot of their hearts along with their products."

Got any insider tips for us? "Come early, because a lot of the vendors do really well," Bray said. "The best is the first half of the market."

"Ask questions," Fleming said. "Where is this coming from? When did you pick it?"

We'll give a shopper the last word. "I think it's better food," said Justin Morgan, who was picking up his weekly share from his membership in Victory Farms' community-supported agriculture program. "It certainly gets me to eat vegetables, which I wouldn't do otherwise."

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