9.08.2012

What do Farmers Markets mean to you?

A few months back, I ventured out to the Lancaster Farmers Market on a Thursday afternoon and documented the visit with a few comments in a subsequent blog post regarding my less than stellar experience .  After the post went live, I felt like there was going to be a small uprising among the natives in response to my take on the vacuous experience I had that day on Lancaster Boulevard.

I decided to give the Lancaster Farmers Market another chance and this time I went armed with my trusty iPhone, a small note pad, and a pen.  I was hoping for a much better experience on my second visit and I was determined to accurately capture my observations for blogging purposes.

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But before that, here is a little history of my experiences with other farmers markets...

I grew up in Dallas.  Every couple of weeks, my parents would drag me along from stall to stall as they stocked up on fresh produce at the Dallas Farmers Market.  My most vivid memory is of one vendor explaining spaghetti squash to my mother and actually showing how the the squash could be scooped out into long spaghetti like strands.  Ironically, I remember thinking at the time "That's disgusting.  Why eat a vegetable that looks like spaghetti when I can just eat real spaghetti??"  Foreshadowing.  I was only six years old.  The market in Dallas was massive, even back then, with three large barn-like structures with stalls as far as a six year old's eyes could see, full of bright displays of color from all the goodies fresh from God's green earth.

Source: http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10150103018609433.280113.101392584432&type=3

After college, I spent a few years in Detroit partaking of the most amazing farmers market I have ever experienced - Detroit Eastern Market in downtown.  Saturday mornings were my most favorite part of the week as I made a "rough" shopping list and headed my way into downtown.  Fruits, vegetables, flowers, pastured and grass-fed meats, nuts, seeds, syrups, and jams.  Eastern Market is everything a farmers market is meant to be.  With over 250 vendors in the immediate area, it is nearly impossible to go home empty handed.  Shopping at Eastern Market was never just an errand, it was a half day adventure.  With the cool weather peeking out in the mornings and the first day of fall right around the corner, I am becoming awfully nostalgic for the brightly colored apples and hot fresh cider that are a hallmark this time of year.


When I moved to California, I had a feeling it would be somewhat easy to locate a good farmers market.  And my feelings were pretty accurate.  There were plenty of smaller markets that varied from town to town, but my favorite of them all happened to be in downtown Santa Monica.  It was so easy to do my marathon training early on Saturday morning and then walk over to the intersection of Arizona Avenue and 2nd Street and load up with beautiful, fresh, seasonal produce for the next week or so.  I accidentally stumbled into the Wednesday market (at the same location) one day... According to their homepage, it is the largest grower-only certified farmers market in Southern California and a favorite for local chefs.  I can vouch for that local chef comment, as I grazed by a very tall CJ Jacobsen (remember Top Chef - Season 3?) while shopping that particular Wednesday afternoon.  The vendors and selection were in even greater abundance on Wednesday than on Saturday and I vowed I would have to go back again midweek.  California is a haven for farm fresh produce and I love that certain parts of the state have such perfect weather to accommodate a year-round growing season.  Whatever is in the fields will most certainly be on the tables in Santa Monica as soon as harvest time arrives.

Source: http://www.smgov.net/Portals/Farmers_Market/Market_Days/Wednesdays/Wednesday_Downtown.aspx

I won't even get into all the little roadside farm stands driving to and from Ventura, California or up and down the California coast on Pacific Coast Highway.  Just know that they are plentiful, they are local and fresh, and the food is delicious.

With all of these memorable experiences and bountiful shopping trips, my expectations of a local farmers market are high.  That's exactly what a visit to a farmers market means to me: an experience.  A day conversing with farmers learning about new vegetables or fruits, how to prepare them, and the best way to eat them.

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After visiting MollyKate's Gifts & Tea Room and rummaging through their $1 Sale tables (which were spectacular, by the way), I turned onto Lancaster Boulevard and headed to the farmers market end of the street.


I passed by numerous food stands that resembled a street fair more than a farmers market.  There were grilled meats and corn, snow cones, even an Electric Lemonade stand.  Interspersed were a few tables selling homemade hummus with pita bread, goat cheese, and even custom balsamic oils.  I also passed by no less than five booths selling clothing, woven bags, and/or some type of jewelry.  Many of them reminded me more of a touristy flea market type shop, less of an upscale craft show, and nothing of a farmers market. 

Needless to say, nothing screamed "farm fresh goods" to me at this point.  Especially not the local Chinese food restaurant that was selling a full assortment of shoes and handbags.  Hmm.


I finally made it to the far end of the market where I discovered the actual farmers booths.  There were a few more displays this visit than last time.  But in total, I counted only 11 farm stands out of a total 36 vendors.  Add one more table for locally harvested honey.  Which is GREAT for seasonal allergies.

 

This one particular vendor has quite the array of exotic and East Asian vegetables, but I couldn't find a sign indicating where the farm is located.  Oh well... they certainly had a more diverse selection of veggie produce than any of the other vendors.


My little iPhone didn't do this gorgeous display any justice.  You'll just have to take my word for how pretty this arrangement of grapes and apples really looked.


After rounding the end of the market and turning back up Lancaster Boulevard, I passed by more apparel, handbags, jewelry, and even these giant woven baskets... which looked so pretty in the afternoon sun.


My initial perception of the market wasn't altered very much, but I do appreciate the effort that the city has made in bringing its residents easier access to local produce.  Since the environment is much like that of a street fair, I would love to see some of the local restaurants with a booth serving up some of their specialties.  What a perfect way to get noticed!

But for now, I'll keep shopping for my fruit, veggies, and meats at Ben's Corner on Avenue L.  Much of the produce is California grown and the butchers at Plaza Meats (located inside Ben's Corner) are just too friendly and helpful to not visit when my freezer stash starts to get a little low.

What are YOUR favorite farmers market experiences?  I'm always up for a good drive.  Please share your best market experience (and location) in the comments below!




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