Friday, June 5, 2009

To Market, To Market

Sometimes the grocery store weirds me out. I think about archaeologists 1000 years from now (assuming we make it that long), and how they will find the ruins of our marketplaces. What would they write about them for high school text books? Perhaps they would read something like this:

"The people would travel by automobiles to a concrete block building that served as their marketplace which they called a grocery store. These buildings were similar to bunkers, but for a few windows near the door and the pleasant music piped throughout the marketplace to provide the people with a more pleasurable experience. There, they would trade paper and metal coins as currency for food. Various foods from around the world and nation would travel thousands of kilometers by ship and truck to the marketplace. Most of these foods were corn-based, and once they reached the market they were displayed in a petroleum product called plastic, or cardboard that was made from the bark of now extinct trees, such as Pine." Plastic and cardboard would be the vocab words for the pop quiz.

I find outdoor markets to be so much more alive than shopping at the grocery store. Maybe that's because it is the setting in which humans have gathered food for thousands of years. When I am at the grocery store I feel like everything seems just a little gray under the artificial light, and even though I live in a small town where everyone knows everyone, I find myself trying to avoid eye contact with people as I maneuver Lil' Bit down the aisles. I mainly stick to the perimeter of the grocery store and avoid the center aisles where delectable treats from my childhood such as Oreos, Cheetos and other junk foods lurk. They try to ambush me at the register, but I usually manage to squeeze my way past their watchful eye without succumbing to their temptation. 

The Fernandina Beach Farmers Market is suuuchhh a preferable experience...shoot, any farmers market or roadside stand would be. There is something so refreshing about strolling through our farmers market and perusing the baskets of fresh veggies and citrus in the morning breeze. As you walk down the little side street where farmers and vendors peddle their wares under little white canopies, you can hear people discuss how a particular cheese is made, or laughing over the shape of a tomato. When was the last time you heard a full blown belly laugh at the grocery store? People would look at me like I was nuts if I burst into chuckles in the produce aisle, Ugly Ripe tomato in hand. 

Over 1000 people visit our farmers market every Saturday. That is like 1/10 of the entire island's population and Lil' Bit and I always run into someone we know. We try to go there every week in order to buy a few things that will last until the next visit. Fresh bread, veggies, citrus, cheese, milk, beef, pork, flowers, fresh pasta, amazes me the variety of vendors we have at our little market. Sometimes I feel like you are at a mini food festival because there is always a live folk band playing and as the music mingles with the smell of fresh tamales and crab cakes, well my spirit just can't help but be lifted.

There is a little wiry Dutch lady who sells the most beautiful plants, and a sweet older man and a young lady whom I suspect is his daughter that grow the most beautiful orchids you have ever laid your eyes on. There a a few old farming families that sell conventionally grown veggies, and also a nice couple with a small organic farm peddling their wares. I can't forget to mention the ice cream truck from which a fella hawks local shrimp and fish, and there is even a lady that sells homemade dog biscuits. There is truly something for everyone. 

One of the biggest benefits of shopping at the farmers market is that it is easy on the pocket book. The average piece of food in the USA travels 4,000-6,000 miles from its origin to your plate. Needless to say there is a lot of overhead involved in that type of travel, and the food is so far from fresh it is shocking. For example, the eggs at the grocery store can be up to 2 months old sitting on the shelf.  Yuck.

Buying better tasting, fresh food for less isn't the only plus...although it is a pretty great one. If we eat just one locally produced meal a week it is the equivalent of cutting green house gas emissions by 1,000 miles per year. And we are supporting the local economy to boot! All those farmers and vendors that live in our areas, will in turn take that money and spend it in our community at places like our restaurant! It is really a win, win situation. 

People that live in big cities have all sorts of open air markets to shop at, but even those of us that live in tiny little po-dunk border towns like Fernandina most likely have a farmer's market nearby. It is such a wonderful way to learn about our food and connect with its heritage the culture which surrounds it. And maybe, just maybe, if we all made a greater of an effort to shop at the farmers market the history books of the future might read a little differently.

Good Life Quest # 3 / Explore the Farmers Market 
Check out a farmers market near you at
Go, learn, and enjoy your local food culture and heritage in your area.  Buy enough food for at least one complete meal.  Cook it...and then go to the grocery store and buy a similar meal.  Cook it...and think about the difference between the two. 


Anonymous said...

if any of your readers ever have the chance to be in aix en provence, france on a tuesday, thursday, or saturday any time of the year, but especially in the summer: get ready to be blown away. after just having moved back from there (yesterday in fact!) after a year and a half of living in south france, i will greatly miss those markets. BUT i am happy that there are so many great ones in the states too. it's really catching back on and i am very grateful for that!

Anonymous said...

that was me, heather, there on the above comment. it put anonymous!?

Theresa said...

Any idea why there are like 1/2 the vendors at the farmer's market now? Just curious... and sad..

Nan said...

Yes, the farmers market begins to die down in the hot season because many farmers don't grow during the late months of summer because of the heat. Farmers tend to wind down their growing in July...and the vendors say less people come because of the heat as well.

Anonymous said...

Another advantage to buying local is the nutritional benefit. More vitamins & minerals are found in milk that is just pasterized, rather than ultra pasterized. Ultra pasterization is the new rave for ease in creating a longer road trip & shelf live. Unfortunately, this is the case with organic milk companies. Read your labels & enjoy local dairy products!
Shopping at the local market also encourages shoppers to buy nutritional veggies they might not find or even notice in the grocery. Here in Asheville, I've been cooking with all types of new-to-me veggies like chard, broccoli rab, fennel, and kohlrabi. I've opened up my tastebuds & my nutritional resources.
Thanks, Nan, for another great post!