Culinary adventures abound at farmers markets close to home
A sure sign that winter is approaching, farmers markets in many communities will begin packing up their tents and moving indoors over the next couple of months. In our own hamlet, the Chappaqua Farmers Market (Westchester County, New York) will be moving to the ground floor of St. Mary’s Church from its summer home at the Metro-North railway station parking lot.
Foodies and families flock to the farmers market on Saturday mornings, recyclable bags in hand, keenly anticipating the seasonal surprises they’ll find. Depending on the week, there’s a changing cast of characters behind the tables and displays: a fishmonger, butchers, bakers and cupcake makers, a milkman, and cheesemakers, among them— as well as vendors who come with locally produced fruits, vegetables, jams, jellies, honey, pickles, olives, olive oils, spices, and ready-to-eat prepared foods. Most of the products are pesticide-free and sustainable, and grown within a 200-mile radius of our town.
The Chappaqua Farmers Market began in 2010, a joint venture supported by the Town of New Castle and its citizens. It has a volunteer Board of Directors and experienced and creative market director, Pascale Le Draoulec. The two closest surrounding towns, Mount Kisco to the north and Pleasantville to the south, each have vibrant markets of their own.
It’s estimated that about 8000 farmers markets have sprouted up around the country. Central Market in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, having been in continuous operation for more than 275 years, is said to be the nation’s oldest. While not all farmers markets can remain open year-round, many do, including the one in Chappaqua.
A number of factors account for the growing appeal of farmers markets among city-dwellers and suburban denizens:
Health & Food Safety Benefits
People realize that food produced closer to home, which hasn’t been trucked or flown in from thousands of miles away, or hasn’t been stored and packaged in huge warehouses, is fresher and tastier. Produce and vegetables are more likely to be hand-picked when they’re ripe.
With more attention being focused on food safety, it is reassuring to deal directly with the farmer who has produced the food you are purchasing. If something isn’t fresh or has been improperly handled, the customer is more likely to be able to pinpoint exactly who is responsible.
Sense of Community
A morning jaunt to the farmers market is a perfect excursion for anyone willing to forgo Saturday morning cartoons and meet the people around them. There’s a festive and welcoming atmosphere that makes you feel like you are part of a neighborhood.
Historically, whole towns have sprouted up around markets, as has been said was the case with the traveling Boqueria Market that began in Catalonia in the 1200s. Markets bring people out of their homes to meet their neighbors as well as local vendors.
New Food Experiences
Speaking directly to farmers is a wonderful way to learn about the origins of the foods we eat, to taste new food products, and to learn new recipes for preparing healthy family meals. The vendors at these markets are there, in part, because they enjoy the one-on-one relationship with their customers and are only too happy to share what they know. It’s a great way to educate your children and grandchildren about healthy eating.
It’s vitally important to support small local farmers, whose very existence is threatened by weather shifts and the food giants. Several studies also show that farmers markets have a positive impact both on the economy of local communities and their regions.
On my last visit, different cuts of pork, beef and poultry were on sale at the Chappaqua market from the nearby Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture, a non-profit farm and educational center designed to promote sustainable, community-based food production. (Celebrity chef Dan Barber’s food-to-table restaurant, Blue Hill at Stone Barns, is an integral part of the Center.)
The sweet Italian sausages I prepared for dinner that evening tasted better than any other we had ever had: perfectly flavored and tender – and they were made even more delectable knowing where they came from. When we travel, we are avid visitors of public markets in different regions of the US and other countries but it’s also nice to roll out of bed on a Saturday morning and expand our culinary horizons close to home.
To find a farmers market in your own community, check out these two searchable directories on the Internet: