What Makes A Farmers' Market Good?

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It's wildflower season in the far reaches of Northern California, which is where we found ourselves last weekend. Rhododendrons the size of old redwood trees, well, not really, but they were huge. And blooming. Brilliant, each of them.

As much as I was charmed by the endless swaths of sweet peas, the foxglove, yellow lupine, buttercups, a single trillium, it was the Arcata farmers' market that was my favorite stop of the trip. It's had me wondering what makes a good market. Because all farmers' markets are not created equal. I recently left one hungry and empty handed.

One of my favorite things about a farmers' market, which was true in Arcata, were the small farmers. They drove pick up trucks, had hand lettered signs, where there were signs at all and each vendor was its own canopy of creativity. This was not a cookie cutter market but a morning gathering on the square, commerce, friends, food. This was art. There was music, benches, green grass. There were women selling raffle tickets to benefit the local breast cancer clinic. Top prize, a trip to Nova Scotia.

The produce was animated with color; the spinach more green than hundred dollar bills. The carrots bunched in rainbows of yellow, orange, red and white. The food was harvested but still growing. Even the eggs, one araucana green in each dozen, were romantic. The food was fresh in a way that could not be manufactured.

I like finding something new at a farmers market too; that one of a kind item that surprises me. In Arcata it was sand dune honey. It tasted of fog and salt; it tasted of wind.

I like a market with diversity, old farmers, young farmers. A market with character, that's honest; that celebrates a place. I like markets with real food, an extra handful of cherries, bright eyes and rounding that always ends in quarters.

What is it that makes a farmers' market good for you?


Kelly said...

seriously...our farmers markets suck. to many value added products not enough basic produce. I was blown away by farmers markets in California (food bowl to the world). something about the mix of culture and geography and population size...dunno, but I miss them.

Anonymous said...

I like the funky, small farmers markets. I like them for their atmosphere and honesty and sense of community. However, I'll always have a soft spot for our enormous Marin farmer's market.

Tamara said...

I love the photos, and also the tribute to Arcata. When I lived there in the early 90s, I don't remember there being a farmer's market. However, Arcata is where I first learned about organic food...from the local Co-Op! Thanks for the memories.....

Kale for Sale said...

Kelly - I agree that plain ole produce creates an entirely different feel and is the heart of a farmers' market. And not to make you feel better but there are sucky markets in California too. I've been to them.

a sonoma garden - One of the beauties of the Marin market is that it still has pockets of small and funky. I love that and it's my market. I've gone there so long it's history is becoming my own. Yes, that soft spot. You know.

Tamara - We have to go. I suspect so many things are still the same. Except that there's a Starbuck's in McKinleyville that likely wasn't there in the 90's.

Eleanor said...

I like to see a market where attention has been paid to balance, so you're not faced with all meats, cheeses, jams, jellies, soaps, candles and jewelry and -- oh, dear -- no vegetables or fruit? (I've seen it happen.) My preferences lean heavily toward the latter, but I realize everyone's different, so that's why it needs to be orchestrated.

I, too, love the small farmers for both the character and heart they bring to the market but the freshness. I've been to markets where vendors are actually selling imported produce. No! That's not why I go to a farmers market!

Finally, I love the diversity of farmers markets themselves and love nothing more than checking them all out and appreciating them for their local differences.

Kale for Sale said...

Eleanor - I went to a farmers' market where there were more people listening to the western band in the parking lot than there were vegetables for sale. But then music is a kind of food too and adds to that diversity factor. There's always a surprise of some variety or another, isn't there.

Eleanor said...

The most recent farmers market here in my town had so many dogs! (More than usual.) It was clear that they were there for socializing, just like many of the people. It's clearly not just about the veggies...it's a community event!