Farmers Market series: Beyond the berries

Farmers Market series: Beyond the berries
Wilmette Farmers Market. Photo: Carole Kuhrt-Brewer

I have a confession to make, I geek out for farmers markets…and I am not alone.

Since 1994, the number of farmers markets in Illinois has quadrupled, with similar numbers across the country as reflected on the graph pictured here from the USDA.

Wilmette, IL. Farmers Market, June 2015. Photo: Carole Kuhrt-Brewer

Wilmette, IL. Farmers Market, June 2015. Photo: Carole Kuhrt-Brewer

The business of Farmers Markets is no small potatoes.

But is it worth it, dollar wise, for the consumer to shop at the markets?

When you’re used to fairly inexpensive offerings from the supermarket, be ready for sticker shock at many Farmers Markets:

  • A locally-grown, heirloom tomatoes can cost $5 per tomato at a Farmers Market
  • A dozen eggs often costs $7 or more
  • Pretzel rolls cost $1.25 each vs. a bag of 14 pretzel rolls at Costco for $6
  • Strawberries cost $5 a pint vs. $1 a pint (on sale) at Fresh Thyme grocery store

Even so, I’m here to tell you that, yes, it is worth it. You get what you pay for.

Comparing grocery store offerings to Farmers Market goods, is like comparing apples to oranges.

While grocery stores do some things well and are able to offer some goods at remarkably inexpensive prices, you need to ask some questions: Do you know what you are getting, where it was sourced and when it was picked?

And how about those little chickens, pigs and cows? Are they loaded with antibiotics? Do they spend their days inside or outside?

In general, the rules and regulations are tough at Farmers Markets. The City of Chicago has a 19 page pdf of rules and regulations by which their DCASE farmers market vendors must abide.

Here is just one portion of the rules that honey vendors must follow:

Honey Producers

  • Honey must be produced by bees kept by the vendor. Or, if bees are on vendor’s land for pollination, the vendor may sell the resulting honey with prior approval by DCASE.
  • Honey must not be adulterated.
  • Raw beeswax must not be adulterated with dyes, fragrances, etc.
  • Raw beeswax may be formed into blocks, tapers, votive or cylindrical-type candles only.
  • Honey producer must manufacture the candles him/herself with rendered beeswax from hives.
  • Purchased beeswax, candles, honey, or other hive related products are strictly prohibited.

So why, shop Farmers Markets…

Farmers Market provide fresh produce. Have you ever tasted the difference between a just picked tomato and a typical grocery store tomato? How about fresh picked corn vs. day or days old corn when even an hour from picking time can make a difference in flavor and sweetness? Then there’s the strawberries. Just picked Farmers Market strawberries actually smell like strawberries.

Not only does supermarket produce often not taste as good as the produce from Farmers Markets but typically it loses nutritional value as it is transported from California, Mexico or even China.

Produce in supermarkets tends to come from “factory farms” who often use heavy pesticides and petroleum-based fertilizers to provide “perfect” specimens for the consumer.

Supermarkets tend to carry varieties that ship well, with less attention paid to variety and taste.

Some supermarket items are coated or treated to give the appearance of freshness and preserve them for longer shell life. Coating is not allowed at most Farmers Markets.

farmersmarketfreerangechickensDo you want your eggs to come from happy chickens like the chickens in the picture here?  Would it bother you if chickens were caged and mistreated as a recent report from Time magazine claimed is happening at one of Costco’s egg suppliers?

At Farmers Markets, you know where the food is coming from–and usually it’s just a couple of hours away.

You meet the growers, sample their product and get recipes and cooking tips. You can bask in the community atmosphere which reflects both the neighborhood and vendors.

Chicago has over 200 markets with the suburbs sprouting even more.

Every market is a little different–be it Garfield Ridge, Naperville, Lincoln Park, Arygle Street, Daley Plaza or Highwood– so try more than one–who knows what you might discover.

Show Me Chicago will be highlighting some of our favorite markets this summer in our Farmers Market series starting today. If you have a favorite market or markets, tell us where and why.  If you want to check out Chicago’s downtown and neighborhood markets, click here for a list of days and times.

Coming up next…the Wilmette French Market.

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