Today, we welcome Eat Alberta volunteer and local food advocate, Loretta Friedrich, as a guest author to the Eat Alberta Blog. Loretta will be sharing her tips for making the most of shopping at local farmer's markets and a recipe to help you prepare a nutritious and affordable family dinner at home.
When you visit a farmer’s market you may find breads and sweets, handmade clothing, prepared foods, small furniture, crafts, and even food trucks, but most people certainly expect fresh produce and family farm meats. In the warmer months, you will find numerous outdoor markets, open from mid-May to end of September, held on any given day of the week. Farmer’s markets attract all age groups, but what exactly is at the heart of their enormous appeal?
1. Knowing your farmer or producer
This is probably one of the biggest draws for me personally, to connect one-on-one with those who provide food, learn about their story, and understand how they prepare their foods.
2. Neighborhood / Community
Farmer’s markets are communities within communities: support your neighborhood farmer’s market and you’re supporting both the farmer and the neighborhood that it is in.
3. Support Alberta
Farmer’s markets are about more than just selling and buying. They’re about keeping the local economy humming – we support them and they support us. The money stays in Alberta.
4. Smaller Carbon Foot Print
The product hasn’t traveled thousands of miles to come to our door. Farmer’s markets are better for the environment, which is better for all of us inhabitants of the earth!
5. Fresh Product
By far one of the main reasons why many people go to a farmer’s market is for the fresh product. When you see dirt still clinging to a carrot or potato, or smell fruit or herbs in the air, you know the produce has just been harvested. It is also quite likely that the eggs are only hours old and the sausages were made just the day before.
You get tremendous value with outstanding quality through:
Taste – We want food that tastes good, not just looks good. After all, isn’t that why we buy food? A lot of merchants will offer tastings; ask to taste a sample from a vendor.
Nutrition – An automatic benefit to eating quality food is that it is very nutritious. That fresh vine-ripe tomato is happily assimilated in your body, which uses every nutrient.
Fresh also means you get the best “field to fork” experience at your dining room table. You know the saying, “you get what you pay for.” It’s not all about the price! When you shop, consider taste and nutrition, not just how much things costs. Get the most bang for your buck!
Preparing for Market Day
- Online preparation – A lot of markets have their own website that features “market sheets” to let you know who and what is available on market day.
- Have cash on hand – Most vendors only accept cash, so make sure your wallet is filled with plenty of money.
- Don’t overbuy - To lessen the impact on your pocket book only buy what you know you will eat. No food waste!
- Bring bags – Help mother earth as well as the vendor by bringing your own bags.
- Give yourself time – This is especially important if you’ve never been to a particular market. Consider factoring in time to make two loops around the market, the first being to scope out what’s there, and the next round to purchase.
- Experiment with new foods – Try new product, don’t just grab the same bread, produce or meat. Try new flavors. Go for the in-season produce.
- Buy frozen food last – It probably goes without saying, but visit the vendors who offer the frozen product you want to buy, last. You don’t want your meat thawing out while you’re walking around the market. Ask to have it bagged in separate wrap to avoid cross-contamination, especially with fresh produce.
- Softer food on top – Common sense kicks in: put the delicate produce (softer fruits, lettuce, and herbs) and fresh eggs on top of other harder produce, in your bag, or carry them separately.
Farmer’s market meals
Markets are the perfect place to purchase what will become your meal. Consider buying one or two vegetables as the focus, then seek out complementing foods; fresh in-season produce, herbs, honey, or grass-fed animal products are best.
To build a meal, play with whole foods, vibrant colours, herbs, texture, hot and cold. This keeps the meal interesting, affordable, and delicious. You may be pleasantly surprised how simple preparation with basic foods cuts down on assembly time too! When you love what you see and taste it becomes easier to digest, and this increases nutrient absorption as well. Sounds like a great way to reap every benefit from a market purchase!
Savory Tomato Chicken Asparagus
- 2 local hormone-free, grass-fed chicken breasts, chopped into pieces
- 2 large local tomatoes, chopped
- 1 large bunch local asparagus (or green beans), cut in pieces
- 1 tbsp. finely chopped local shallots
- 1/2 tbsp. Dijon mustard
- 1 tbsp. local raw honey
- 1 tbsp. chopped fresh garden savory
- 3 tbsp. apple cider vinegar
- 2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO), divided
- Cooked mashed local potatoes
- In a pan cook chicken just until pink is gone. Set aside.
- In another large pan heat 1 tbsp. EVOO over low / medium heat and add asparagus. Cook for a couple of minutes. Add chicken to asparagus, remainder of EVOO and the rest of ingredients except savory.
- Stir and cook for about 3 minutes until all pink is gone from the chicken.
- Off heat add savory and stir to combine. Serve hot over mashed potatoes.
Loretta Friedrich, C.H.N., is a health advocate, local supporter, community leader, speaker, author, program creator / director of Your Food Story, and award-winning business owner of Sprout Natural Nutritional Consulting. She enjoys walking, getting vegetable stains on her hands, and smelling dirt!