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Navigating Farmers Markets

Editors note: We’re glad to bring you content from others in our community that are committed to a vegan lifestyle. This post is from Cheryl Still, who is working this summer with a local farm bringing wonderful produce to our local farmer’s markets. She offered to share her expertise with you, and we’re thrilled to be able to share it with you. 

We are so lucky to live in Michigan and experience all the seasons. From hot summer days to frosty winter nights, Michigan has so much to offer in regards to local fruits and veggies. If you need help figuring out how to enjoy all of Michigan’s plentiful harvests, here’s a quick guide that will help you find farmers markets and shop smarter. Make sure you read to the end to find some recipes for what to do with one of my favorite vegetables!

Navigating Farmers Markets

13511950_10209057959744041_9076583167749915099_nDo you have a favorite farmers market? Fulton Street, Ada, Holland, Muskegon, and the YMCA Veggie Van are just a handful of the markets around West Michigan supplying fresh food for individuals, families, and restaurants. With seasonal Michigan produce now in its prime, here’s what you need to know for successful navigation of local markets this summer and fall.

West Michigan Farm Markets – This website is a great resource (organized by county) to provide you with farmers’ market names, addresses, directions, dates and hours, and websites. In addition, you will also see if the markets accept Bridge Cards, Double Up Food Bucks, WIC Project Fresh, and Senior Market Fresh.

What’s In Season In Michigan?
Buying fruits and vegetables during their Michigan growing season can help you save money and enjoy the pristine flavors of the season. So, how do you know if the produce at the markets is in-season, last year’s crop, or grown in Michigan greenhouses? Here’s a helpful guide from A Healthier Michigan. The article In Season In Michigan provides an alphabetical list of fruits and vegetables and which months they are in season.

Last Year’s Crop

13606692_10209057959184027_8686017154160487294_nSome produce at the markets are from last year’s crop. Root vegetables like beets, carrots, parsnips, onions, and garlic store well over the winter. This enables farmers to provide these items right away in early summer. Other examples of last year’s crops typically include maple syrup and apples being sold in June and July. It’s valuable to remember that fruits like grapefruits, oranges, mangos, bananas, and pineapples do not grow locally in Michigan’s weather. These and other tropical fruits usually come from other states or countries. Look around the market—the only vendors selling mangos in Michigan are grocery stores that ship them in from out-of-state.

If you are not sure where produce comes from or if it is in-season, ask the farmers at the market. Some of the produce for sale might be grown in a greenhouse, which enables farmers to sell tomatoes, for example, in June in addition to their July and August Michigan harvest season.

Good Tips to Know

  • BYOB (Bring Your Own Bag)—Even if the vendor places the lettuce that you purchased in as plastic bag, you will want a reusable or sturdier bag to place your purchases in after you acquire three or four bags.
  • Browse the entire market for the best choice in produce and prices before purchasing.
  • Visit the markets often. In doing so, you will get to see what’s fresh every week, and you will not miss out on purchasing strawberries or asparagus, for example, when they are no longer available.
  • Talk to the vendors about their recommended best ideas for cooking and preparing the produce you are interested in buying. They know the various flavors, textures, and features of the items they sell, and they most likely will be able to help you determine the quantity of produce to buy for a recipe you want to make (like how much rhubarb you need to make a pie, etc.).
  • Make offers for produce “seconds.” The “seconds” are fruits and vegetables that vendors cannot sell at the regular prices because they lack some aesthetic visual quality (they don’t look the best). Yet, these items are still wonderful to eat and often are just what you need if you want tomatoes for tomato sauce, strawberries for jam (called “jamberries”) or peaches for pie, for example. Ask vendors if they have any “seconds” on the produce that you are interested in. Often times, you will come away with a great deal!
  • Ask questions. No question is too silly to ask. You are who the farms and vendors are at the market for. Feel comfortable talking and making eye contact with vendors even if you don’t end up purchasing from them.

Goodies You Might Be Missing

  • Homemade granola (ask about what sweeteners they use to find ones without honey)
  • Homemade salsa
  • Herb and garden plants
  • Flowers for party centerpieces
  • Locally produced pure maple syrup (look for it in the fall and winter)
  • New vegetables and fruits to try—Have you ever tried a fresh currant? How about a white radish? Purple potatoes?

Things You Won’t Find

  • Artificial Preservatives—Be sure to refrigerate or properly store your fruits and vegetables as soon as possible and try to use them within the week while the quality is the best.
  • Produce not worth the price—Remember, you are supporting local vendors and farms and saving money buying fresh, in-season produce.

Check out the great assortment of produce to try at your local farmers market.

Want some recipes?
Here are some great recipes featuring carrots which are in season right now.

Carrot and Celery Salad with Agave-Vinegar Dressing
(Original recipe adapted from http://eatingwell.com September/October 2009)
2 Tbsp. walnut oil, canola oil, or olive oil
2 Tbsp. unseasoned rice vinegar (or substitute fresh lemon juice)
1 Tbsp. agave nectar
1 small bunch green onions (green parts only), chopped
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground pepper, to taste
2 c. peeled and shredded carrots (about 4 medium)
1 c. chopped celery stalks
1/4 c. golden raisins
1/4 c. roughly chopped walnuts or cashews, toasted

Whisk oil, rice vinegar, agave, green onions, salt, and pepper in a large bowl. Add in carrots, celery, raisins, and walnuts. Toss to combine. Store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 5 days.

Carrot Cake Energy Squares
(Original recipe adapted from Daily Bites by Hallie Klecker)
Makes 12 squares
1/2 c. almonds (raw or toasted—use toasted nuts if you desire the nutty flavor)
1/2 c. walnuts or cashews (raw or toasted)
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt
1 c. raw carrots, grated (smaller than shredding) (about 2 medium carrots)
1/2 c. raisins
1 Tbsp unsweetened applesauce
1 Tbsp coconut oil, melted
1 tsp finely grated lemon zest (optional)

Line an 8×8-inch baking dish with parchment paper, making sure that there is some paper overhanging the sides of the dish. In a food processor fitted with the steel blade, process the almonds, walnuts, cinnamon, and salt until finely ground, about 30 seconds. Transfer this ground nut combination into a small bowl and set aside. Grate the carrots (smaller than shredding) in the food processor. Transfer to a medium bowl and then set aside. Place the raisins in the food processor and process until a sticky ball of raisin paste. Add the ground nut mixture and grated carrots back into the food processor, and process 5 seconds or so until the nuts, carrots, and raisin paste are all combined.Transfer to a large bowl. Stir in the applesauce, coconut oil, and optional lemon zest until thoroughly combined. Press mixture firmly and evenly into the bottom of prepared lined baking dish. Freeze for 1 hour or until firm. Remover the bar “slab” from the pan using the parchment paper overhang. Cut into 12 squares. Store squares in and airtight container in the freezer. I enjoy eating them frozen. Enjoy!