at the Farmers' Markets
by John Ryan
I love places that are set up for serious shopping.
I love them partly because of the interaction. Shopping in these places is like slipping into a marvelous urban ballet. Everyone moves efficiently. Shelves are restocked even as they are ravaged; clerks know what's what; cashiers move like poetry in motion; and the whole operation doesn't grind to a halt if you pull out a twenty.
Farmer's markets are that way. Unfortunately, too many people consider them a sort of performance art, something to stroll through and look at on a lazy Saturday morning. In this way open air markets become ornaments, like cobblestone streets or old-time lampposts. (As if farmers set up just to give a neighborhood a quaint, European touch.) Farmer's markets can certainly be entertaining, but they aren't mere ornaments. A lot of serious shopping goes on.
But besides the chance to join my neighbors in this dance of commerce, I look forward to summer and the markets for a practical reason: freshness. A head of lettuce from my local farmer's market easily lasts twice as long as one from the supermarket. And it's no wonder. Lettuce bound for supermarkets has to be picked, packed, shipped, and then entered into someone's computer inventory system. By the time a head of lettuce winds up in my refrigerator, it can be well into middle age.
By contrast, the lettuce I buy from my farmer's market on Saturday was picked on Friday. Not that fresh produce necessarily tastes any different. I'd like to say that, but what I really love about fresh produce is that it takes forever to die in my refrigerator, which is a boon for someone like me—someone who doesn't plan meals in an orderly and disciplined way and is prone to eating out on a whim. I've never been one of those cooks who use asparagus within the recommended two days of purchase or who drops corn in boiling water within minutes of getting home. I'm motivated more by what sounds good when I open the refrigerator. Granted, if a bunch of asparagus is growing weary, I might use it rather than lose it, but I don't like my produce calling the shots. This is other reason I love the farmer's markets: Buying the freshest food buys me time.
Both chef and musician, John Ryan wrote the Just Good Food blog from 1996 through 2001.
This archived page created between 1994 and 2001. Modified August 2007