If healthy eating is part of your lifestyle or you want it to be, you can’t get any healthier than the farm to fork freshness of the summer farmer market selections available in nearly every town. Whether a road-side truck full of home-grown tomatoes or a rented booth space loaded with fresh fruit and veggies at the Saturday Merriam Marketplace, there is an abundance of fresh eating for those who want to nosh and nibble from the healthier side.
Farm to fork is catching on. In fact, in 2011, there were 7,175 operational farmers markets across the U.S., a 17% increase over 2010. Not only is the farm to fork movement increasing in popularity, it’s a great way to boost the healthy nutrients your body needs from food and it can be an affordable alternative to the typical grocery store buy and it’s definitely healthier for our environment. The less distance your food travels to your plate, the cheaper it will be and fewer emissions will be released into the air. Did you know the average meal of roast with potatoes and carrots can travel over 1,500 miles before you serve it for dinner? Wowza….that same meal grown and sold locally makes a trip of only 90 miles.
My crew typically hits up the farmers markets in Merriam and Overland Park almost weekly. Our average spend is about $8.00 for fruit and veggie side dishes that will last us throughout the upcoming week. Compared to my recent “grocery store” trip, I saved over $6.00—-and, who knows how old and from where that produce was harvested. It’s fun to get up on Saturday morning, head out the door with my coffee and walk to the market with the fam. My kiddo loves the free samples and Saturday morning music. The husband likes to pick out something we’ve never tried (recently it was a purple tomato); I enjoy the prices, fresh selection and creating a menu from our purchases. It feels great to talk to the farmer who grows and sells our tomatoes; I knew exactly where those tomatoes came from and when they were picked. Tossed with fresh basil from another market vendor, splashed with balsamic and a hint of sugar and layered with a sprinkle of feta cheese, our Saturday evening side dish was complete in five minutes and tasted delicious—and, I’ve got four more tomatoes for the remainder of the week—plus a purple one to serve somehow??
There’s still plenty of summer left to enjoy a few trips to the market and try your hand at farm to fork! Why not serve a complete meal from market goodies—freshly baked bread, a crisp salad, grilled veggies and peach cobbler for dessert? Talk to a local market vendor to find out where they farm, if they use any chemicals in their growing practices, do they sell eggs year-round, do they can any of their end-of-season crop, do they offer a CSA (community supported agriculture) program? The more you learn, the more you’ll want to continue supporting your local farmers and no doubt they’ll remember you next season!
- Bring cash in small bills and change. Some vendors cannot take card payments and there could be additional fees if so.
- Bring your own canvas or cloth tote bag.
- It’s rude to sample over and over and then move on. The rule in our house is “one and done or make a small purchase”.
- Shop early in the morning for the greatest selection–but, as closing time draws near, sometimes items sell for ½ price.
Make it: Balsamic Tomato Salad
- 2 medium size tomatoes (sweeter variety, well ripened)
- Small bunch of chopped fresh basil
- ¼ cup of fresh crumbled feta or shredded mozzarella
- 2-3 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar
- 1 teaspoon of sugar (or sweetener of your choice)
- Dash of garlic powder, seasoned salt and pepper
Chop tomatoes into chunks and place into medium bowl with chopped basil and crumbled feta. Mix balsamic, sugar and seasonings into a shaker bottle and toss with tomato mixture. Refrigerate for one hour prior to serving!