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Meal Planning at the Farmers’ Market

 

Every unseasonably warm day we have from now to the spring is making me yearn for the halcyon days of summer, when the days are long, the living’s easy — and the booths and baskets at local farmers’ markets are overflowing with fresh bounty.

But even in the cold of winter, there are still delights aplenty popping up from the ground all around west Georgia and east Alabama; you needn’t be shy about making the most if it!

Making the most of your trip to the farmer’s market means going in with a plan. Here are a few tips to get you started.

Know Your Turf

The first step to getting the most out of your farmer’s market trip is to know what’s available. Take a trip or two and just aimlessly walk the stalls and talk to the growers who are there. Note what foods they have available and ask about what’s in season. If they plan to offer a special on an upcoming crop, they’ll let you know. Bring a notepad or use a note app on your phone to help you keep up.

You can also look online to get an idea of what crops might be in season. Check out Get Healthy, Live Well’s free Farm and Food Resource Guide for a calendar of what regional produce is growing when.

Which Goes First: Cart, or Horse?

Which comes first — knowing what you’re going to buy at the market, or deciding what you’re going to cook with what you buy?

Smart grocery shoppers know they can stretch a dollar by looking at the store’s weekly circular and planning a menu around what’s on sale. Farmer’s markets, too, offer special pricing on produce throughout the year, but few have the resources to print an insert for the local paper.

Knowing what produce will be available helps, but you also have the option of buying what’s on sale at the market and then planning your meals. Apps like AllRecipes.com’s “Dinner Spinner” allow you to enter your available ingredients and offers a selection of user-created dishes that incorporate what you have on hand. You’ll also want to check your calendar for days or evenings when you know you won’t be cooking — date night, the kids’ soccer practice that always runs late, prayer group at church, etc.

Remember, too, that since the produce is fresher than you typically find in a grocery store, the farmers’ market produce may have a longer shelf life. You also may have the option of freezing (or canning, if you really want to preserve food and reduce your carbon footprint) any extra to use later.

Don’t Be Shy

Our local growers are the salt of the earth! They’re passionate about produce and love sharing advice and insight to help you make the best selections and decide how to plan a meal. Few people are going to know more about their wares than the people who grow them. If you’re unsure about how to prepare a food or if what you’re buying will last until you can cook it, ask the folks staffing the market!

You can also check out the blog available on the Cotton Mill Farmers’ Market website at cottonmillfarmersmarket.org/blog for some really tasty ways to prepare your farmers’ market fare!

A farmers’ market is a forum for the community to commune with the folks who feed us — a chance to reach back through the generations between us and the farm to find the knowledge we lost along the way. It’s also a great way to find the freshest produce that’s traveled the least distance from the field to your plate, ensuring a lower impact on our environment and offering even more nutritional value. Be sure to stop by your local farmers’ market soon, take a tour, make a plan and get your apron ready for an adventure!

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