Farmer’s markets are political places. We have a lot opinions about them. American farmer’s markets themselves tend to embody and project a variety of positions on food, farming, and how we live our lives in general. Farmer’s markets are elitist. They’re conservative. They’re liberal. They’re expensive, badly located, and full of pretentious yuppies who think themselves above Wal-mart. Farmer’s markets attract “foodies” and all of their poorly conceived, romantic philosophies about nature and getting back to “slow,” simple food. Farmer’s markets are just a symptom of the new sustainable, local, organic, earthy-crunchy, free-range, hippy-dippy movement that encourages corporations like Whole Foods to bring you “organic” food from all over the globe and tries to scare you out of consuming HFCS (high-fructose corn syrup)–ideas here courtesy of Michael Pollan. They’ve born slogans like “Think globally, eat locally” and “Eat where your food lives.” Some people believe this “movement” only exacerbates the problems they claim to want to solve— how big IS your carbon footprint if you haul food from across the state? How hypocritical are you, selling me “organic” food in plastic bags? But farmer’s markets also allow us to meet face-to-face with the people who grow our food and ask questions we might never get the opportunity to at Wal-Mart. They encourage us to think more deeply about how food connects our community. They provide a source of income for people with a passion for farming. Farmer’s markets remind consumers that there are alternative ways to eat, cook, grow, and taste. And farmers markets are really, really fun.
I’m a fan of farmer’s markets mainly because I’m a fan of outdoors, festive atmospheres. Oh, and food. I love the Cherry Street Farmer’s Market in Tulsa, OK. It’s crowded and small, but it’s got a warm place in my heart from all those mornings I used to go with friends, eat bakery pastries, buy spices and veggies, and drink tea at a nearby teahouse. My first market visit was probably to the famous Pike Place Market in downtown Seattle. We’ll be visiting later this summer and I am already in rapture over the smells, sounds, colors and variety of the place. I can’t wait to see they men throwing fish and showing off for the crowd, the rows and rows of fresh flowers and fruit, the original Starbucks coffeehouse, and all the random street performers busking for a dollar. And then there’s the Stillwater, OK farmer’s market. Held every Wednesday and Saturday near Shortcakes, no one in Stillwater had an excuse not to go. It’s small, rustic, and full of wonderful finds like homemade sausage and tons of fresh herbs. The only other farmer’s market in Houston I have visited is the Mid-town farmer’s market at T’afia. Chef Monica Pope of Top Chef fame hosts a farmer’s market in her restaurant and parking lot every Saturday morning (which is right next door to the Breakfast Klub!) The chef herself is usually there hosting a free cooking demonstration in the classroom where you can watch, listen, and eat whatever she’s making. It’s a great experience and one of the places you can catch the adorable Houston Dairy Maids. But you can still find awesome cheese at the Urban Harvest farmer’s market and we did happen to pick up a small ton of goat cheese, milked and made earlier that week.
Our first visit to Houston’s Urban Harvest Farmer’s Market coincided with Tomato Fest, a two-week long showcase of the season’s prettiest and tastiest tomatoes. Tomato fest is also happening next Saturday, June 12, so get on over there if you’re interested. We saw a LOT of tomatoes, along with a lot of other produce and prepared foods. J expected a veritable cornucopia of tomatoes, a million varieties and colors and kinds, people dancing the tomato dance and loudly singing the praises of tomatoes all day. But it was really just crowded, hot, and kind of anticlimactic for him. We did see red, yellow, green, purple, and orangey tomatoes, but you can’t impress someone who wanted blue tomatoes in his life. In any case, we ate crepes for breakfast and that was a great consolation for his broken heart. Naturally, we forgot to take pictures until we’d almost devoured them.
We also tried watermelon gazpacho, cheeses, blackberries, and salsa. Samples at farmer’s markets are great! Much better than grocery store samples, IMHO. We ended up with two flats of tomatos, bluberry peacho-de-gallo (yum!), fresh chevre, and white and yellow corn. We spent about $45 with breakfast, so this was not a cheap shopping trip, but we had a lovely morning and we’ll use all the food. Actually, we have already made something I only dreamed could occur in a home kitchen: fried green tomatoes (post to follow momentarily). We’ll definitely return to the Urban farmer’s market soon– if only for a chance to venture downtown without the oppressive afternoon traffic. Houston is full of little treasures like this an I imagine we’ll only find more as we keep exploring. I encourage you to make a trip to your local farmer’s market soon! You never know what might challenge your ideas about food or what new thing you’ll find or be inspired to try.