Monday, April 4, 2011

When “Local” Isn’t Just a Marketing Term

A recent Associated Press article talked about how many foods labeled “local” really aren’t. Food distributors have figured out that American consumers are hopping on the fresh/seasonal/local bandwagon and they want to capitalize on that.  So, they slap the word “local” onto their fresh fruits and veggies even if the distance between the field it came from and your grocery store is a four digit number on mapquest.

Photos taken at Santa Monica Farmer's Market
There is no federal definition for this word “local” so it is caveat emptor…let the buyer beware. Of course, it’s safe to bet that if it is March in Boston the strawberries marked local probably aren’t, but what’s an easier way to ensure local?  The answer is your local farmer’s market.

According to the USDA, there were more than 6,300 operating farmers markets in the United States in 2010, up 16 percent from the year previous. Producers at these markets could be anything from a lady selling eggs from her backyard chickens to a three-generation family farm down the road selling everything from asparagus to wild honey. Prices are usually on par or better than the grocery stores, and oftentimes the produce was picked at the crack of dawn (or the middle of the night) right before it headed to market.

There are more than 88 farmers markets just in the Los Angeles County area.  One of the biggest and best is the Santa Monica Farmer’s Market, which runs on Wednesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays. 

After years of listening to Evan Kleiman on KCRW's "Good Food" talk about the market, I was lucky enough to visit this past weekend while vacationing in LA. We were there by 9 a.m. to be among the first to purchase a fine array of truly local, seasonal produce and food items. Mushrooms from right up the road, citrus from the Imperial Valley, a huge daikon radish (only $2!) from a local farm family.

We stocked up on striped beets, yellow chard, burgundy potatoes and enough fava beans to satisfy me for quite some time. We left the market with bags of food and then I started to dream – what to make, what to make. The first day we had creamy scrambled eggs with thyme and sautéed hedgehog mushrooms.  Last night was short ribs with multicolored carrots and those part regular/part sweet burgundy potatoes, roasted to a wonderful crunch. Tonight will be gnocchi with fresh fava beans, browned butter, crispy leeks and a fried egg on top. Tomorrow will be some wild-caught salmon with a homemade pickled daikon salad. Later this week is pork tenderloin with roasted green garlic, sunchokes and fennel. 

 Without the farmer’s market, I would not have access to all these great fruits and vegetables. If they were at the neighborhood Safeway, they certainly wouldn’t be local. So, I’ll continue to my local farmers market on Saturday mornings to pick out what looks great and is truly from a nearby farm or community garden, and play the “what will I cook this week” game. Let us know about your local farmer’s market – what’s your favorite part about it, who is your favorite grower, what is the best thing you’ve ever dreamed up from the ingredients you purchased?


1 comment:

Gail said...

My favorite farmer at the SM Wednesday market is Windrose Farms. They have great stuff, like smoked tomatoes, tomato plants that I get every year, and awesome peaches in the summertime, among other things.

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