One of the harbingers of spring is the fantastic weather. Another is the return of the farmers market. With recent press on the "hearty" benefits of a Mediterranean diet, where better to embark on a healthy sojourn?
Farmers markets are not solely for pretentious foodies; they are for all of us who care about ourselves and what we eat as well as promoting sustainability. Healthy food can and does taste good, and it has beneficial nutrients when at perfect ripeness.
It is also inexpensive. According to Barry Estabrook in The Atlantic ("The Farmers' Market Myth," May 10, 2011), "if you buy what is in season, produce at a farmers' market is 40 percent cheaper than buying it at grocery stores."
To get to the root of the matter I visited Brian Kline, a certified local vendor, at the 150-acre Kline-Cushing Organic Farm in La Grange. Kline and his faithful staff use only their hands, shovels and hoes and no herbicides, all which entail myriad challenges. Their wide array of organic crops include heirloom tomatoes, various fruits, lettuce, kale, potatoes, garlic, beets, greens and fava beans.
Although Kline is "settled in" to what they grow well, they are always trying new varieties to appeal to consumer demands. So talk with them, ask questions; they thrive on it. Additionally, local chefs "have a real sense of what people want," so they keep him abreast of trends. Surla's, Galletto and Concetta are some of the local fine-dining establishments that feature his produce in seasonal menu selections.
Sensitive to the fact that it can financially be a squeeze for some people to buy at the farmers markets, Kline maintains that farmers market prices are less than at the supermarket. WIC and EBTs (electronic food stamps) are also accepted, said Marie Uber, manager of the Modesto Certified Farmers Market.
Kline recognizes that Modesto farmers markets are a long way across town for some folks, and that Saturdays portend busy schedules. He suggests visiting once a month, buying a new, different and fun food, cooking it as soon as possible while at its peak of nutrition, and relishing the flavor. Simple, nutritious and delicious recipes can be found on his website (kcorganicfarms.com).
Kline lauds the contagious passion of his hardworking staff. He senses that people who come to the market can "feel the ripples of that and it enriches lives in both directions. When people shop at (the farmers market) and make the decision to put their dollars back into the community, the dollars do go right back into the community. It is awesome!"
When we support our local farmers markets, we not only support the local community, but also we lower the "carbon footprint" because our local farmers travel a shorter distance than large grocery store suppliers. Go with a flexible menu, ready your plate and your palate for the peak-of-freshness bounty and beauty and be sure to bring recyclable tote bags and change (especially quarters) to make it easier for the vendors. Only at the farmers markets can you look straight into the eyes of the person who planted the product, nurtured it, picked it and is now presenting it to you for your pleasure and physical preservation.
The Modesto Farmers Market, on 16th Street between H and I streets, is scheduled to open Saturday.
Clemensen, a Modesto resident, is a retired educator who will be a visiting editor at The Bee later this year. Send questions or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
WHERE ELSE TO SHOP FOR TASTY PRODUCE
Ceres Wednesdays, Whitman Park
Manteca Tuesdays, Library Park, Manteca and Poplar
Modesto Tuesdays, 2221 McHenry Ave.; Thursdays, 16th Street between H and I streets and 601 N. Martin Luther King Drive; Saturdays, 16th Street between H and I streets and 10th Street between H and I streets
Oakdale Thursdays, Third Avenue between E and F streets
Patterson Wednesdays, 1040 W. Las Palmas
Sonora Saturdays, Theall and Stewart streets, Drabkin Parking Lot
Tuolumne Wednesdays, Tuolumne City Memorial Park, Fir and Main
Twain Harte Fridays, Eproson Park
SOURCE: www.cafarmersmarkets.com/ index.cfm