After almost a six-month hiatus, the Lawrence Farmer’s Market is back this weekend. This is great news to those of us who prefer local, seasonal produce to what is available year-round at the grocery stores.
My husband Bryan came to appreciate asparagus late in life, at about age 30, and now he just cannot wait for the local asparagus season. For the last two years, he started asking around February if asparagus is coming soon. He’s like a little child waiting for Christmas and Santa Claus. “Is it here yet? Is it here yet?” he’ll keep asking. Even though we could be buying asparagus in December or January, store-bought asparagus tastes nothing like the local batches that start becoming available at the farmer’s market in early April. Farmer’s markets help us reconnect with where our food comes from and the cycles of Mother Nature that make it possible.
Here in Kansas, the market starts out slow with salad greens, spinach, asparagus and maybe a few peas. Following asparagus, if there isn’t a late cold snap, we’ll get rhubarb. After rhubarb, strawberries and other berries come in. Late June and definitely by the Fourth of July marks the beginning of local tomatoes. Then come all the other hot weather produce, cucumbers, peppers and eggplant. Late summer gives us a bounty of watermelons, cantaloupe and another favorite of Bryan’s, the charantais melon. Last but not the least, sweet corn arrives, oh the wonderful local sweet corn!
Most Americans aren’t aware of the fact that the majority of the produce we get in the grocery stores travels an average of 1,500 miles. The distance alone is proof that those vegetables and fruits cannot possibly be fresh. When the farmer’s market is in season, the produce available there is at most a day old. That is a considerable difference in freshness. That means a huge difference in flavor and nutrition, not to mention the local produce undoubtedly lasts longer in our fridges.
In the last few years, there have been some adventurous people, who have experimented with a strictly local diet where they only eat foods that are grown within a 100- to 150-mile radius (For more information go to: http://100milediet.org/). That diet may be easy to follow in places such as California or Florida but is a little difficult in Kansas. I’m not advocating that we all try to do that, but using more local, seasonal ingredients in the meals we prepare will make the food taste a lot better and cooking a little more interesting and fun. Plus, it’s a way to help out the local economy and make new friends with the people who grow our food.
The local farmers are great resources in cooking as well. When you come across an interesting vegetable or fruit, ask the farmer about it. Chances are, you’ll not only come away with great ingredients, but brand new recipes, too.
To find more information about the Lawrence market, go to www.lawrencefarmersmarket.com. There are more than 36,000 local markets across the country. If you want to find a farmer’s market near you, you can check out www.localharvest.org, which is a phenomenal resource of local producers and markets.
Happy local eating, everyone!