If you're a fresh-food lover who believes in supporting local producers--and what modern culinary student or chef doesn't?--discover the bounty of farmers' markets. You won't have to drive far--in 2004, there were about 3,700 active U.S. farmers markets, more than twice the number 10 years earlier.
Farmers' markets are held regularly in public places, usually outdoors, from small towns to teeming metropolises. Regional and local producers sell their fruits and vegetables, often along with fresh meat, fish, and seafood, from booths or tables or the tailgates of their pickup trucks. Here's a taste of what you'll find at markets across the country:
Sample Regional Farmers Markets
- In Florida. The Downtown Farmers' Market in Sarasota, Fla., offers "fragrant cantaloupes as big as bowling balls," according to Southern Living. The market, open only on Saturday mornings, nonetheless attracts 8,000 people each weekend looking for fresh organic produce, local honey, and fresh shrimp.
- In the San Francisco Bay Area. On Friday mornings, the Old Oakland (Calif.) Farmer's Market opens near Chinatown. The Oakland Tribune reports "mutant, big-as-your-fist strawberries so big they have their own gravitational pull." You can also find distinctively Asian ingredients, fresh catfish and seafood, and peaches and nectarines in season.
- In Iowa. Although most markets sell homemade prepared food such as jams and baked goods as well as arts and crafts, the Des Moines Farmers' Market makes sure that at least 80 percent of its products are true farmers' market products. Favorites include locally produced eggs; meats such as beef, buffalo, and elk; and fresh produce--including truckloads of that sweet Iowa corn.
Many culinary schools partner with farmers' markets to advance the cause of great food. The schools teach culinary students to value high-quality meat and produce, and the markets invite the culinary schools to demonstrate recipes and techniques. Mutant strawberry shortcake, anyone?