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Field Guide to Farmers’ Markets

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Seasonality – What’s Growing and When

 

NEPA’s farmers’ market season runs roughly from June through November. Of course, there are a few early starters and late runners. You’ll even find a handful of year-round markets here and there. But, since we’re talking about seasonality, we’ll stick to the growing season.

Most farmers’ market shoppers are at least a little familiar with seasonal fruits and vegetables. However, with much of our food supply crisscrossing the globe, and the use of hydroponics and greenhouses, things can get a little confusing. So fancy tricks aside, let’s talk about what’s grown right here in our rich, Northeastern Pennsylvania soil – and when you can expect to see it at the market.

Don’t forget to check out our list of local Farmers’ Markets.

 

June

 

 

Asparagus is an early and eager starter sometimes even peeking out from a late snow. They tend to fizzle out fast though as they despise the heat. They will also occasionally bolt to seed before making it to any June markets. If you absolutely must have some, I suggest going directly to the farm and eating all you can while they last.

Leafy greens also prefer the cooler weather. While many farms do successfully grow greens year-round, the cooler the weather the sweeter the leaf. You are sure to find spinach and spring mixes in abundance through June.

Additional spring market staples include garlic scapes, young and wild onions (ramps), radishes, herbs, and sweet peas. Strawberries will make a short but oh so sweet appearance in late spring. How long they last depends heavily on the weather. Unfortunately, too much rain = sad berries.

June markets tend to be mostly green in color. You may get lucky and stumble upon a few early tomatoes. And while it is certainly a welcome sight, these are hybrid varieties. They simply lack the depth of flavor you’ll find in most heirlooms. You may also be surprised to find apples, carrots, and other root vegetables at the June markets. These have all been held in cold storage over the winter, and they are often surprisingly still crisp and flavorful.

Whatever your tastes, come to these early markets with an open mind. And be sure to ask questions if you aren’t familiar with the crop.

 

July

 

 

July brings much more variety to the markets. All of a sudden, you’ll find cucumbers, squash, beans, blueberries, raspberries, peppers, and stone fruits… to name a few.

Enjoy all the berries and cherries you find now because they won’t last all summer. Peaches will most likely make an appearance, as will some early sweet corn. Peaches, and all stone fruit, grow from buds formed one time in the spring. If they encounter severe weather, the damage can have a drastic impact on the year’s yield. So, if you like peaches, now is the time to get them.

 

August & September

 

 

August and September are bursting with abundance! Most farms are in full swing pumping out plump, delicious tomatoes. You’ll also find sweet corn, many varieties of squash, cucumber, eggplants, beets, and brussels sprouts. You name it, the market most likely has it in August and September.

You will also begin to notice more fruit at the market. You’ll see varieties of apples, pears, nectarines, melons, and plums. There may even be currants and grapes, which are wonderful for jelly making, or maybe even wine.

Be sure to keep your eyes peeled in September for good deals on bulk items. They’re perfect for canning and freezing. Most farms offer great pricing on their “scratch and dent” veggies and are happy to offload them at the end of the market day.

It’s also the time of year your well-meaning neighbor will repeatedly pawn off their overgrown zucchinis. And you’ll eat zucchini bread until you can’t possibly eat any more zucchini bread. Which really isn’t so bad. Thanks in advance to my wonderful neighbor.

 

October & November

 

 

Markets typically begin winding down in October. Don’t give up, however, because the cool weather greens are just starting to thrive again. You can score some great kale, broccoli, cauliflower, and many varieties of cabbage. Escarole is my personal favorite green of the season. It’s heavenly in soup and keeps an amazing texture.

Also, be on the lookout for bulk onions and garlic, which will hold in proper storage for several months. Winter squash will be everywhere, and of course… there will be pumpkins! In fact, you’ll find all manner of gourds for eating and decorating alike. Be sure to ask the grower if you’re unsure of the variety. There are many delicious winter squashes for baking. And, obviously, there are those that are best left for carving.

Many markets are now extending into November and beyond. Root vegetables are a staple at this time of year as well as hearty varieties of greens and squash. Now is the time to grab what you need for your holiday feasts. If you have a cool, dark, and dry storage area, a stash of root vegetables should last you until spring.

 

Why Farmers’ Markets Matter

 

 

When you shop at the farmers’ market, you’re directly helping the environment.

 

Reducing our agricultural carbon footprint.

First things first, follow the food. When it travels from farm, to market, to your table, it’s generally traversing an average of fewer than 50 miles. Grocery store produce has likely traveled an average of 1,500 miles to make it to the shelves. Most of that is transported by truck, which contributes to a massive carbon footprint. Also, when you consider the movement of freight in transit, we end up with a lot of edible produce being destroyed before it even has a chance to reach your table.

 

Reducing the use of plastics.

The majority of packaging materials used for grocery store produce, such as plastic films and bags cannot be recycled. Most farmers’ markets use brown paper bags or none at all. And if you bring your own bag to the market, you can successfully shop for produce while creating ZERO waste.

 

You’re also helping some good people in your community.

The money you spend here stays here! Think of it as a contribution toward sustaining and creating jobs to secure the future of agriculture in your community. Think of valued traditions like berry picking for Grandma’s famous jam and family hayrides to search for the perfect pumpkin. Fewer farmers’ markets means fewer farms. Simply put, small, family businesses can only continue to survive with your support.

Happy shopping! I hope to catch you at the market.

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