I love living in North Carolina! When I was young, my family used to spend a week in the summer at Kure Beach. A few blocks from the ocean, we would fall asleep to the sound of the waves. Perhaps it was the freedom that I felt with my brother and sisters as we walked by ourselves to the pier, the taste of the salt water taffy, or the simple outfit required for the day – a bathing suit and flip flops. Whatever it was about those vacations, I knew I wanted to live in this beautiful state at some point in my life. A friend of mine once described the experience as “easy living” and that is so true! Flip flops and shorts for most of the year, no scraping ice off cars in the winter, an environment that is geared towards families, and just a couple hours from the beach or the mountains. Yep, I got used to this lifestyle pretty quickly! I have lived in some wonderful places, my home state of Ohio, Chicago, Austin, and Poughkeepsie. Each place having it’s own appeal, particularly the people I met during my time there. As much as I enjoyed living in those states and cities, there is something special about North Carolina and Apex.
One thing that I absolutely love is the availability of farm fresh foods. There are farmers markets in nearly all the local towns and cities every weekend. Raleigh hosts a state farmers market seven days a week, year round! Local grocery stores carry produce from nearby farms and there are services that will deliver farm fresh products right to your door! Without a doubt, my favorite way to purchase fresh produce is from the farmers that set up roadside stands right there on their farms. All I have to do is pull off the road. The second I get out of the car, leaving the smell of the a/c behind, I am greeted with the aroma of the freshly picked strawberries, tomatoes, zucchini and more. Prince Farms is a local family owned farm such as the one I just described. The family is warm and welcoming, making you love living in a small town. There are many times they cut my lettuce and broccoli for me while I wait or while I pick my own strawberries. They also sell the best asparagus and strawberry salad dressing around, at least in my opinion! If you are close to Apex sometime in April through mid-August, this farm is definitely a place to stop!
Farmers markets are not unique to Apex or North Carolina. Many, if not all, states provide this type of market. If you are not familiar with farmers markets, here are a few basics you should know:
What is a Farmers Market?
Basically, they are markets that allow you to purchase foods directly from local farmers and other vendors. These products are fresh, locally grown/made, and are usually priced affordably. The other day, I had $8.00 on me when I stopped at the Raleigh farmers market. I walked out with seven ears of corn, four colorful bell peppers, three large carrots, 2 deep purple eggplants, one cucumber, and a large sweet potato. Many vendors will also accept other forms of payment. It was a challenge to only spend the $8.00 with all the fresh peaches, apples, and Muscadine grapes surrounding me!
Why should I shop at a Farmers Market?
In addition to the economical benefits, you are supporting your local farmers. We have to help keep these farms going! It seems as though everywhere I look, there is a sign for a new housing development or shopping area. As nice as it is to have neighbors and a convenient place to run errands, we can all agree we need food and most food comes from farms. If all the local farms are purchased, our easy access to fresh quality produce and other farm products will disappear too.
When you enter the market you will pick up on a certain kind of energy. Perhaps it is one of feeling more connected to the community or a sense of doing your part to help your local farmers. It could also be the excitement of discovering something new. This is also a great adventure for kids. Without the constraints of the narrow and crowded aisles of the grocery store, they will love running from vendor to vendor sampling all the different foods. They may also be surprised to learn that there are more than just the three or four varieties of apples, tasting to determine which is their favorite!
There are more than just fruits and vegetables at the farmers market. The smell of herbs and flowers fill the open air! There are bouquets of freshly cut flowers, trees for your yard, and plants for your gardens. Everywhere you look you see color, color, and more color! (Which is an important characteristic of produce. The more color, the more nutrients.) Many farmers markets sell cheeses, meats, seafood, eggs, breads, and more! All of these items are local and fresh.
(A quick tangent on why buying local is important… local products require less transportation time, costs, and vehicles. Fungicide use is little to none, as there is no need to protect them during transit or extend their shelf life. The food at a farmers market is literally fresh – just harvested produce, meats/cheeses that were just processed at a nearby facility, or eggs that were recently laid. You body will love the abundance of vitamins and minerals from these foods. The quicker the produce gets from the farm to your plate, the more nutrient-rich your meal. Buying local will also keep the money you spend in your area which is obviously wonderful for the local economy.)
Okay, back to why you should shop at a farmers market…
When you approach a vendor, you may be able to talk directly with the farmer who actually picked/prepared what you are looking to buy. You can feel free to ask any question regarding pesticide use, how the animals are fed, or their favorite recipe. The farmer has so much knowledge of their products and are very helpful. They love to talk about their work because they are so passionate about what they do. I went to one to ask about how he picked his produce and ended up learning about a Pruning Mulcher! Farmers also tend to sell produce that is in season (which is another tip to easily keep your foods nutrient-rich, purchase fruits and vegetables that are in season). Seasonal produce can vary depending on a region’s soil, climate, etc. The Seasonal Food Guide at www.susatainabletable.org will help you find a list for your area.
How can I find a Farmers Market close to me?
If you are in North Carolina, an easy way to find a farmer’s market is by visiting the NC Farm Fresh website. You can search for a specific market, for example. the Apex Farmers Market or search by county. The website will also help you find farms with specific characteristics such as, organic farmers, roadside service, pick-your-own, etc. The USDA also has a National Farmers Market Directory which allows you to enter any zip code and find a market within a certain radius. You can also search by products available and payment accepted.
These are just some of the reasons to consider stopping by a farmers market, but I think if you try it once, you will be a regular customer. If you have some time on a Saturday morning, drive past the grocery store and continue on to the farmers market. I doubt you will be disappointed. Pick up a coffee and add some fresh cream. Take your time sipping as you stroll through the vendors. Let your senses come alive as you experience the atmosphere around you. Take in the colors and smells of the plants and fresh baked breads, the sounds of people talking with the vendors and other shoppers. Touch and taste new foods. Bring your children and let them explore and learn about where our food really comes from.
Feel free to comment about your experiences at a farmers market – maybe a favorite vendor, something you bought, your favorite market to shop, or maybe even something you would change.
Thanks for reading and have fun discovering our amazing farm fresh state of North Carolina!
Marianne Lindgren, MS, RD