By LAURIE DAVIS, Cornell Cooperative Extension
---- — Farmers markets are the epitome of local food, and they are opening all over the North Country.
Adirondack Harvest’s annual tally of regional markets now tops out at 62. That’s up more than 25 percent from last year and nearly 40 percent from 2010. Increasing the size and number of markets is a tricky mix of supply and demand, but both sides have had amazing forward momentum over the past decade. More consumers are demanding local food and more farmers have stepped up to provide that food.
Why do we love the markets so much? They are more than just a place to shop; they’re an experience for all your senses. See the vibrant colors of the vegetables and flowers. Smell the freshly baked pastries and just-picked herbs. Hear the chatter of the crowds as they make their way down the aisle, catching up with neighbors and vendors after a long winter. Taste samples offered by farmers and food vendors — local products are bursting with flavor. Touch the myriad textures of perennial plants or the different skins of vegetables. You can’t help but feel exhilarated as you get out of your house and into the fresh air to indulge in our region’s spring bounty.
Our farmers are working hard to bring you as large a variety of products as possible in the early season. Many have season-extension equipment (such as hoophouses and row covers) to push the early crops into perfect ripeness for the May and J
In June, be on the lookout for strawberries, late asparagus, rhubarb, scallions, spring greens, salad mix, spinach, spring-harvested parsnips and early herbs such as chives and mint.
Think salad greens are just lettuce? Talk to your farmer about the varieties in some of the mixes. Arugula gives a marvelous spicy kick to salads. Other distinct flavors can be found in mache, mustards, purslane, amaranth, tatsoi and mizuna.
Meats and eggs should still be plentiful as they are less season dependent. Local meats available in the North Country include beef, pork, lamb, bison, chevon (goat), rabbit, chicken, turkey and duck.
Check for lo
cal cheese, and baked goods and crafts should also be readily available.
Concerned about high prices at the farmers markets? Try not to be — most farmers are offering you a tremendous value even if some prices seem a bit higher than the supermarket. A head of lettuce that was growing in the field three hours before you purchased it will stretch your money much farther than two-week-old greens from the mega-mart. Almost every leaf will be crisp and usable, and it will stay fresh for weeks. The same holds true for other locally grown and produced items. And you can feel good that the money you spend stays in the community and supports local agriculture.
Remember to get to know your farmers. Most are happy to talk about their businesses, and it helps you to feel more secure about your food sources. Practices vary from conventional to organic. You might even be able to schedule a visit to a farm to get an up-close and personal tour of their operation. It’s a great educational opportunity for the whole family.
Adirondack Harvest is a regional organization dedicated to connecting our local farmers with consumers and can help you in your quest for local foods. For a listing of all the North Country farmers markets with locations, dates and times, visit www.adirondackharvest.com. Feed all your senses, and make a habit of shopping at your local farmers market.
Laurie Davis is an educator with Cornell Cooperative Extension in Essex County and is the coordinator for Adirondack Harvest. Reach her at 962-4810, Ext. 404, or by email: email@example.com.