by Matt Lardie
With many area farmers’ markets moving to spring hours and a plethora of produce soon to arrive, this time of year brings an onslaught of new and returning customers eager for some homegrown goodness. I’m an admitted farmers’ market addict, and I’ve seen markets from all sides, as a customer, as a past member of the Board of Directors for South Estes Farmers’ Market in Chapel Hill, and currently as a vendor. Throughout many hours spent at markets across the Triangle, I’ve distilled a few basic rules of etiquette that customers should observe when shopping at a farmers’ market.
1. No dogs. I know this is a hard one for many folks; we all love our dogs and it only seems natural to take them to an open-air event like a farmers’ market. Take a moment to look at it from the vendors’ view, though; dogs can be messy (I’ve seen a dog urinate on a produce display), dogs can get in fights or frighten customers, and dogs can be loud and distracting. Everyone always says, “Oh, not MY little Fido,” but in all honesty you cannot control the environment around your dog or know how it will react in every situation. Additionally, many markets serve ready-to-eat food, and if you can’t take a dog into a restaurant, it would fit that you can’t take your dog to market. Please observe the no-pets rule that most markets have; Fido can wait until you get back home for a bite of that homemade scone.
2. Bring small bills. As a vendor I will tell you that nothing is more frustrating than running out of change halfway through market after breaking $20 bill after $20 bill for customers who might only be purchasing $4 worth of goods. Most vendors usually only have limited amounts of change on them, and if you take their last $5 bill they might lose a sale to the next customer, who also has a $20 but needs change. We are more than happy to break bills when we can, but we’re not the bank (plus, most of us aren’t rich enough to be able to bring $400 in change each week). I always bring $1’s and $5’s to market when I shop, it makes each transaction go quickly and smoothly. If you must break a large bill, try asking at the market manager’s tent first; they usually have petty cash on hand. If all else fails, a simple “Sorry, I only have a $20 bill” usually softens the blow.
3. Get to know your vendor, but don’t monopolize them. Farmers and vendors love getting to know their customers, and it always feels good to know their customers appreciate them. Asking questions about produce, growing practices, recipes, or Farmer Bill’s new granddaughter can go a long way to solidifying a farmer-customer relationship, and might even net you some free goods from a grateful vendor! That being said, be aware of the other customers around you, and don’t take up 20 minutes of the vendor’s time when there is a line of customers waiting patiently to pay for their purchases. If you want to chat longer most vendors are more than happy to give you their e-mail address or even phone number!
4. Spread the word, get involved. This might be the most important rule of all. Farmers’ markets are by their nature low-profit ventures; they usually don’t have a ton of money for fancy ads or commercials to drive customer traffic. Many of the new faces I see at market are referrals from regular customers. Bring a friend to market, talk up the vendor whose carrots your family is raving about, or volunteer to put up flyers. Many markets have organized committees for “Friends of the Market,” and some even have spots on their Board of Directors for community representatives. Chat with the market manager at your favorite farmers’ market and find out what you can do to help. Vendors are only half of the equation of promoting healthy, local food. It takes consumers to purchase, learn about, and advocate for that food to keep the ball rolling!
- 2 cups shredded sharp cheddar (1/2 cup reserved)
- 2.5 cups shredded NC hoop cheese
- 1/3 cups pimiento cheese*
- 2 tbsp butter
- 3 tbsp flour
- 2 cups whole milk
- 1/8 tsp nutmeg
- 1 tomato, sliced
- 1.5 cups panko bread crumbs
- salt & pepper
- 1 lb cavatappi, ziti, or orrechiette pasta, cooked and drained
Preheat your oven to 350 F.
In a heavy-bottomed saucepan melt the butter over medium-high heat. When completely melted stir in the flour with a wooden spoon, mixing thoroughly to make a roux.**
Turn heat up to high and whisk milk into the roux. Continue whisking until it comes to a boil, then remove from the heat. Add the 1/8 tsp nutmeg and stir in the pimiento cheese, the hoop cheese, and 1.5 cups of the cheddar until they are melted. Add salt & pepper to taste.
Toss the pasta with the cheese mixture and then pour into an 8×11 baking pan. Top with the tomato slices, divide the remaining 1/2 cup of cheddar over each tomato slice, and then evenly sprinkle the bread crumbs over the whole dish.
Cover with aluminum foil and bake at 350F for 30 minutes, then remove the foil and bake just until the breadcrumbs are browned (10-15 minutes more).
*You can buy locally made pimiento cheese at Parker & Otis in Durham or at any Weaver Street Market or Whole Foods location in the Triangle. Additionally, Hillsborough Cheese Company makes a spicy pimiento cheese, and you can find out where they sell on their website, www.hillsboroughcheeseco.com. If you know of any other great producers near you, please leave a comment to share!
**A roux is a paste of a fat (in this case butter) and a starch (usually flour) that is used to thicken sauces, gravies, and soups.
by Matt Lardie
Here’s a dinner table topic: local is not always sustainable, and sustainable is not always local. Discuss.
Oddly enough, that realization came to me while reading Amazon.com reviews for a cookbook I was considering purchasing—not buying locally, I know, I know, but the more I thought about it, the more it started to make sense. See, I tend to divide the “buy local” group into two camps: those that make an earnest effort to keep their dollars in their community, and those that treat “buy local” as less of a lifestyle and more of a religion. I’m guessing you can tell which group I favor.
Personally, I fall in the earnest local spender group—I do my best to patronize farmers’ markets, local restaurants, and independent businesses. I’m not perfect, however, and the occasional trip to Home Depot, ground beef from Kroger, and oil change at Wal-Mart is part of my life. Do I feel guilty about it? Sure. Should I feel guilty about it? Probably not.
Let’s do a case study—which option is better: buying organic produce trucked in from California at a chain grocery store or buying conventional produce at my locally-owned supermarket? I can keep my dollars in the community, keep my neighbors employed, and also support a system that relies heavily on industrial chemicals to grow my food, or I can choose produce that has not had as negative an impact on the environment yet left a large carbon footprint in getting to my dinner table.
The simple fact of the matter is that we live in an increasingly global society, a trend that is about as likely to reverse as Sarah Palin is to become a vegetarian. Who are we to deny communities in emerging markets the opportunity to sell their wares across the globe and improve their standard of living? Those handmade baskets from Ghana you purchased, the ones from a rural cooperative? They were still flown here on a plane. Does that mean you shouldn’t have bought them? That those women don’t deserve access to American consumers?
Bringing the focus back to food, I’d also like to pose the fact that just because something is grown here in North Carolina does not mean that it is sustainable. Smithfield pork—need I say more? Tobacco, poultry, peaches—all local commodities that traditionally involve high off-farm inputs. On the other hand, that pound of coffee you purchased at your local co-op probably helped support rural communities across Latin America and Africa, was most-likely organic and shade-grown, and very likely had little negative impact on its environment. Unfortunately, it had to be flown here.
Back and forth, back and forth. My point is not to answer the question, but to start the discussion. That second group I mentioned, the Church of Buy Local, often gives very little wiggle-room for compromise. They preach and they harangue and they very often judge, but I’m here to say that life is about compromise, that you can buy local, regional, and international, and still be sustainable. As global citizens, we have just as much responsibility to participate in the worldwide market as we do in our local communities, and while our dollars often have a bigger impact locally, they are still important to millions of struggling workers in emerging markets across the world. As Americans, we are fortunate enough to have a myriad of options for any one thing that we might want to buy, and as long as you remember that local is not always sustainable, and sustainable is not always local, I’m confident that you will find that middle ground upon which we all should be standing.
Matt Lardie loves food. He loves to grow it, cook it, eat it, and learn about it. You can find his musings on the local food scene, agriculture policy, and his culinary adventures on his blog, Green Eats.