For starters, you can’t beat the flavor and freshness of food picked yesterday.
“Right now we are picking great peaches,” said Genevieve Stillman of Stillman Farm at Boston Public Market. “You cannot eat one over your dress shirt or work clothes. You have to eat it over the sidewalk because they are so luscious and delicious.”
Second, you are helping Massachusetts stay Massachusetts.
Dollars spent at farmers’ markets support the state’s farmlands that make drives out of the city worth taking. You are employing local workers. You are feeding hungry kids who get free healthy food at the markets when school is out. You are making a space for diverse groups of community members to meet and connect. The Mission Hill Market at Brigham Circle draws shoppers from the Russian and Chinese communities, while its location at Roxbury Crossing gets a crowd from the mosque after the Friday prayer service.
Josh Wilson, manager of the Ashmont Farmers’ Market, promotes these benefits as much as he does the produce. “Supporting local farms doesn’t happen just by buying things at the grocery store,” he said.
There is no better time to fall in love with farmers’ markets. In the last two decades, the number of markets in the country has gone from 2,000 to 8,600, according to the US Department of Agriculture. (Three-hundred of those markets are in Massachusetts.) And summer is the time to go because this is when so many local fruits and vegetables make their annual debut.
Here are six things you need to know before you go:
Don’t dilly-dally or you’ll miss the stars of summer. You’ve missed most of the strawberries, and plum season is about to end. Peaches, corn, heirloom tomatoes, and some apples are starting to arrive. You’ll find green beans, eggplants, and bell peppers. And there is a lot to look forward to: potatoes, cranberries, celery, grapes, leeks, okra, pears, rutabaga, shallots, and winter squash.
And farmers’ markets give you far more varieties to choose from than you’ll find at the grocery store. Stillman farm offers a half-dozen types of beans, 13 kinds of eggplant, and nearly as many varieties of hot peppers.
Where should I go?
There are a number of apps that claim they can take you to your local farmers’ markets but they are too limited to be useful.
The best way to find a market in Boston is to visit boston.gov and enter “farmers markets map” in the search bar. You can search Boston markets by day of week and/or location.
If getting to a market isn’t doable, the Boston Public Market, which is open seven days a week, sells nearly two dozen fruits and vegetables online at mercato.com. Search “Boston Public Market” and filter “By Aisle.” They offer same-day delivery for a fee or free pick up.
To find a farmers’ market elsewhere in the state or country, there is no better source than the Department of Agriculture website at ams.usda.gov. Enter “farmers market” into the search tab and then look for markets by ZIP code.
SNAP recipients welcome
The state’s Healthy Incentive Program gives SNAP recipients a dollar back for every dollar they spend on fruits and vegetables at a farmers’ market. The benefit is capped at $40 for a family of one to two people, $60 for a family of three to five, and $80 for families of six or more. Launched in April 2017, the program has already generated $5 million for the state’s farmers.
Don’t be intimidated by the kohlrabi and squash blossoms
When you visit a farmers’ market, you are visiting the farmers. Don’t be afraid to ask questions about what they are selling, especially if it’s new to you. Farmer vendors can tell you what fruits and vegetables are on the way out and what will take their place. They can even advise you on food pairings. If you pick up salmon at the Boston Public Market, Stillman would tell you not to leave without peaches for salsa.
Don’t go just for the fruits and vegetables
The Davis Square Market on Wednesdays offers live music and prepared food from Egyptian and Mexican cuisines. There are bakers, coffee roasters, and meat sellers among the 19 vendors. At the Ashmont Farmers’ Market, open Fridays, you may find community groups signing up new voters or yoga. Each market has its own, distinct personality.
You’ve got your produce home. Now what?
Epicurious has a free app that makes it easy to turn, say, peaches into not only salsa but also Peach Bourbon Jam or 3-Ingredient Ginger-Peach Ice Cream Floats. You can search by ingredient and narrow the search further by meal type.
If you do take a chance on that kohlrabi, better grab some apples from the market too. Among Epicurious’s 22 ideas for kohlrabi, Shaved Kohlrabi With Apple and Hazelnuts got a reassuring four-out-of-four-forks rating by home cooks.Annmarie Timmins can be reached at email@example.com.