Tutorial Tuesday #4–Preparing to Shop at the Farmers Market

36/365 Produce

I am a “list person”.

Not to label myself or anything, but I do love a good list (I also have a label maker, so maybe I will label myself). To-do lists, errand lists, shopping lists and yes, menu lists. There is something very satisfying about crossing off something on a list. Also, I am slightly absent-minded (I prefer to think of this as “intensely focused elsewhere”), so lists help me keep track of things that might otherwise get overlooked. I also keep a list of blog topics. And one that has risen to the top is how we plan our meals around local foods. A friend posted in wondering about this as well, so now seems a good time to dive in.

We don’t have a lot of parameters around our eating, but we do have some loose rules for our journey:

  1. At least 75% of our food should come from local sources.
  2. We should keep spending to $100 or under
  3. No processed foods, unless absolutely necessary (see “Girl Scout Cookies”)

In the second week of our journey, I had a major “uh-oh” moment. I had carefully crafted a list of recipes I wanted to try, based on what I thought might be available at the farmer’s market. As it turns out, almost nothing I wanted was available, so I ended up buying all manner of random food and then trying to create a week of meals out of it. If you’re up for that challenge, go for it, but it was a stressful learning experience for me and I discovered that I need more order than that. I’ve developed a system for locavore menu planning over the past year and a half, and I’ll share it with you. It probably sounds more complicated than it really is. I’m not recommending anyone adopt my system, but it works for me. And if it works for me, I am probably more likely to be successful, so finding a system that works for YOU will do the same. Here goes:

Friday–On Fridays, I get an email from The Produce Box letting me know what is in the various boxes for the next week. I usually go ahead and order my box on Friday and, based on what is going to be in my box, I start my menu for the next week, and make a shopping list of the remaining items I will need from the farmer’s market and from Trader Joes. Since what I get in my Produce Box is similar to what is available at our farmer’s market, there aren’t many surprises here.

On Fridays, I also read emails and Twitter posts from our local farmers markets and farmers so I know what will be available over the weekend. These posts help so much. I highly recommend getting on the e-mail lists of any farmers markets or farmers near you. I can find out what vendors will be available, what they will have, what’s coming up soon and (if I want) I can even order specific products or cuts of meat ahead of time.

A note about our weekly menu: I try to make sure we have a balance of vegetables and proteins throughout the week and I try not to have pasta or starchy dishes more than once or twice a week. This doesn’t always work out–some weeks have been heavy on seafood and others heavy on chicken or pork–but mostly it works out ok. I always try to plan at least one meatless meal each week.

Tuesday–On Tuesdays, I do a final tweak to our menu and check my shopping list. I look at how much my Produce Box order is and try to assess how much in our budget I have left for the farmer’s market and for grocery store items. I get my draft post for the blog ready on Tuesday night.

Wednesday–On Wednesdays, I go to the farmer’s market (sometimes I do this on Saturday, but whatever). Since I know pretty much in advance what will be available to me, I pick up what I need as well as any orders I have placed for meat, fish, etc. While I’m at the market, I make a list (!) of new items that are available or anything interesting that I might consider for next week. Then after work, I go to Trader Joes and get whatever else I need.

Unless something happens and I forget something on the list (see “intensely focused elsewhere”), I try to shop once a week, and keep the extra purchases to a minimum. I do make exceptions for canning over the weekend. If I know I’m going to be making jam or pasta sauce, I’ll head out to the farmer’s market Saturday morning (early) to get what I need so it is very fresh.

So far, this system has worked out relatively well. It does mean that I spend a LOT more time thinking about food, although the longer I do it, the easier it is and the less time I spend planning and shopping. I don’t necessarily mind spending the time, but if you don’t like to cook or if you don’t want to sit around and think through a weekly menu, this may not make you happy. To date, we have been pretty good about not wasting food and making good use of the produce and meat we buy. Some weeks are more successful than others, of course. That’s life.

So that is our system for making sure we have local foods and that we eat what we buy. If you are eating local, how do you plan your meals?

Week 24 Budget and Menu

Summer, summer, summer is here! Not “officially”, I know, but in reality we are in lovely, lovely summer here in central North Carolina. The markets are bursting with goodness and we are in high blueberry season once again! What is your favorite food of summer? I think mine is ripe tomatoes, but I love it all.

This week’s menu focuses on some rather quick dinners as we are still finishing up softball season and games invariably fall around supper time. We are having some delicious fish this week and some grilled pork with our new mango cardamom jam–I can’t wait!!!

Our little garden is coming along, but we have much more success in our yard with a winter garden. I think the plants benefit from the leaves coming off the trees in our yard. Still, we plant our tomatoes and squash and cucumber and hope for the best!

Budget [$105.92]

  • The Produce Box (ALL ORGANIC: blueberries, potatoes, kale, broccoli, Napa cabbage, sugar snap peas, cauliflower): $26.50
  • Locals Seafood (mackerel fillets): $12.00
  • Mae Farm (pork chops): $15.00
  • Hillsborough Cheese Company (mozzarella): $6.00
  • Melina’s Pasta (spinach fettuccine): $6.00
  • Wild Onion Farm (organic cucumber, organic yellow squash): $4.00
  • Old Milbourne Farm (fennel): $2.00
  • Homestead Harvest Farm (eggs): $5.00
  • Trader Joes (frozen fruit, yogurt, soy milk, olives, salt): $29.42

Menu

  • Wednesday–Game Night! Overnight blueberry oatmeal (really)
  • Thursday–Chicken & veggie stir fry w/ spicy peanut sauce, rice
  • Friday–Napa salad with vegetables and leftover peanut sauce
  • Saturday–Fish with tomatoes and fennel, roasted new potatoes
  • Sunday–Grilled pork chops w/mango cardamom jam, zucchini
  • Monday–Game Night! Bagel pizzas with homemade roasted tomato sauce and Hillsborough Cheese Co. Mozzarella
  • Tuesday–Spinach fettuccine with cauliflower cream sauce, mushrooms and leftover pork chops

Have a wonderful week, get out to your local farmer’s markets and cook some wonderful, healthy foods!

Tutorial Tuesday #1–Where is My Farmer’s Market?

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This post is the first in what I hope will be a series of tutorials on shopping at the farmer’s market. Maybe you want to buy a bit more from the market or maybe you want to completely makeover your shopping experience. Regardless, a little information never hurt, right?

Making the shift from grocery store shopping to farmer’s market shopping can be a bit scary and uncertain. Will I be able to find what I need? What price is a fair price? What if I can’t find a particular vegetable? Do I have to pay in cash? What if I come up with a menu and can’t find my ingredients?

And most importantly, where can I find farmer’s markets closest to me?

In the past five years, farmer’s markets and farm-to-table restaurants have increased at an amazing rate. But if you don’t know where they are, their existence really doesn’t help you, does it? Finding the quality resources close to you is the first step in shifting your shopping habits toward eating locally.

Here are three easy steps to find out where your local markets are and decide which markets you want to visit.

1. Visit your Dept. of Agriculture and Cooperative Extension websites.

Typically, state departments of agriculture and county cooperative extension agencies are keenly interested in promoting farmer’s markets and local food products. Start by visiting your state’s website. You should be able to find the following information:

  • A seasonal listing of crops grown in your state;
  • A harvest schedule for such crops;
  • Lists of pick-your-own fruit and vegetable farms;
  • Lists of farmer’s markets;
  • Names of fruits and vegetables you can grow in your area;
  • Recipes using local produce.

2. Find a market near you.

Visit the Local Harvest website HERE. Local Harvest is a wonderful organization, and their interactive farmer’s market map can help you find resources in your area. They also have a terrific electronic newsletter and a blog you can follow!

3. Visit your markets online.

Before you pack your car full of recyclable shopping bags and head out to shop, check out your farmer’s markets online. It is disappointing to find a craft fair with two vegetable stands when you really want to do all your grocery shopping. You should find at least the following information on the websites:

  • Description of the market (mission statement) and upcoming special events
  • Directions
  • Hours of operation
  • List of vendors
  • Types of payment allowed (cash only, cash or debit, token system, SNAP)
  • General policies (parking, whether dogs are allowed)

Many farmer’s markets now have Facebook pages, email newsletters and Twitter feeds. If so, sign up! You will likely receive advance information about what is for sale at the market and any special events in the future.

Next post–Questions to ask farmers!

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