May has arrived and brought with it the opening of Farmer’s Markets everywhere. This is absolutely my favorite time of year! I love walking from vendor to vendor, browsing their goods and haggling over the cost of a ripe, juicy tomato or a plump round melon.
Remember all those past posts where I rambled on and on about the benefits of organically grown fruits and veggies? I’ll let you in on a secret. When I have the choice between certified organic or home-grown, I’ll choose home-grown every time. Why? Well, mostly because the ‘organic’ certification doesn’t mean much. It simply means that you can only use certain chemicals to grow your food. Often, it is no more organic or healthy than what is sitting in the normal produce section of the grocery cooler.
Home-grown, however, is a horse of a different color. Here in my neck of the woods, when you ask the guy at the Farmer’s Market what he uses to grow is veggies, the answer is likely to be, “a little dirt and sunshine”. When you ask him if he uses any chemical fertilizers for his crops, he’ll look at you sideways and ask , “Why in the heck would I do something like that?”. Chances are, his fertilizer came from the horse, cow or chicken that lives in his pasture and the weed-killer has a name like Dorothy or Mary.
You might think that a die-hard naturalist like myself comes from a family of naturalists. Sorry to disappoint. In truth, most of my family thinks I’m a little strange. My parent’s medicine cabinet looks like a mini pharmaceutical company and their pantry is stocked with the latest boxed and canned meals. ‘To each his own’ is my motto, but on my last trip home I had the opportunity to prove a point to them. Here’s how the conversation went:
“Food is food. Why pay more when it all ends up in the same place, anyway?” my father asked.
“It isn’t all the same and you don’t have to pay a lot more for the good stuff,” I answered.
“Yes you do,” he insisted. “The organic apples sit right there next to the regular apples in the grocery store. They have less apples and cost twice as much!”
“Then you are shopping in the wrong place,” I insisted. This led to a discussion of local markets, labeling practices and the fact that you have to get out of bed early on Saturday if you want the best deals.
So, a challenge was issued. The rules: We both start out with $75 and can’t go over. We have to have enough food to feed 9 people three full meals. The prize: The joy of being right.
Since my dad tends to fudge the rules if necessary ~ something I would (almost) never consider doing ~ my mom gathered all our credit cards and check books. Okay, we are little bit competitive in my family. So? I was soooo gonna win this thing!
The truth is, I have a secret weapon. When I’m at my parent’s house, I’m only 15 minutes from Soulard Farmer’s Market. I had this one in the bag, baby!
Soulard Farmer’s Market is the grandmama of all Farmer’s Markets. It has been a landmark in St. Louis since the 1700’s and is open year round. It is located near the intersection of Hwys 44 and 55 in a neighborhood that consists of two-and-three story row houses that are slowly being remodeled to resemble their former beauty and is surrounded by quaint little pubs and kitchy boutiques. This time of year, every stall is filled and you can find the usual farmer’s market faire, but you can also find freshly butchered meat, handmade clothes, incense, jewelry…there’s even a rug seller!
So, with my $75 in my pocket and two reusable grocery bags, we set off to Soulard.
Some girls get excited about buying new shoes, sexy lingerie or that perfect outfit. Me…I get excited over fresh fruits and veggies, handmade goodies and the getting the best bargain. Go figure…
When you first arrive at the market, you are met with a symphony of sights and sounds. Street musicians set up with their tip jars and instruments, flower vendors hawking their bouquets and eager market-goers haggling over the price of oranges and lemons combine with the scent of spices, fruit and funnel cakes.
Bates Street Folk 'n Blues Band
My brother started the trip by buying some alligator on a stick while my daughter ran straight to the pastry vendor and bought the biggest funnel cake in history. I was a little nervous that they were cutting into my $75, but still confident. After a leisurely walk up and down the rows of vendors, I was ready to start purchasing. And, did I ever purchase…!
My total bill? $53. My haul? Check this out!
After I had all my fruits and veggies, I realized that I’d forgotten the meat. I hate it when that happens! I still had $12 left. So, I dashed over to the butcher’s stall and scored 2 lbs of fresh sage sausage and 2 lbs of fresh ground beef. That left me just enough to grab 2 dozen fresh eggs and a loaf of bread. I had $3 left, so I grabbed a fresh-squeezed lemonade on my way out and pocketed the change.
We made it back to my parents’ house at the same time as my father. Now, nobody likes a bad winner, so I’ll just say this. It was a lot easier carrying in my dad’s 5 grocery bags of food from the local supermarket than it was carrying in my haul from Soulard. I love winning!
The point I proved? Fresh, home-grown food doesn’t have to cost more. Especially this time of year when nearly every town has a farmer’s market. To make it even better, I supported local businesses and got some fresh air and exercise out of the deal.
The meals? Fresh veggie and ground beef lasagna for dinner, my favorite Nirvana Omelet and sage sausage for breakfast and the best leftovers and a fresh fruit salad for lunch. The recipes…check back in a day or two…