For a lot of years, I didn’t really think of Farmers’ Markets as a place where one actually did any food shopping. I considered them a treat, a supplement to regular trips to the grocery store, where you bought highly priced peaches, an unnecessary loaf of bread and a single bunch of fancy herbs. That all changed for me last summer, when I started walking down to Headhouse Square every Sunday morning to wander the Shambles and buy produce. I started shopping at the market because I liked the idea of being someone who supported local farmers and growers, but it soon became an unskippable part of my week. If I was away for the weekend, I mourned my missing veggies all week long.
I discovered that during July, August and September, I could spend $20 and come home with bags overflowing with corn, tomatoes, lettuce, nectarines and zucchini. I could eat happily, share with friends and still have food leftover at the end of the week. This produce was so much better than anything I could find at the Center City vendors, even at my favorite, local Sue’s Produce. It tasted better, it smelled fresher and it lasted so (so) much longer. It also satisfied a need I had deep inside to connect a little bit more directly with my food.
I grew up in a family that always had backyard garden, and for the summer growing months, we hardly ever bought any vegetables. The 24 square feet of tilled soil churned out tomatoes, spinach, squash, basil and string beans so abundantly that it was a struggle to keep up. We became those people who pushed vegetables on friends and strangers, shouting out to people who walked past the house, “Excuse me, could I interest you in a few cucumbers?” People were perplexed but frequently appreciative. I remember one time, a friend from New York was staying for a day, and just before she left for the airport, we ran out to the garden and picked a large zucchini. She made room for it in her suitcase and called later to say that she had cooked it with salt and garlic immediately upon arriving home.
I live in an apartment where I have absolutely no outdoor space. I don’t have a place to grow tomatoes or zucchini. I do have friends with a local community garden plot (thanks Angie and Thad!), and this year they planted some patty pan squash plants for me (if you haven’t tried patty pan, I recommend that you search for them this summer. They are pale green or yellow and are shaped like flying saucers. They are best eaten when they are the diameter of a saucer, as the skin is still tender and yielding. They should be cut into wedges, steamed and served with butter and salt). However, I still miss the earthy abundance of a personal garden. While not entirely the same thing, going to Farmers’ Markets soothes many of the places that my lack of outdoor space leaves irritated