farmers market purchases

Adventures at the Farmers Market

If you’re fortunate to live in a warm climate, you can shop all year round for fresh produce at a local farmers market. I frequent the Pasadena Farmers Market most Saturday mornings. It’s a nice, large farmers market with an awesome selection, including local in-season veggies and fruit, raw honey, nuts/seeds/sprouts, eggs, and grass-fed beef.

I much prefer shopping at the farmers market as opposed to Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s. The bustling outdoor market atmosphere turns a routine errand into a fun outing. The produce at farmers markets is usually cheaper than chain stores—sometimes way cheaper. It’s also interesting to talk directly with the people who actually grow the food.

Typically all the produce vendors will claim to be pesticide-free, which is not the same thing as certified organic, but still much better than conventionally grown. Some farmers will tell you that pesticide-free is actually better than organic, because the government allows the use of naturally-occurring chemicals in organic farming.

But, I digress. Today I’ll share the highs and the lows of my recent trips to the Pasadena Farmers Market. So far, I’ve personally experienced that luck, timing, and the weather can make a huge difference in whether I leave excitedly clutching my purchases or with my head hanging low in disappointment.

Luck: 70% off Satsuma mandarins

There’s a family that specializes in Satsuma mandarins. Sweet, juicy, and easy to peel. Normally it’s $10 for 4 pounds. Last week, we happened to walk by when they had one large 25 pound box left. I wouldn’t have stopped except the guy caught my eye, motioned toward the box, and said, “Mandarins?” I went over and he offered the whole box, normally $35, for $15. I was willing to pay the usual $10 for 4 pounds and counteroffered accordingly.

Either he misheard me or was too lazy to measure out 4 pounds, but next thing I knew he was offering the entire box for $10. I looked at my husband like, is this for real? As if to encourage me, the vendor guy said, “At this point, we just wanna get outta here.” So we agreed, and literally seconds later an older gentleman walked up to the stand asking if they had any left. “Sorry, just sold the last bunch!” I was ecstatic, because normally I’m horrible at bargaining.

This week, the Satsuma mandarins sold out before we even made it to their stand. Good thing we still have quite a few left from last week, even after giving away half of it to friends.

Timing: $1 celery

What do they sell at 8:00am? I wouldn’t know; my husband and I never get to the farmers market before 11:00am. Last Saturday, our  tardiness paid off in a big way. Organic celery usually goes for $2.99 a bunch at Whole Foods. We got full-length, full-leafed celery for $1 per bunch for the second week in a row from the same vendor. Both times, there were only a few bunches left and they were close to closing up.

This week, although we got there at roughly the same time, the same vendor was out of celery. I bought two bunches from a different vendor only to find during washing that they were half-frozen and full of bugs.

Weather: frozen lettuce crisis

Of all my juicing staples, romaine lettuce has been the most unpredictable. In December, I got three enormous heads of romaine for $4. Since the new year, I haven’t seen it for less than $2 each for small- to medium-size lettuces. Today, I overheard a farmer saying that there is a lettuce crisis in California and Arizona. “Everything froze,” she said.

Before I started shopping at farmers markets, I never thought about weather causing shortages of certain produce. I took it for granted that I could find anything I wanted at Asian supermarkets like Ranch 99 or H Mart. Now that I’m more conscious of where my food comes from, I also become aware of the forces that affect its availability. It’s not always convenient, but I like the interconnectedness, somehow.

Get out there and shop!

You never know what you’ll find or what deals (and steals) you’ll make. What’s your favorite farmers market? I’d love to hear your stories.

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