Maria Gutzeit | You Owe it to Yourself to Try Farmers Markets

Foodie. Whether you view that as a silly term or not, if you like good food, you really need to check out our local farmers markets, especially in the summer. There are three great reasons to do this: taste, health and community.

Ever since my mom used to can the “good peaches” that came in from Michigan once a year, I’ve had a thing for the “good” peaches. They simply cannot be had at the grocery store. Well, maybe you get lucky once. 

For week after week of peaches and nectarines that taste better than anything you ever had before, visit the farmers markets and sample them. 

White or yellow? Pick what tastes best to you. You may settle on one vendor, or a few, that have what you really like. Who knows why? The soil, the microclimate? Once you have what you like, you get hooked. 

The same goes for tomatoes. 

We had a monster garden growing up in the Midwest. More than 1,000 square feet, it held too many vegetables in our “kid opinion,” and a whole section of strawberries and rhubarb as well. 

Tomatoes took up a lot of the garden and got sliced and eaten with just salt and pepper. When you can eat a tomato with just salt and pepper, that’s a good tomato. 

Truly fabulous tomatoes are just starting to make their summer debut for us. 

“No taste, no buy” is my motto, even for tomatoes. As a backup, you can smell the difference between good tomatoes and marginal ones. Just like fruit, the different vendors have different varieties with slightly different flavors.

People are sometimes shocked that the markets aren’t 100% organic. In a perfect world, I’d favor the organic. However, the certification is really rigorous, requiring multiple years of limits on anything man-made. This drives up cost and isn’t for everyone. 

However, the taste and nutrition of produce that is just picked far exceeds that of produce (organic or not) shipped for multiple days across the continent under refrigeration. UC Davis studies showed veggies can lose 15 to 55 percent of their vitamin C within a week. 

Yet lettuce at the supermarket can be one to four weeks old, tomatoes can be stored one to six weeks, and carrots can be kept up to nine MONTHS (The Guardian, July 2003.) 

Many of the varieties of produce you get at the farmers market never see the store shelves, because they are not engineered for the super-long storage demands of a world that expects every type of product year-round. Super-long storage doesn’t often equate with super flavor.

Because certified farmers markets are inspected and guaranteed to be direct from the farm, you know they are fresh items, picked mostly within the last day. You learn quickly what is in season, and by using what is in season locally, you get the peak flavor. 

I discovered a fabulous salad recipe of watermelon, corn, basil, and feta. The recipe author pointed out “what grows together goes together.” Farmers markets let you explore recipes and ingredients you might not try otherwise. 

We have local markets Saturday in Newhall and Sunday at College of the Canyons in Valencia. A great online guide to what’s in season, related recipes, and a list of markets all over SoCal can be found at https://recipes.latimes.com/produce-guide/#.

If you successfully vegetable garden on your own, to quote my hilariously deadpan yoga teacher, “good for you.” Southern California’s heat, backyard critters, and lack of spare time are my reality. 

I do grow herbs, because they are pretty easy. What I’ve really grown is an appreciation for our farmers, and that’s where community comes in. When you visit the market every week, you chat about the weather, how the rain was hard on the strawberry growers, and how the temperature affects the fruit blossoms. 

Besides learning what is in season and why, we learn about each other’s vacations, and we miss each other (and our tasty fruit and veggies) when either of us takes a break and skips a weekend now and then. 

I for one appreciate them getting up really early on the weekend, often driving several hours, and setting up in a parking lot to serve us. 

They sell what too few stores offer – flavor, health benefits, and community. 

If you like tasty food, you should really check out a farmers market this summer.

Maria Gutzeit is a chemical engineer, business owner, elected official, and mom living in Santa Clarita.

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