SIU “food nerd” highlights advantages of exploring summer farmers markets
June 7, 2023
Tomatoes taste better in July because they’re often fresh off the vine, grown locally and available at the area’s farmers’ markets and even in some stores, according to Niki Davis, Southern Illinois University Carbondale’s Hospitality, Tourism and Event Management Program manager and professor of practice.
She said the arrival of summer and the opening of farmers markets offers a multitude of great opportunities for residents, visitors, vendors and the region’s economy.
“Our farmers markets showcase regional food and culture, and visitors often shop at them just like residents do,” Davis said. “Farmers markets are as much gathering place as they are selling space. A trip to your local market means running into friends and neighbors, stopping for coffee or bubble tea, petting dogs, and shopping for weekly fresh produce and other locally produced items. You might even be able to pick up a local cookbook, or two… or three,” said Davis, who can be reached at [email protected].
Diverse treasures abound
Farmers markets offer convenience, freshness and an eclectic blend of merchandise. You will find local farmers with their assorted fruits and vegetables, in season and fresh from the vine, tree or soil.
Farmers markets follow the seasons. In late spring, you will see spinach and sweet potatoes there. Strawberries appear as spring rains turns to summer sun, Davis notes. When the heat of summer approaches, so do onions, tomatoes and corn on the cob. Autumn brings root vegetables such as potatoes, carrots, beets, turnips, onions and more, along with winter squash. Grab fresh herbs throughout the farmers market season.
But that’s just the beginning. Along with local farmers and home gardeners and their goodies, Davis said you may find:
- Beekeepers selling honey.
- Bakers selling artisan breads, pastries and assorted homemade treats.
- Vendors selling locally sourced meat, fish, or seafood.
- Some markets allow non-food vendors to sell handcrafted items such as soaps or candles made from local ingredients.
“You just never know what adventure awaits you at the farmers market,” Davis said.
Advantages to shopping local
Homegrown or made items, coffee, pastries, dogs and friends are not the only things that draw people to their local market. Shopping and eating locally is beneficial to local businesses, the community and to you, Davis said.
Vibrant agricultural regions boost tourism by attracting visitors to the area. When visiting, people often seek out local flavors and traditions. Travelers will visit local farms for tours and purchase premade local items to take home and share. All of this means money going back into communities through hotel and sales tax, further boosting the local economy.
Seasonal ingredients provide variety to meals and support sustainable agriculture. By shopping at farmers markets people are providing valuable sustenance to farmers and specialty vendors, helping them support their families and employees. It puts dollars directly into their hands, thus enabling them to reinvest in their business and contribute to the local economy. This means more money stays in the community and helps create jobs for people who work on the farms or in other related jobs. Likewise, many of the businesses and their employees provide valuable support for local youth organizations, schools and other nonprofits.
“While these concepts are certainly important, the benefits to you are even more appetizing and wonderful,” Davis said. “Direct interaction with your local farmers is educational. When you purchase potatoes, ask about the varieties grown on the farm and how they are harvested. If you see an unfamiliar vegetable like kohlrabi, ask what it is and how to use it in cooking – then buy one and experiment! These conversations foster a deeper connection between you, your farmer and the food you eat. By talking to our farmers and learning about where our food comes from and other details, it helps build a stronger sense of pride and connection to our agriculture community. If you have children in tow, this becomes doubly beneficial.”
Purchasing fresh produce may be the tastiest benefit of shopping at your farmers market. Much of the produce sold is picked the same morning or just a few short days prior to market day. Locally harvested food travels much shorter distances and is generally better tasting and better for you, according to Davis.
“The best part is the fresh delicious food available to fill our bellies and our souls,” Davis said.
Some recipes to try
Davis offers a couple of recipes featuring produce available at local farmers markets to get people started enjoying the summer fare.
Fire and Ice Salad
Yield: 4 to 6 servings
Time: 15 minutes
- ¾ cup olive oil
- ¼ cup cider vinegar
- ¼ cup white sugar
- ⅛ teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon thyme
- 1 large cucumber, halved and chopped
- 1 large tomato, chopped
- 1 medium sweet onion, halved and sliced
Directions: Whisk the olive oil, vinegar, sugar, salt and thyme together in a mixing bowl. Add the vegetables to the dressing and toss to coat. For the best tasting salad, let it marinate in the dressing for a bit. This salad can be served immediately or chilled overnight.
Tip: This salad is perfect for picnics on hot summer days. The flavor is best when using vegetables fresh from the garden or Farmers Market. The vinegar and oil dressing holds up to the hot weather when mayonnaise dressings will not.
Old Fashioned Peach Crisp
Yield: 8 servings
Time: 40 minutes
- 5 large ripe peaches, peeled and sliced
- 1 cup rolled oats
- ½ cup flour
- ½ cup brown sugar
- ½ cup cold butter or margarine
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ¼ teaspoon salt
Evenly layer the peaches in an 8×8-inch baking dish and set aside. In a large bowl, mix the oats, flour, brown sugar, butter, cinnamon, and salt until the mixture becomes crumbly. Sprinkle the mixture over the peaches and bake in a 350-degree oven for 30 minutes or until the topping is lightly browned.
Great served warm or cool. You can top with a scoop of homemade or bought ice cream or whipped cream.