Marnie Record, LLCC Value Added Foods program
Not all foods are created equal, and neither are all food shopping experiences. Turn your grocery shopping chore into a fun, family outing with a trip to your local farmer’s market. Meet the farmers who live in your community, visit with friends while snacking on a fresh baked pastry, discover how easy seasonal cooking can be at a chef demonstration, take a dancing break to live music, and find much more fun just around the corner.
A wide diversity of foods beckons your taste buds when the market opens. In the vegetable category, nutritional dynamos shine in the early season with a variety of leafy greens, but you’ll also find some herbs and root vegetables along with meats, cheeses, baked goods, pasta and plants to grow your own vegetables at home. This is a great time of year to try something new, and find everything you need for a fresh, delicious dinner. How about pork chops with a rhubarb glaze or roasted spring vegetables with arugula pesto to start? The best part of farmers market cooking is that you start with high quality foods full of flavor so you don’t spend time manipulating ingredients and adding fats.
Begin with just $10. According to the Illinois Department of Agriculture, if every Illinois household dedicated $10 of their existing weekly budget to the purchase of Illinois products, more than $47 million would be generated for the Illinois economy every month! This will provide a tremendous boost to local Illinois companies — many of which are owned by your friends and neighbors.
Why do you shop at the farmer’s market?
I go to the farmers market, not only for the shopping, but for the community. I enjoy meeting the producers of my food as well as meeting up with friends, listening to music, meeting new people, and enjoying time outside in downtown Springfield. I also enjoy riding my bike to the market along with my family. It has become our Saturday morning tradition. ~ Nancy
My husband and I love the farmers’ markets because we can buy unusual items we don’t grow ourselves. I discovered watermelon radishes a couple of years ago (but have never had luck growing radishes myself). If I see something different, I’ll buy some and then start figuring out what to do with it. Gooseberries? Ok, compote for yogurt parfaits. Sunchokes? Soup or roast them. Jones Boys brats? I’m not a vegetarian anymore. And don’t get me started on the baked goods and breads. Yum. ~ Kristina
We shop at the farmers market because the food is the absolute freshest you can find. I like the fact that the Old State Capitol Farmer’s Market ensures that the food is grown locally and we are supporting local farms. It’s also a fun thing to do on Saturday mornings with my mom and sister – buy some great produce and grab breakfast. ~ Katie
The only thing that gets me up early is to get to the strawberry line when the first crop comes in. I patiently wait for shell peas which you cannot find in a grocery store. The market makes summer food easy, fun, and good. The baked goods are so good and without preservatives! ~ Barbara
If you’re a perennial market shopper, discover something new at every turn. Small Axe Market Gardens added the Blue Beauty tomato to their repertoire this year for the first time. Gus Jones, co-owner, explained the addition by noting the “higher levels of phytonutrients than red tomatoes” and the cool factor whereby “every other tomato starts green except these which start purple and turn maroon.” Chad Wallace of Oak Tree Farms added Belted Galloway cattle, a heritage breed, to his farm for the first time this year. The cows look like Oreo cookies with the white stripe down the middle of the black cow. They were first developed in Scotland in the 1700’s and are known for high quality beef.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture runs a campaign called “Know Your Farmer Know Your Food,” and there is no better way to do this than by visiting the farm. It takes valuable time to make food a priority, but given that most of us eat three times a day, we have a huge opportunity to make our lives and our world better through food. Visiting the farm, you’ll find out if the pigs are raised indoors in confined spaces or outside with access to sunshine and mud, if the chickens are eating genetically modified grain or feeding on the nutrients of the earth, if the vegetables are sprayed with chemicals or flowers are planted to attract beneficial insects, and if the farmer puts nutrients back into the soil for healthy plants or simply depletes the soil of its health.
Want to ensure quality food? Questions to ask a farmer or grocer:
What do the words natural, biological, pastured, cage-free, non-GMO, organi c and artisan mean to you, and how can you back up the claim?
If the product identifies a certification: who is the certifying organization, is it an independent third party, what are the criteria for certification, who monitors practices and materials used, how often are they monitored, and what are the consequences if criteria aren’t met?
Can you visit the farm and get an in-depth tour with a group or individual? Is it open, transparent and accountable?
What are the animals fed? Does the feed include genetically modified organisms?
If local is claimed, where is the product grown, what’s the farmer’s name and what are the practices used?
The Old State Capitol Farmers Market operates Wednesdays and Saturdays, May 13-Oct. 31 from 8 a.m.-noon on Adams Street between 5th and 2nd. Opening ceremonies are on May 13 with live music, cake and fun. Live music is featured the first Saturday and chef demos the third Saturday of each month. Watch for interactive activities for the kids with Illinois Stewardship Alliance, genhkids and Kidzeum. The Illinois Products Farmers’ Market operates Thursdays, May 7-Oct. 15 from 4-7 p.m. (excluding weeks during the State Fair) on the Illinois State Fairgrounds at The Shed (across from Lincoln Stage).
Spinach and Bacon Salad: Salade Lyonnaise
If great taste alone is not enough, remember that spinach is high in vitamins A and C, and in iron and folate. It is also a good source of fiber and magnesium, and is very low in calories. And if you’re still not convinced, wine fortified with spinach juice was the healing elixir traditionally given to injured French soldiers. While the Persians, who cultivated the leafy green from at least the 6th century, recognized spinach’s sophistication and called it “the prince of vegetables.” So don a crown and start cooking.
Spinach Salade Lyonnaise
This hearty salad is quick and easy to make, yet fit for a king with the combination of meaty-leaved spinach, crisp bacon, barely cooked eggs and warm, sharp Dijon vinaigrette.
Serves 2 as a main dish.
- 4 cups torn spinach, or a mixture of spinach, lettuce, escarole, and other greens
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- About 1/4 pound (or less) bacon or ham, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
- 2 to 4 tablespoons sherry or wine vinegar
- 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
- 2 eggs
- Black pepper
Put greens in a large salad bowl. Put olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. When hot, add the bacon and cook slowly until crisp all over, about 10 minutes. Add vinegar and mustard to the skillet and bring just to a boil, stirring, then turn off heat.
Meanwhile, bring a couple inches of salted water to a boil in a small pan, then lower heat to barely bubbling. One at a time, break eggs into a shallow bowl and slip them into the bubbling water. Poach the eggs for 2 minutes, until the white is set but the yolk is still runny. Remove each egg with a slotted spoon, and place onto the greens.
Pour the bacon dressing over the greens (they’ll wilt a bit). Toss the salad, breaking the yolks of the poached eggs and distributing them evenly over the spinach. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately, with croutons or toast if you like.
Find more farm fresh recipes at The Land Connection.
Have a question for our culinary experts? Email email@example.com.
Want to learn how to cook with fresh local food or develop a local food product to sell at the farmer’s market? Check out Local Food Cuisine at LLCC, Tuesdays June 9-July 28, 5-9pm. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 217-786-4993.