Sunday, August 15, 2010

Sampling the farmers' markets

Jersey Corn At Kerr Road & Route 94 (Blairstow...Image by takomabibelot via Flickr

The Hackensack farmers' market had undeniable appeal: farm-fresh food available within a mile of my home. But the market didn't start up in July, as usual, so I was buying some Jersey Fresh produce at Whole Foods Market and ShopRite.

I visited three other farmers' markets this week, partially at the urging of Alexis, one of my readers, who asked me to cut out the middle men and support farmers directly.

The Teaneck and Englewood farmers' markets were familiar to me from lunchtime visits to the former and weekly visits to the latter when I lived in Englewood. But today, I went to the Tenafly market for the first time, rubbing shoulders with the moneyed class.

With my wife and son away, I bought sparingly: two ears of bicolor Jersey corn (50 cents each) and a head of Boston lettuce ($1.25) Thursday in Teaneck, and three ears of bicolor corn and red-leaf lettuce Friday in Englewood. I steamed the corn for about five minutes, and it was sweet, needing only a sprinkling of salt. 

I used the lettuce to make salads with a head of Jersey romaine I found at the Hackensack ShopRite, adding cucumber and tomato from my garden.

Alstede Farms has a big stand in Englewood, with a variety of produce you rarely see, but on Friday, none of it looked very good to me. I had hoped to buy fresh fava beans, but none of the stands at the three markets had any.

The Teaneck and Englewood stands had Jersey blueberries, these from the southern part of the state, but at $3 or more for a pint, I passed. 

At the Tenafly market, the only corn offered was from Glebocki Farms of Goshen, N.Y. (I bought three at 40 cents an ear) and from a farm in Pennsylvania. I also bought a big head of fragrant arugula for my salad at the Glebocki stand ($2 v. $4 a pound for loose arugula).

A third stand was set up by Lani's Farm in Bordentown. Here I got one Italian and one neon eggplant ($3 a pound), an heirloom tomato ($4 a pound) and two Patty Pan squash ($2.50 a pound).

I'll grill the squash and eggplant with extra-virgin olive oil and salt, and steam the corn for dinner tonight, eating them with a small piece of wild salmon.

Valley Shepherd Creamery, a sheep farm in Long Valley that turns out superb cheese and yogurt, also was represented, but I have been trying to avoid full-fat cheese in an effort to loose weight.

At the Organic Farm stand in Tenafly, organic baby lettuce and arugula were being offered for $20 a pound, suggesting this might be the Rolls-Royce of farm stands.

The three Bergen County farmers' markets also offer cookies, cake, free-range ostrich, bread, pickles and lots of other stuff I have absolutely no interest in.

For people like Alexis, buying at these markets is all about supporting farmers. If the produce costs more, then that's the price you pay to make a statement on behalf of a dwindling number of farmers in New Jersey.

But you'll be making other sacrifices. Few farm stands accept credit cards, such as the one that gives me a 5% rebate on groceries. I can't recycle all the plastic bags and plastic food wrappers I accumulate, as I can at ShopRite. And this isn't close to a one-stop shopping experience, unless you plan to have an ostrich sandwich, salad and corn for dinner.

Of course, one of the most compelling reasons to buy at farmers' markets is taste and the freshness of the produce. Much of what you buy was picked that morning, and brought to the stand in that big truck parked behind the register. You can't get that at the supermarket.

So, I'll be making a farmers' market part of my weekly routine until the fall. Boy, that Jersey corn is terrific.

(Photo: Jersey corn growing in Blairstown.)
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