Monday, January 28, 2008

January Farmers Market

I try to visit a farmers market at least once a week to see what's being offered here in the District of Columbia in the depth of winter. The tone of the market changes when the temperatures rise above freezing. There is more bustle, more chatter--the food seems to come alive. This display of salad greens--no doubt greenhouse grown--would almost have you believe spring is near.

Maybe I'm imagining things, but it seems there are more vendors every week offering finished products. Besides the breads and breakfast croissants, there are pies and cookies.

We are near the Chesapeake Bay and that means crabs. They aren't really in season this time of year. But on Sunday mornings at the Dupont Circle farmers market--probably the trendiest market in the area--you can order a fried crab cake for breakfast.

There are several cheese vendors from Virginia and Maryland. Customers line up to taste the product. Here's a cream cheese dressed with hot pepper jelly.

The meat vendors were particularly busy yesterday. There was a line in front of Eco-Friendly Meats, where the coolers were jammed with roasting chickens, pork chops and a jumble of other cuts from locally raised livestock.

The mushroom vendor always seems to draw a small crowd of admirers.

The display yesterday was particularly yellow and gay.

The market is full of boutique goods at boutique prices. I'm always happy to see staple items for sale at more down-to-earth prices--onions, potatoes and these cabbages. I love braised red cabbage. These were $3 a head.

But I wonder who bought the carrots at $5 a bunch. Too precious for me.


Angelica said...

I notice you showcase the Dupont Circle farm market often. Although the market has many avid followers, I find that few people know the market is open year-round save for one or two weekends a year. I always have someone asking me how I find fresh local produce when many of the co-ops around here have shut down until April. Good to get the word out!

Anonymous said...

Ed, I've often wondered about the increasing number of processed and/or baked items in farmers' markets. Maybe the farmers are simply trying to help make their wares more "convenient" or are just to eke out a few more dollars out of the market...either way, I'm not completely happy with this new-ish angle. And maybe this is simply a seasonal change, as not much is growing now but one can certainly bake some cookies to sell. I guess I just want produce, period; I am happy, say, if the butcher has chopped up the meat for stew, but...I wouldn't want a veg guy chopping up my slaw for me, you know? Maybe I am just in the minority.

Tanya said...

Ed, I noticed the same thing-- lots of jars and bottles and cans and cheeses, baked goods-- even gelato. I certainly wouldn't mind one or two stands of jars and bottles and baked goods, and I love the cheese (and miss the dairy guy)... but I'd much rather more produce, even if it's "more of the same".

I looked longingly at the $5/bunch carrots... and then walked back to where $4 got you a bunch of slightly smaller carrots and 2 small cabbages. Score!

The Houndstooth Gourmet said...

I guess I assume that most market-goers do a lot of cooking (as opposed to restaurant-goers) and wonder why there are so many things at the market that I could make myself. Cookies, crab cakes, tarts, soups.
I pay a premium for local fresh ingredients because I know that the end product will be cost-effective, especially when compared to similar dishes at restaurants. For example, the mushroom stand was selling mushroom soup for about $5 per serving. Similar for the lamb lady. I know I can drive down the cost if I prepare on my own.
I wonder how well those prepared goods sell.

maggie said...

I know that around here a lot of farmers are starting to produce 'value added products' - jams, butters, soaps, etc. It's a way to use up produce that might not sell and otherwise be wasted. It can be sold when the growing season is short, etc.

Extension agents seem to be pushing it these days.

Kim said...

Great photos of your winter market, Ed! I am jealous of your mushrooms, and your ability to continue to hold the market outdoors!

Ed Bruske said...

Angelica, there aren't many farmers markets open in the winter. I frequent the Dupont market because it's within walking distance and has more to offer than just about any market around. I am really surprised how many vendors are there compared to winters past.

Ed Bruske said...

Angelica, there aren't many farmers markets open in the winter. I frequent the Dupont market because it's within walking distance and has more to offer than just about any market around. I am really surprised how many vendors are there compared to winters past.

Ed Bruske said...

El, I think farmers are looking to makes ends meet any way they can--corn mazes, eco-tourism, jams, pies, pasta sauce. It's hard to object. But like you, I hope this leads to more produce in the winter. We're already seeing that, a good many more vendors this winter than last. Two years ago there were only a handful. Perhaps this will encourage more of them to find ways to grow crops in the winter. The other stuff--crab cakes, cheese tastings--makes for a festive atmosphere.

Tanya, it's definitely supply and demand out there. I would love to see something more like a full-service market with lots more carrots at more reasonable prices. But the farmers know the customers at this particular market will pay full price. It's all in the demographics. Very pricey neighborhood, pricey produce.

HG, I don't look at prices compared to what the restaurants are charging. Maybe I'm comparing with what I can grow myself, or maybe just with the bottom line in my checking account. As last week's pound of ground pork shows, you can stretch things to make the farmers market purchases last. I'm still dining off last week's pork ragu and the roast squash. Leftovers make the world go 'round.

Maggie, I can just hear that extension agent. Of course farmers need to look for income wherever they can. We get lots of things in our weekly CSA box that I wouldn't normally purchase at the store. But I know our farmer is always looking for ways to fill the box with what he has. Nothing should go to waste. That's smart business.

Kim, I'm ashamed to say I haven't really sampled the mushrooms yet. To tell the truth, I thought the farmers market would be barely limping along this time of year. Just goes to show how much vitality there is in this local food movement.