THE FOODIE FILES: Farmers Market Savoir-Faire

By on July 20, 2016

How to get the most out of the summer market experience.

Top left: Ask what’s coming into season so you can plan to preserve and can; Italian prune plums have a short, sweet season. Top right: Get to the market early to score gorgeous Hole Eggs and antler dog chews. Left: Don’t squeeze the tomatoes—’You touch it, you buy it.’  Right: Jed Restuccia of Cosmic Apple Gardens is a farmers market fixture. (Photo: Annie Fenn, MD)

Top left: Ask what’s coming into season so you can plan to preserve and can; Italian prune plums have a short, sweet season. Top right: Get to the market early to score gorgeous Hole Eggs and antler dog chews. Left: Don’t squeeze the tomatoes—’You touch it, you buy it.’  Right: Jed Restuccia of Cosmic Apple Gardens is a farmers market fixture. (Photo: Annie Fenn, MD)

JACKSON HOLE, WY – What’s not to love about the farmers market? Instead of pushing a cart through the grocery store, we get to purchase food outside, in the fresh air. While we shop, we see friends and neighbors, and connect with the people who raise and grow our food. Depending on the market, there can be live music, hot coffee, cold beer, decadent pastries, and so many good things to eat. Farmers markets celebrate all things seasonal, local and sustainable.

Now that we are all excited about heading to the markets, it’s a good time to brush up on farmers market etiquette. Maybe you haven’t considered how a good market shopper should behave, but I can assure you that the people behind the tables have put a lot of thought into it. Last summer, they saw some of us cut the line, sneak samples without asking, pick up every ripe tomato and squeeze it, and cause a small traffic jam while Instragramming their gorgeous display.

Don’t worry—farmers market vendors don’t hold grudges. At least none of the ones I spoke with are still fuming about any of last summer’s regrettable behavior. In fact, they are very much looking forward to seeing you at their tables. But they would love it if you kept in mind a few basic rules of conduct before heading to the market with your dogs, family and friends, iPhones, double-wide strollers, and hundred dollar bills.

DO: Come to the market prepared with plenty of bags, a cup for your coffee or beer, a sense of adventure, and lots of five, $10, and one dollar bills.

DON’T: Hold up the line. Pay attention to where the line starts and where you are in this process. If you need to stop and chat at length with a friend, it’s best to forfeit your place in line. Your farmer depends on selling as much food as possible in the few hours allotted. Remember the Soup Nazi on Saturday Night Live? O.M.O.: Order, money, out. This motto translates beautifully at farmers market.

DO: Ask for a sample. Vendors love nothing more than offering you a taste of their precious food. But don’t help yourself to that irresistible basket of raspberries, strawberries, blueberries, or cherries, calling it breakfast as you cruise through the stalls. Sampling is intended to help you choose what to buy.

DON’T: Haggle over prices. Bartering may be acceptable at markets elsewhere around the country, but our local farmers don’t appreciate being told that their prices are higher than the vendor down the boardwalk. If getting the cheapest price is your objective, do a quick walk through and compare before you buy. Keep in mind that your farmers are not getting rich here at the farmers market. As Sloane Bergien, president of the Farmers Market board and owner of the Jackson Hole Farmers Market (by Twigs) reminds us: “This is not just a business. It’s a labor of love.”

DO: Ask lots of questions. A huge benefit to buying food at the market is that you get to ask anything you want about how it was grown. Farmers and market vendors love to talk about what they do. Just be mindful of their time and be sure you are not holding up the line. Ask about a food you don’t recognize, how it was grown, and how to cook it. Find out what’s coming into season so you can plan meals for the next week. If you like to pickle, preserve, and make jam, find out which foods are at their peak of abundance so you can plan when to put them up.

DON’T: Bring a shopping list. Plan your meals for the week by what is most abundant at the farmers market. Not only will this help support the farmers and avoid food waste, it ensures that you will be eating produce at its peak of flavor and nutrition. Scott Steen of Slow Food in the Tetons agrees. “We would love it if everyone planned their meals based on what’s available at the farmers market,” he said.

DO: Get on board with the People’s Market Zero Waste initiative. Thanks to Slow Food in the Tetons, which manages the People’s Market, disposable cups are now a thing of the past. Bring your own cup or buy one for $6 (fully refunded upon return). Vendors now serve food in reusable green plates and bowls. Don’t throw them in the trash — place them in the Zero Waste bus stations at the market.

DON’T: Expect to get free food or deep discounts at the end of the market. Don’t assume you are doing a farmer a favor by hauling home end-of-market produce. Farmers Dale Sharkey and Jed Restuccia of Cosmic Apple Gardens have a plan for all that extra produce: it goes to CSA members, employees, Hole Food Rescue, and to feed their pigs. As Jed puts it: “I’d rather feed it to my pigs than sell it for less than it’s worth.”

DO: Be nice. Be patient. Last week a scuffle between customers broke out over the heirloom tomatoes at the Cosmic Apple Gardens stand. Being nice may help you get a better price, too. More than one vendor admitted to rewarding good behavior with better pricing. “I can round up, or I can round down.”

DON’T: Handle the merchandise. Don’t pick up every tomato and rub it against your nose before putting it back in the basket. Don’t stick your beak in the raspberries. If you let your children poke their fingers into the pies, be prepared to buy those pies.

DO: Try something new at each market. Discover a new vegetable—hello hakurei turnips! Take a home a new condiment—have you tried the fermented plums at Maya Organics? Or learn about a new way to cook a familiar food, like the spatchcocked chicken at Purely by Chance. Farmers Andy and Sue Heffron lovingly raise a small flock of chickens over in Alta, Wyoming, which they sell whole or spatchcocked (with the backbone removed so it lies flat for grilling or oven roasting). Learn from the Heffrons how to roast or grill a whole bird, and how to spatchcock it yourself if you prefer.

DON’T: Expect your farmer to diagnose your home gardening problems. The farmers I spoke with are willing to try to help, just not during a busy market with people waiting in line. Be mindful of their time and come back to talk to them later when they are not slammed with customers.

DO: Take photos, just ask first. Not everyone enjoys being photographed while they are working. Make sure your photography session is not holding up the line. If you find a vendor you love, feel free to post a picture of them on social media. Be sure to tag them so they can share it too. Word of mouth advertising like this can really help them build a local following.

DON’T: Be put off if the food is not labeled “Certified Organic.” Many small farms in our region follow organic practices even though they are not certified by the government. Feel free to ask a farmer about their growing practices — you may find they use criteria that are even more stringent than those of USDA.

DO: Buy your meat at the farmers market. Ranchers that grow food in the valley are not just providing us with healthful, delicious meats, they are stewarding the land and open spaces that make Jackson Hole unique. Selling meat locally means they don’t have to ship their products out of the valley, saving precious resources, and helping their bottom line. If you don’t get to the farmers market much, bring a cooler and stock up on meat. Better yet, join one of the beef CSAs and get bundles of meat on a regular basis.

Top left: Keep your eyes peeled for seasonal goodies like these squash blossoms. Top right: Discover a new favorite fermented food at Maya Organics. Left: Resist the urge to sample these juicy market blackberries. Right: Purchase a Purely by Chance chicken to make Lemon and Za’atar Spatchcock Chicken (recipe below). (Photo: annie fenn, MD)

Top left: Keep your eyes peeled for seasonal goodies like these squash blossoms. Top right: Discover a new favorite fermented food at Maya Organics. Left: Resist the urge to sample these juicy market blackberries. Right: Purchase a Purely by Chance chicken to make Lemon and Za’atar Spatchcock Chicken (recipe below). (Photo: annie fenn, MD)

DON’T: Bring your dog to the Jackson Hole Farmers Market on the town square, where they are no longer allowed. Well-behaved dogs on short leashes are still allowed at the People’s Market at the base of Snow King, but plenty of vendors told me they cause problems—they stick their noses in vegetable bins, pee on things, and disrupt people picnicking on the lawn. Don’t be the person with that dog at the market.

DO: Offer up helpful suggestions to make the market better. The Jackson Hole Farmers Market on the town square always has a table staffed with board members and volunteers who would love to hear your input. At the People’s Market, visit the Slow Food in the Tetons booth to talk to the market’s managers.

DO: Bring your children. Vendors love seeing kids at the market and turning them on to fresh, whole foods. “Kids are the best customers—they are polite, wait their turn, and always ask before taking a sample,” a fruit vendor told me. Just be sure to keep a close eye on them so they don’t poke their little fingers into any pies.

As it turns out, everything you need to know about farmers market etiquette, you already learned in kindergarten. Be nice. Be patient. Wait your turn. Don’t take things that aren’t yours. Bring a sense of adventure.

See you at the markets.

Recipe: Lemon and Za’atar Spatchcock Chicken

Thanks to Andy and Sue Heffron, farmers at Purely by Chance, I am all about spatchcocked chickens. By removing the backbone and breastbone, the bird lies flat, more skin is exposed to the heat, and it’s easier to cut into pieces than a whole, intact bird. They cook up faster than whole chickens, making them ideal for summer cooking. Andy roasts his chicken on the grill for about 45 minutes, but I prefer this quick oven method with a yummy pan sauce.

Make your own za’atar (recipe in the Foodie Files archives at planetjh.com) or use another spice mix that you like.

Serves 4

1 3 ½-4 ½ lb. whole chicken, spatchcocked

1 ½ T. za’atar spice mix (a mixture of sesame seeds, sumac, oregano and salt)

Grated zest of 2 lemons

1 garlic clove, chopped or passed through a garlic press

3 T. olive oil

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

For the sauce:

3 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed

Juice of 1 lemon

Red pepper flakes

Let the chicken come to room temperature 30 minutes before cooking. Pat it dry with paper towels. Save the neck and breastbones to make broth later.

Put a 12-inch cast iron skillet or other ovenproof skillet in the oven and heat to 425ºF.

Combine the lemon zest, za’atar, and garlic on a cutting board and finely chop. In a small bowl, combine with olive oil and about 10 grinds of fresh pepper until it forms a paste.

Loosen the skin under the drumsticks, thighs, and breasts by placing your fingers between the skin and the meat. Spread the paste evenly under the skin. Season the outside of the bird generously with salt, pepper, and a few more pinches of za’atar.

Take the hot pan out of the oven and add 2 T. olive oil. Swirl it around and place the chicken skin side down in the skillet. Cook over high heat on the stovetop for 3 minutes. Transfer to the oven and roast for 25 minutes. To check for doneness, poke the thickest part of the thigh with a fork. If the juices run clear, it is done. If not, roast for 5 more minutes. Transfer the chicken to a large plate and rest for 10 minutes while making the sauce.

For the pan sauce, place the garlic and lemon juice in the cast iron pan with the chicken drippings and cook on the stove over high heat. Add a pinch of red pepper flakes. Scrape the bottom of the pan to loosen up the caramelized bits of chicken. Spoon any chicken juices that have released onto the plate into the pan. Cook for 3 minutes. Pour the sauce over the chicken and serve. PJH

After delivering babies and practicing gynecology for 20 years in Jackson, Annie traded her life as a doctor to pursue her other passion: writing about food, health, sustainability and the local food scene. Follow her snippets of mountain life, with recipes, at www.jacksonholefoodie.com and on Instagram @JacksonHoleFoodie.


About Annie Fenn, MD

After delivering babies and practicing gynecology for 20 years in Jackson, Annie traded her life as a doctor to pursue her other passion: writing about food, health, sustainability and the local food scene. Follow her snippets of mountain life, with recipes, at www.jacksonholefoodie.com and on Instagram @jacksonholefoodie.

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