Farmers Market Junkies

For some people, it’s more than a healthy habit

I grew up in Michigan. Farmers markets there are vibrant and abundant—for six months of the year. For the other six months, it’s back to grocery store produce or, if I’m lucky, canned and frozen veg that my family put up during summer’s bounty, which, to her ever-living credit, my mother did.

Now that I live in Memphis, I patronize farmers markets every week because I can.

(My Michigan family still can’t quite believe my life of vegetable luxury.) And also because I get a little twitchy if I go more than a week without crisp greens in winter and local blueberries in summer. I’m hooked on the freshness and taste of the food, as well as seeing friendly faces every week. If this is addiction, I don’t want to go into recovery.

I am not alone. Rain or shine, in windy 30-degree weather or a sweltering 105, some people never miss a week at a Memphis farmers market. Here’s why.

The Dedicated Home Cook: Laura Barrett

Edible Memphis: How long have you been visiting farmers markets regularly?

Laura Barrett: From 2006 to 2008 I was a vendor at the downtown market. My business was called Bun in the Oven, and I sold baked goods. Often at the end of the day, vendors would swap their unsold goods and I’d go home with all kinds of fun things. After I stopped selling at the market, I continued to go every week as a shopper. My family has gotten a CSA from Tubby Creek Farm for the last six years, so we’re at the market every week to pick that up, plus more.

EM: Why do you come every week?

LB: I love to cook, and our family is vegetarian.

The quality of the produce—especially the lettuce—is so superior to what I can get at a grocery store.

I also believe in the mission of the farmers market: to support small, independent producers and their families, as well as investing in a system that requires less transport and, often, fewer chemical pesticides. The fresh flowers make me happy, and sometimes I get a beautiful necklace that I don’t really need.

EM: Do you have any rituals around your farmers market routine?

LB: Most weeks I like to go by myself, leaving the kids home with my husband. They tell me which treats they’d like me to bring back—chocolate croissants, cinnamon rolls or donuts, usually—and then I pick up the CSA share and other goods like goat cheese, fresh pasta and bread. The market is a very social place. I almost always run into someone I know: friends, neighbors, people from my kids’ school.

EM: What would have to happen for you to miss a week at the market?

LB: I’d have to be really sick or out of town for a long stretch of time. A friend will pick up my CSA share if I’m just gone for the weekend. All told, I only miss four to six Saturday markets per year.

EM: What tips would you offer to market rookies?

LB: Unfamiliar vegetables can be intimidating to a first-time shopper.

Buy one thing you’re not familiar with and start Googling what to do with it.

Get a few other things that you already know what to do with. Don’t buy everything you see because that gets overwhelming.

EM: It’s February and really cold. The stalls are overflowing with kale and turnips for the 12th consecutive week. Why come today?

LB: I know from my time as a vendor that what isn’t sold after the market won’t be good the following Saturday. When I had Bun in the Oven, I depended on the die-hard customers to get me through a week. Vendors do the same amount of work, no matter what their sales are. Patronizing the market is my way of giving back. I’ve made a commitment to these people and the mission. That’s what gets me through the weeks on end of mustard greens.

The Fellow Entrepreneur: Erik Proveaux

Edible Memphis: What farmers markets do you patronize?

Erik Proveaux: Downtown, Cooper-Young, Agricenter

EM: What keeps you coming back?

EP: We have to eat every day, right? I like getting the best food possible for myself and my family. Food is where we get our energy, and I think the food at the market is the freshest, the most alive, the most healthy. It’s also a human-scale economy instead of a giant corporation. I’m a small-business owner myself, so the vendors here are kindred spirits.

(EM note: Erik Proveaux is the owner of Fuel food trucks, which are parked at the Memphis Farmers Market many Saturdays. Try their veggie tacos. They might change your life.)

EM: What’s your favorite season at the market?

EP: Late spring is my favorite. By that time, I’m getting tired of root vegetables and really in the mood for something fresh. I never used to like asparagus until I started getting asparagus from Whitton Farms. It was always OK, but I never saw what the big deal was. But the asparagus from Whitton Farms tasted almost sweet and so fresh. I finally got why people love it. And that’s what’s great about the market:

It keeps you connected to the normal rhythms of life and seasons.


EM: Any guilty pleasures?

EP: La Belle European Bakery’s almond croissants are as good as any I’ve had anywhere. I’ve traveled a lot and, really, these are that good. I know they’re not necessarily healthy for me, but they’re so delicious that they balance the equation somehow. My son Lukas, who is four, really loves the banana muffins. If we don’t get to the market before they’re sold out, it’s bad.

EM: Describe a perfect day at the market.

EP: They have the banana muffins. They have local butter; that’s an elusive one. It’s not freezing cold rain. I buy a whole bunch of stuff for the week and leave with heavy bags. If there are live animals, my son loves that. I’m trying to get him to eat green vegetables now, and I think that bringing him to the market gives him a respect for food.


EM: What do you like to make with your purchases?

EP: Recently I’ve been freestyling with spaghetti squash. I made a casserole with squash, walnuts, olive oil, garlic, marinara and vegan ricotta. I’ve also baked ribs of squash with five-spice powder and glazed them with hoisin sauce. Put that beside some mahi mahi, and dinner is done. In summer, there’s nothing better than a giant chopped salad made entirely from market purchases: roasted potatoes, green beans, peas, some goat feta from Bonnie Blue Farm, for starters. My six-month-old twins’ first food was sweet potatoes from Marla’s Garden. I told her the next week that it was their first solid food. I think she was proud. It shows you trust what they’re doing.

The Committed Composter: Alison Happel-Parkins (along with husband Franz and their children, Lua and Asata)

Edible Memphis: What farmers markets do you patronize?

Alison Happel-Parkins: Cooper-Young, Overton Park

(EM note: Overton Park Community Farmers Market recently announced it is permanently closed.)

EM: What do you like to purchase there?

AHP: We eat a lot of eggs, and I like to get them from chickens that have been treated well. We also buy local honey and seasonal produce like onions, potatoes, peppers or squash. Sometimes we get snacks to eat while we’re there. Snacks might be fried pie, pastry or carrots (one of Lua’s favorites).


EM: What keeps you coming back?

AHP: Honestly, the Compost Fairy is one of the biggest factors. We keep bags of compost in our freezer and bring them to the market every Saturday to free up space. We appreciate the fresh produce and eggs and also how social it is for us. Lua loves to see friends from school at the market. The kids run around together while the adults chat. There’s a sense of community there. A lot of the vendors there saw us when I was pregnant. Now Asata is walking, and they got to see that progression.

I make an effort to go even when it’s not convenient because we need the market and the market needs us.

I encourage people to go even when the weather is terrible. The compost forces us to do that.


EM: Describe a perfect day at the market.

AHP: We have walked there from our house. It is approximately 83 degrees. It’s tomato season and we’ve gotten there early enough to grab some before they’re gone. A couple of Lua’s friends are there so they can play while I shop and talk. If they are selling beer that day, that would be nice.

EM: What do you wish more people knew about Memphis farmers markets?

AHP: That people can use SNAP benefits there. I recognize that it’s an economic privilege to be able to shop at the farmers market because it’s more expensive than grocery stores. But some of the produce in grocery stores has been subsidized and, in some cases, picked with slave labor. The only sustainable way to eat is to eat seasonally and locally whenever possible.

The farmers market couldn’t align any better with our values of food and community.

Heidi Rupke spends her days tending chickens and children, and defending her garden against squirrels. Her current food obsession is making the perfect pavlova.

Kim Thomas is a lifestyle blogger and photographer based in Memphis. Launched in September 2010, her blog KP Fusion provides of-the-moment fashion, style and beauty tips and trends with a little Memphis flavor thrown in.