From Mercado to Market
It’s been exactly six weeks since I moved home to Deerfield from Almería, Spain. It’s been exactly six weeks since I had an egg with a yolk so orange it looked fluorescent, since I had a slice of achingly sweet piel de sapo melon, since I have eaten spicy, garlicky green olives by the handful.
That being said, I have had access to a dishwasher and a dryer over the past six weeks and that eases the sting somewhat.
I knew that coming home to suburbia would be a culture shock but I didn’t expect to feel choked by anxiety when I got lost in Jewel Osco (how many aisles of bread products can one grocery store have?) or swerve perilously close to the curb, distracted by how wide the streets are here.
More than anything, the realization at just how spoiled I was has set in. I haven’t had a good peach or nectarine in over a month. The only truly great produce I’ve eaten since I got home was from a farm stand in Michigan; those cherries brought me right back to the greenhouse capital of Spain.
Today, I went to the Deerfield Farmer’s Market with no small amount of trepidation. I hadn’t been there in probably ten years and my last memories were of very little produce and a lot of pies.
Fortunately, I was pleasantly surprised by what I saw. Although it was maybe 1/8th the size of my Mercado Central in Almería and the prices were triple, the vendors were friendly, the produce I sampled was delicious and I can feel confident in saying I will be back next Saturday.
Mark Lefevor, partner at the 35-acre Madsen Farms in St. Anne, Ill. continually gestured towards the bushels of vegetables for sale behind him as we spoke.
Madsen Farms, founded by Jack Madsen, 85, grows only vegetables and has felt the squeeze of larger farms encroaching on their territory.
“It all comes down to margins, sadly,” Lefevor said. “Groceries are just trying to find the lowest price. Farmer’s markets don’t’ grow wholesale so compared to people who grow just carrots, we can’t sell them cheaper.”
At $3.00 for a single head of lettuce, Lefevor knows the prices aren’t dirt-cheap.
“In a farmer’s market atmosphere, you’re creating the ultimate freshness,” Lefevor said. “You eliminate an entire week of sitting that grocery store produce goes through. This tomato was on the vine just a few hours ago.”
And truly, the difference is palpable. The heirloom tomato cherries I purchased at the stand ($3.00 for scant one pint) were crisp and full of juice, absolutely nothing like the soft and watery version available at local grocery stores.
Alphonzo Porter has been working for Skibbe Farms in Eau Claire, Mich. for 14 years now. He is involved in everything from planting to sales on the 150-acre farm that produces only fruits and vegetables for human consumption.
In the Midwest where farming corn and soybeans for livestock is the norm and a majority of the produce in stores such as Jewel, Heinen’s and Mariano’s is imported, Porter says he shops for groceries exclusively at Meijer stores, a chain founded in Greenville, Mich.
“Meijer is the only store I know that buys local produce from Michigan growers,” Porter said. “[It’s] the only store I recommend people shop at.”
For those who don’t have the time or ability to shop at farmer’s markets, this is welcome advice and a far cry from the common conception of organic or bust when it comes to healthy eating.
“People spend a lot of money buying organic stuff, but if it’s imported can it really be organic? They have to spray all sorts of chemicals on there to preserve [the produce],” Porter said.
From fresh flowersto micro-greens to dog treats to a tiny cheese stall, the Deerfield Farmer’s Market certainly doesn’t have it all but it does have a reasonable selection. I know I’ll be back for farm fresh eggs, sweet radishes and some more of those perfectly imperfect heirloom cherry tomatoes.