This morning I took a trip to the South Bend Farmers Market. This was not my first trip there; my mom and I have shopped there intermittently since we moved to the area 16 years ago. This was, however, my first trip where I was planning on buying everything I need for a week's worth of eating and cooking. I noticed quite a few things that I never did before, since my priorities have shifted a bit.
First, I never really realized the variety of food available. Just about everything that's available at the local Meijer could be found at the market, although possibly in a different form. Noodles for example. One booth had fresh noodles, but nowhere near the number of sizes and shapes that you can find in a grocery. You can also find bread, baked goods, and soaps.
I also noticed that not everything is local. There's one produce booth that offers fruits and veggies from all over the country. I avoided them, since I am trying to buy all local items. I think they have an actual store somewhere, but bring some of their inventory to sell on weekends.
One of the butchers at the market offers rabbit. I'll have to give that a try. This was the only booth that offered local meats. I didn't realize this and bought from the other butcher. That's something to remedy next week.
Vendors offer homemade sauces, salsas, dressings, and jams/jellies. I'd like to learn to make my own, but this is a guilt-free option until then.
Two booths offer homemade spices, and several others have fresh herbs. Potted plants are also available. One vendor even had a large pot growing salad greens. You just pick what you want, when you want for only $7.50. I'm thinking about buying one of those...
I can buy local eggs and butter. Free range, chemical free eggs are only $2 a dozen. Meijer wants $3.79. Butter was $4 for a "roll" which looked like about 2 lbs. Wow!
The market accepts WIC. Anyone who says local, fresh produce is unavailable for the lower classes is sadly misinformed. Tha market is located centrally, easily accesible from either Mishawaka or South Bend. It's also on the bus line, which is very inexpensive ($.75 for a regular fare, or $.35 for Medicare cardholders).
Another thing I loved is that you can buy just the quantity you want. I'm going to make a pasta dish this week that requires a small quantity of mushrooms. Instead of buying 12 oz and scrambling to find something to make with the remainder before they go bad, I just bought 6 little mushrooms that I selected myself. I was also able to buy a little basket of redskin potatoes for only $1. It's just enough for a meal for Shayne and I.
Maybe best of all, from an environmental standpoint, is that the food isn't packaged. I brought my own produce bags that I had aquired at the grocery store, and carried everything in my canvas tote. Aside from the paper wrapped around the meats, there was no waste.
I'm pretty excited by the whole experience. I bought a couple of cookbooks this morning to help me on my new quest to use more whole foods, and I'm sure the market will open up more possibilities once I know how to cook better. As for today, dinner is roasted chicken, carrots or broccoli (there were heads the size of my head!), and redskin mashed potatoes. Nothing fancy, but it's all homemade!