Benefitting from the Downfalls of Non-Local Farmer’s Markets

ImageI’ve discovered there are some definite downfalls that come from shopping at “farmer’s markets” that don’t consist of 100 percent local produce.

Specifically:
1. Green potatoes
2. Squishy zucchini

When potatoes are exposed to light, they turn green, which can be poisonous. Last year, as a first-time potato gardner, I was paranoid about green potatoes and composted any of the potatoes that had any green on them. Come to find out, this was one of several mistakes I made with my potatoes. (The other big mistake was immediately washing the harvested potatoes rather than letting the skins harden). Between these two mistakes, we ended up composting a large chunk of our harvest. Fortunately, our compost pile was gracious to us and gave us a couple potato plants for this year! Between these volunteer plants plus the seed potatoes we purchased, we should have a nice harvest. And having learned from our mistakes, we expect be able to keep most of it too!

But back to the green potatoes. I should have looked more carefully at the farmer’s market, but in my excitement of finding the white potatoes I needed for a recipe I was planning to make, I gave them only a fleeting glance. But at home, as I was putting them away, it became painfully clear that they were nearly all green. Not wanting to throw out the entire purchase, I did a little research and learned that the poison is concentrated in the peeling, so as long as I peel them, they should be good to eat. (I also learned that people rarely eat enough poisonous potatoes to kill them because the awful taste is a signal that something is wrong.)

So, the fact that potatoes sit in the sun at these farmer’s markets for who-knows-how-long is a definite downfall, but because of my foolish purchase, I learned something that will help me save several potatoes come harvest time.

The other downfall was the zucchini. I bought a basketful, and by the time I got around to using the first one, I noticed the end was already getting squishy. Having grown zucchini last summer, I know that the vegetable has a refrigerator life span of about a week. Had the zucchini been fresh when I purchased them, they should still be good. But because they were probably trucked in, they were not in their prime of freshness. (Granted, grocery stores have the same problem, but I don’t usually buy more than one or two in the grocery store. Also, I’m sure they have a higher turnover and probably throw out the zucchini before they’re at the “almost squishy” stage.)

Here’s where I start to feel a little silly, because zucchini are in season. If I’d had the patience, I probably could have found some at the local farmer’s market I go to on Thursdays. But I wasn’t patient, and so I was stuck with a basket of starting-to-get squishy zucchini. 

Time to process! First, I made my poor family a loaf of zucchini bread. (I haven’t heard any complaints yet.) The rest of the zucchini, I planned to freeze. As I was making the bread, I had a brilliant idea of how to store the vegetable so that access will be easier than it was last year.

Last year, I put all my shredded zucchini in one or two large freezer bags, and all my chopped zucchini in another. This was a challenge when it came time for using the zucchini. First, I had to work on thawing the whole big chunk. Even if I wasn’t going to use it all, I would have to thaw it enough so that I could at least extract the amount I was using. Not fun! Second, I had to guestimate how much I really needed when a recipe simply called for “1 zucchini.” 

So this year, I pulled out our small ziplock bags, put one zucchini’s worth (after cutting off the squishy parts) in the bags, labeled those with the date, and then put them all in a larger freezer bag. Now, I’ll be able to pull out and thaw exactly what I need. And since each bag is dated, I can add to the larger bag and still be sure to use the older vegetables up first in my cooking.

So, despite the downfalls of the non-local farmer’s markets, I did use this experience to learn something new about food safety and create a new system for zucchini storage.

I’ll probably have more patience to wait for a local farmer’s market to buy zucchini next time, but I’ll probably continue checking out the non-local markets as well (especially for off-season produce). Though they don’t have the benefit of freshness that the local markets have, their prices still give them an advantage over grocery stores. (I still haven’t gotten over the fact I bought some red bell peppers for only 50 cents each!)

If you’re in the area and interested in finding a farmer’s market or other local establishment, be sure to check out my “Friends & Neighbors Marketplace” list to the right of this blog.

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About Lori Futcher

Freelance writer and copyeditor
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