26 October 2007

Frugal Foodie: The Farmer's Market

Welcome to the first in a weekly(cross-my-fingers) installment, I will call "Frugal Foodie Fridays," an attempt at bringing together my need to be more consistent in my blogging and the one thing that I could talk and write about forever and ever - FOOD!

As you know, I'm a full-time graduate student whose financial means are quite limited. Even more challenging is the fact that I really like to eat - and I like to eat well. Not that I seek out foie gras and champagne, but I'd much rather eat things more interesting and more tasty than instant ramen and $0.39 boxes of generic mac n' cheese (though yes, I did eat modified versions of these two things in the last month). I'm going to take this opportunity to share this journey of a Frugal Foodie with you, oh few readers out there...so I hope you find this useful, occasionally funny, and maybe cool. Feel free to chime in with your own thoughts and tips! (p.s. Facebook users, feel free to comment on the main blog itself).

Well, when I first moved to Minneapolis, I was going through major SF withdrawal. One of the things that I loved most about living in SF was the incredible food culture and the segment of that culture devoted to fresh, local food. Unfortunately, some of the SF farmer's markets (i.e., the Ferry Building Farmer's Market) are much too expensive for those with more stringent finances. My advisor here at the U told me about the Minneapolis Farmers Market, and I went w/ one of my classmates to the Lyndale market the first weekend that I arrived. Boy, I was sooo excited! The hustle and bustle, the enormous amounts of produce all in the sunshine (170 vendor spots!!!), the crisp morning air. There are many different things available at the different vendors, ranging from produce to poultry to eggs to cheeses to bread/baked goods to the prepared food vendors (tamales, brats, roasted corn, Chinese food) and miscellaneous furniture/clothing/sunglasses (random, I know). One day I spent almost half an hour tasting a bunch of varieties of local honey!

The Mpls FM is a little bit different from some of the markets in San Francisco. One difference I noticed right away is that while most of the vendors sell local products and produce, there are some vendors who sell products from other parts of the country. Also, not all of the products provided have the organic label (which is controversial anyway). One reason for importing is that Minnesota has a short harvest season due to the weather. Some people might have a problem with this, but there is no shortage of locally grown and/or organic products. Interestingly, the Mpls FM started out as a place for area businesses to sell their products wholesale. Nevertheless, the quality of produce from the vendors is far superior to anything that I have found at the local grocery stores (even at the "fancier" ones which gouge you). Another thing to note is that most of the vendors sell produce by the basket or bushel (rather than by weight). As you can see in the picture above left, the produce is in little baskets which are usually priced at $1-3 each or an even better deal of 3 for $5, where you can mix and match. Awesome for any Frugal Foodie! The amount you get in each basket is HUGE. So I try to hit up the farmer's market with a friend and we split everything. That means that we get a good variety of produce for a cheap price, without having excess which will be wasted!

The selection here can seem repetitive, but it is quite diverse. I love that they have different Asian vegetables (Thai eggplant, bok choy, huge stalks of lemongrass, cilantro, and much more) in addition to the veggies and fruits we're used to seeing. I like to take advantage of the diversity by picking out some food that I've never cooked before to experiment. Picking cost-effective ingredients makes for a bonus! For example, I bought a medium sized spaghetti squash for $2 that I made into two different dishes - roasted spaghetti squash and then a pizza. Many things which are staples in a food lover's fridge are much much cheaper and better quality at the FM than in the regular grocery store. I love to get my fresh herbs at the FM. This one farm sells big bundles of herbs individually or even mixes for as little as $1! About 1/5 of that amount sells at the store for $2.99 and those often go brown fast. Fresh herbs can elevate the most mundane to sublime! I could devote a whole blog to fresh herbs! Perhaps another time.

I am in love with the Farmer's Market and have been there all but three weekends that I've been here, including tomorrow! Sadly, the outdoor market season is winding down, but there are a few more weeks left for you to take advantage of your local land's bounty (and get so much more for much less than at the crappy grocery chain next door). It feels great to eat a little healthier and to help out local family businesses. The Farmer's Market has me looking forward to Spring already!

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