by Elaine Porterfield

Making the most of summer farmers markets

Summers in Seattle are jam packed with farmers markets. I love both cooking and fresh veggies, so strolling through these markets is always an enjoyable experience. Last week, I headed to the Columbia City market in South Seattle to pick up some produce for dinner and learn a bit about some of the vendors along my way.  

What’s good for the goose?

I was drawn to the Goose and Gander stand thanks to the piles of chartreuse fava beans, burgundy butter lettuce, frilly kale and emerald baby spinach leaves. I introduced myself to Jarryd Baxter, the vendor, and told him I was interested in learning more about the farm and his experiences at this market.

Baxter at his booth. 

Baxter at his booth. 

Though his booth was crowded, he was glad to take time to chat with me about his veggies, or as he referred to them, his treasures. His favorite treasures of the day were his fava beans. "I want to eat all of the fava beans with a chilled glass of rosé," he explained. He joked that each individual bean must be painstakingly peeled, "but it's totally worth it."  

When Baxter is not at the Goose and Gander stand, he works as a chef at the nearby La Medusa restaurant, which showcases Mediterranean and contemporary Northwest cuisine. Produce from Goose and Gander supports the restaurant, with the remainder sold through farmers markets and weekly subscription community share boxes. The produce, though not registered organic, is sustainably grown and not sprayed with pesticides, he says.

There’s likely no better guide to a farmers market than Baxter. He genuinely loves helping newbies or fledgling cooks navigate unfamiliar produce or recipes: "I like to chat with people and point them at interesting items," he says.

Baxter's farmers market tips:

Take a walk.

His advice for when you first arrive: start by simply taking a lap or two around to see what's available and what looks fun or interesting. Then, he says, dive into a booth or a stand and talk to the vendors. The vendors have first-hand knowledge of what produce or product is at its peak. "Ask them what they like," Baxter says.

Flowers, as well as fruits and vegetables, are some of the treasures you can take home. 

Flowers, as well as fruits and vegetables, are some of the treasures you can take home. 

The farmers and other vendors do what they do because it's their passion, and they love sharing their knowledge, he says: "Don't be shy. If you see something different, ask how to fix it. Ask for a recipe."

Don't be afraid to bargain.

Don’t try this if you're buying, say, just a few boxes of berries. But if you're getting your jam on and want to buy three flats, there's no harm in asking nicely if you can get a bit knocked off the price.

Be open.

Got a recipe you want to try? If you can't find the exact produce you need for it at the market, don't panic. In most cases, there is a substitute, and if you ask vendors for their opinions, in most cases they'll be happy to advise. "Don't be afraid!" Baxter says. When it comes to veggies, the more adventurous the better. Bok choy, for example, is typically used in Asian dishes, but can be a tasty addition to Mediterranean recipes calling for leafy greens.  

Most importantly, just be flexible.

"Come with an open heart and an open mind," Baxter advises. So take Baxter's advice and head to your local farmers market before the summer ends. Enjoy those fresh veggies and get creative in the kitchen!

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