I have always been interested in why people do the things they do. What they have in their junk drawers and medicine cabinets were an early fascination. So it’s no surprise that I want to know why people shop the way to do or why they buy the things they buy at the farmers market. And beyond that, what ends up happening to those vibrant micro greens and juicy mulberries in their carts?
This is Gather Weekly’s first shopper profile. Her name is Jennifer, come along and follow us through the market.
I’ve known Jennifer for eight years but have only recently had the chance to know her more over our mutual love of the farmers market and our commitment to local, seasonal and organic produce. We meet almost every week for coffee with a few other farmers market enthusiasts. All of us talk about what we’ve bought so far, which vendor has the best cherries that day or what farmer has the first crop of asparagus. We exchange recipes and ideas for how we will use the succulent strawberries and spicy mustard greens that are too beautiful to pass up.
Jennifer is the queen with a capitol Q of the Thursday market. Although I’ve been going to the market since ’97 I don’t have nearly the relationships Jennifer does with vendors. She talks to everyone! Knows so much. And is truly adventurous in both her shopping and execution of meals.
Jennifer and her median
She pulls her collapsible wagon filled with canvas shopping bags, cooler bags, mesh produce bags and empty bottles waiting to be filled with this weeks offerings. She moves fluidly through the market, pausing at her favorite vendors to chat and fill her bags with delicious vegetables and fruits. Her wagon sits in the middle of the aisles and has earned the name “the median” as it creates a center divide.
Jennifer gets caught up with farmers and vendors all the while finding out how to best use the Tokyo turnips and garlic scapes that grab her attention. She asks questions. And then she asks even more. She is polite. She is inquisitive. She wants to savor and enjoy the farmers’ products in the best possible way. I listen to her think out loud about how she will enjoy their product at her lunch table just an hour from then, sautéed with this, that and the other and most likely topped with an egg.
Why do they grow it? How do they grow it? How do they make it? How do THEY serve it? What do THEY do with it? She asks about their travels and their families. Her enthusiasm is palpable. She is interested not only in the products she buys from the vendor but in the vendor themselves.
After the market, I spent the afternoon with her in the kitchen. I asked questions while she makes us a lovely lunch.
Gather Weekly (GW): I know that the Thursday Marin Farmers Market in San Rafael, CA is your primary market. Are there others that you visit?
Jennifer: Yes, (not as religiously) I shop at the Wednesday market at Town Center Mall (Corte Madera, CA), the Saturday Marin Mart market (in Larkspur, Ca), the size is small and manageable while still offering a great variety and I love the fish market! Occasionally I shop at the Sunday Marin Farmers Market (also in San Rafael, CA).
GW: Where do you find recipe inspiration?
Jennifer: I read the SF Chronicle Food & Home section every Sunday. Edible Marin, Edible San Francisco and Sunset Magazines. I visit the Delfina website, they post their menus so I’ll look at those for ideas. We eat out about 15% of our meals so I try to recreate a lot of what I see on menus at home. Cookbooks, of course. Lastly, my head really-I make up meals by using the ingredients from my market shopping.
GW: Do you take a list to the farmers market?
Jennifer: Rarely. If I need something specific I will or if I’m going away for the weekend and have planned all meals so that I don’t forget anything.
GW: How long have you shopped at Farmers Markets?
Jennifer: Since I was 21 and was living in Spain. I lived there for 10 months and markets were everywhere. After that I lived in Greece for the summer and traveled to Turkey were there were lots of local markets. Then I moved to San Francisco. I first shopped at the Tuesday market near my office. Soon after, a friend introduced me to the Green Street market and I found that I could shop weekly at markets. I moved once again, to Washington D.C. It took me a few months shopping exclusively at Whole Foods but I found year-round weekend markets at DuPont Circle and Adams Morgan. The seasons for produce were much shorter and variety wasn’t as abundant as in California. Three years later I was back in the Bay Area and happy to be reunited with the glorious markets here.
GW: How much of your weekly household food comes from the farmers market?
Jennifer: I’d say about 90%. I bake a lot so I do shop elsewhere for items such as sugar, flour, oils etc. I shop at Good Earth and Woodlands Market (both local independent grocers in her area) Whole Foods and Trader Joes.
GW: How important is organic to you?
Jennifer: I don’t want pesticides and other harmful things in my body or that of my family. I’m also concerned about the effect these cause on the environment; the quality of soil declining, the effects on birds and wildlife and run off into our water system.
GW: What advice or tips could you give to someone shopping at farmers markets for the first time?
Jennifer: Taste, taste, taste! Ask questions. If they don’t know what something is or how to prepare it, ask a farmer what they do with it.
GW: Do you make a lap around the market before the start of shopping?
Jennifer: In an ideal world I would. It makes sense to compare prices and taste all that is out there before buying but no, I don’t.
GW: Do you have a favorite season for the farmers market?
Jennifer: Summer. Everything is sooooo good!
GW: Are you a self-taught cook or did someone teach you?
Jennifer: It was an evolution. My mom and grandma for sure. I worked at a restaurant during college in the summers. I was a picky eater before working at the restaurant and by being there, if forced me to try new things. Living abroad introduced me to so many cuisines. In my 20’s I started cooking a lot, by trial and error.
GW: Is there a dish you could make blindfolded?
Jennifer: Pasta with cream sauce and sautéed greens.
GW: Favorite cuisine
GW: Sweet or Savory?
GW: Who are your favorite farmers at the market?
Jennifer: Full Belly Farm for fruits and vegetables, Star Route Farms for carrots and greens, Dolcini Farm for eggs, Straus Family Creamery for all dairy, Shelly for micro greens, Emi at Lakshmi Lassi & Chai, Della Fattoria for bread, frequently Marin Root Farm, Triple T Ranch and Toscano Farms at different times of the year, and seasonal vendors such as Peach Farm for fruit and tomatoes and Kashiwashi for stone fruit.
For lunch, Jennifer made “morels on toast” and a salad of mixed micro greens with a vinaigrette of heirloom tomato vinegar from Front Porch Farm and earthy olive oil from Full Belly Farm. The recipe for the morels is from the Chez Panisse Cookbook.
She served it two ways, on toast and on polenta. We both agreed that Alice was right, morels on toast are best served on toast!