Our house is only one block away from the Ballston Metro stop. There's a farmers' market that pops up across from the metro station every Thursday from May-October. It's a great perk of living in this area. Our reaction when we discovered the market was probably the same as yours upon reading about it.
"Awesome! How cool is that? What a great thing! Reusable totes and local produce! Live music and organic cheese! Those Epps are so lucky!"
In reality, my farmer's market experience was a mixed bag. It seemed to parallel all the odd, complicated, swanky, urban quirks of the life we've been living here. Yes, it is very cool to have a farmers' market a couple of blocks from our house once a week. It's also really cool to live in the DC area for 2 years. It's also really cool to be so close to the city and the metro stop. But none of those things are 100% awesome. Sometimes you get an awkward amount of weird bitter greens with your gorgeous blackberries. Sometimes you just want to drive to the grocery store and buy pre-washed salad greens. Real life is just like that.
We only visited the market a few times our first summer here. We were still too new to the area, and too overwhelmed by our new life to make it a regular habit. Last spring, we decided that we wanted to take full advantage of our second farmers' market season. We decided to sign up to get a "market share" from the farmers' co-op service. That would ensure that we visit the market every single week! The description of the market share service sounded great!
We curate a weekly selection of fresh produce for subscribers to pick up during market hours. This is a great option for busy families and urban professionals with limited time, and takes the guesswork out of shopping at a farmers market. Each week, you'll get a bag of the freshest seasonal produce along with recipe ideas, an introduction to our farmers and producers, and a reason to get creative in the kitchen!
HAHAHAHA! In hindsight, we totally got snookered by flashy marketing. I don't need to have my produce selection curated by some college kid. I'm not a bored housewife who needs to be inspired by ramps and garlic scapes. I'm not too busy to pick out my own tomatoes. How could it be better to give people $45/week for a bag of things THEY chose, instead of just taking cash to the market to choose the things I want directly from the vendors?
We didn't really think things through logically. We just signed up. We paid in advance for 5 months of weekly market share bags, so by golly, we were going to pick up our bag every week and use everything we were given. Of course, we signed up for the LARGE share, with the added market treat. Go big or go home! You get what you get, and you don't pitch a fit! (I'm sure I can think of a few more cliches, but I'll refrain.)
It really has been a fun and interesting experience though. We won't ever do something like it again, but I'm really glad we did it once. Our market share bags were a weekly adventure. At the very least, they provided us with lots of fiber for our bodies and roughage for stories.
I now own a salad spinner and a sturdy vegetable brush. They were delivered to me by Amazon (same-day delivery!) so I suspect the environmental impact of buying local produce from the farmers' market has been nullified by my other life choices.
After wasting a few lovely basil plants that froze and wilted in the fridge, I figured out that I need to put anything that came as a whole plant with roots into a mug of water like cut flowers. They stayed fresh much better that way. There has been a basil plant or a head of butter lettuce in my Alice mug on the counter almost every week this summer.
So. Much. Kale. So much bitter kale! The less said about this, the better.
Blackberries are really good here. Local hot-weather things like peppers and tomatoes are MUCH better in New Mexico, but I will very much miss the blackberries when we move away. I invented a Blackberry Mint Julep one week when both blackberries and mint were in our bag. Yum. I also used a large number of locally-grown jalapenos in spicy margaritas, which reminded me a bit of home. Yes, it is possible that living here and dealing with random bags of vegetables might have encouraged me to make drinks on Friday nights.
Curries, stir fries, skillet pastas, frittatas and soups can use up a huge variety of weird vegetable combinations. It's a good thing I really do know how to cook. As long as I had some basic proteins and dairy in the fridge, I could usually come up with meals for Thursday - Sunday each week just using the market share. I must admit, that it was fun to practice my skills - a bit annoying at times, but fun. David googled random recipes some weekends, but I usually threw things together using skills and knowledge. Heh. I'm modest too.
I regret not buying some wonderful fruits and vegetables I saw at the various market stalls, because I had to pick up our market share bag. It took effort to use what was given to us, so I couldn't really justify picking up different things that we maybe would have prefered over the what was in our bag. It's so disappointing to wake up Friday morning thinking that I really should have bought that rhubarb.
Why did we get large amounts of eggplant every other week? Did the curators not realize there were other things available? Did other people not buy eggplant? Oh well. We now know multiple ways to cook eggplant.
Eight okra pods is a ridiculously small amount of okra. That's not even enough for a proper gumbo. I considered pickling it, but in the end, I just couldn't be bothered. It's one of the few allotments that we wasted.
I eventually learned to bring cash so I could buy extras of the things we recieved in small amounts. I knew the boys would devour tomatoes and fruit like locusts. Plus, everyone loved it when I had enough of something to make a pie.
The market treats were sometimes odd, sometimes amazing and occasionally pitiful. Each week was a surprise. We might get a giant crusty loaf of bread, or a jar of local honey, or a jar of pickled beets, or one single brownie, or a carton of cheese curds, or a single branch of dried flowers.
I'm pretty sure the farmers and vendors gave the market share bag people a few crates of things they didn't think they could sell. It wasn't blatant, but I noticed that we got the giant bitter zucchini instead of the delicate sweet ones, or the common type of tomato instead of the interesting heirloom ones. I'm sure that I would have ended up with nicer vegetables if I'd chosen them myself.
When there were homeless people on the corner between our house and the market, I always stopped and gave them apples or other things out of my bag. Living here requires equal amounts of compassion and disconnect, which I'll want to write about someday.
You know, now that I've written all of this, I think my perspective has shifted a bit. I enjoyed walking down to the market each week, and I'm sure I wouldn't have done it on super hot or rainy days if I hadn't needed to pick up the pre-paid bag. We enjoyed cooking weird and random things together at the end of every week. We probably did eat more fruits and vegetables because of this market share thing. Plus, I found something to gripe about every single week, and that adds spice to life.
Maybe the advertising was right. Maybe I am a bored housewife who finds inspiration in kale. Or maybe I am more positive about things after I'm past the experience. I'm sure that I'll be saying all sorts of positive things about living in the DC area a year after we move back home. I just complain about things when I'm in the middle of them, and that's OK. At least I'm doing interesting things. A little bit of complaining doesn't take away from that. A few bitter greens in the bag doesn't ruin it. We can always get something good out of them.