I can’t begin to tell you how relieved I was when Farmer’s Market season came back around. I’ve been waiting for it as the weather got nicer out of my office window. I’ve been waiting for it since I moved to Green Bay. I had the expectation that the Farmer’s Markets would be miles above any that I went to in the smaller towns that I’ve lived in up until this point, and I was right to hold those expectations. The Saturday Morning Market that’s held on Washington street downtown is apparently smaller than the Wednesday market, but we’ll get to that one soon.
What matters is that this Saturday Market was the perfect way for me to get my feet wet in the local scene of growers, cheese producers, and meat purveyors. With around ninety vendors in attendance, I can say with relative certainty that I probably won’t have to use a big box grocery store for my shopping unless I need canned goods, sodas, or the like to renew our stockpile. I can support the local community for all of my regular cooking needs.
Even this early in the growing season, I found plenty of seasonal produce to bring into my kitchen, including products I had never heard about in my life. Cold Climate Farms, the first stand that caught my attention inside of the door, offered Garlic Scapes as part of their selection. These beautiful little guys are the flowering end of the garlic plant that can be cooked to impart mild garlic flavor and cook up to the texture of asparagus. I used them in beef empanadas the same night, and they gave me the mild accent I needed.
If this were a vendor highlight, Cold Climate Farms would be the first to get it. They probably still will next week depending on what I can get from them again. They weren’t the only stand offering beautiful produce at reasonable prices. The large Hmong community of the region had several families sharing their produce, and their tables had everything from the expected asparagus to bags of dried thai chilis.
There was also a great stand dedicated to mushrooms so entirely that they had grow-your-own mushroom blocks that were calling my name. I did not pick one up this week from Field and Forest Products, but I did get a bag of shitake and oyster mushrooms from them that honestly beat the fuckin socks off of any store bought container of mushrooms I have ever seen in my life. There is a shitake in that bag bigger than my palm. They are going to have my business every single weekend until October 31 when the season is over.
The meat vendors had everything from chicken to grass fed beef to lamb to yak to bison. I had never seen YAK sold at any meat stand, and if I weren’t keeping myself to a budget, I might have walked out of there with some. I spent most of my budget on vegetables and cheese (lactose intolerance be damned). The cheese purveyors sold local only, which would of course be the case up here in dairy country.
Renard’s Cheese was the first cheese stand in the loop and therefore the one we purchased from since we have no impulse control. The beauty of buying cheese local up here is that it’s cheaper than any other gourmet cheese stand I’ve seen at any other farmer’s market. We got a half pound of amazing Tuscan Rosemary Cheddar made in Door County, as well as cheese curds to supplement my husband’s growing supply. I’ll gladly suffer a day or two of an upset stomach for that kind of cheese.
I could have walked out of there with hummus, smoked fish, tamales, fresh tortillas, farm boxes (which I might look into next week), handmade cloth masks, breads and cookies, and twenty different asparagus bunches from twenty different vendors. There is no way I will ever manage to highlight every single vendor in those parking lots, but they are each working so hard.
Because of the increase of my baking at home, this was the first time I attended a farmer’s market and walked right past two different artisan bakeries. There will come a time, no doubt, where I’ll be back at work and can’t whip up sourdough bread of my own every few days, and then I’ll be right back at the front of the line like the old days. I love you, bakeries. I’m sorry that my sourdough starter is getting between us right now. Tina’s a good girl.
The farmer’s market is an inspiring place for me as a home cook, and I find that they’re much more important now during the age of COVID-19. The Saturday Market took many precautions to keep shoppers and vendors safe, including increased distance between stalls, hand sanitizer at the entrances, and assigned entrances and exits for all visitors. They even had reusable bags at the entrances for visitors to use instead of bringing in their own to maintain as sanitary an area as possible. Everyone had to be masked, or you weren’t let in.
There is also research that shopping in the open air reduces your risk of exposure as opposed to traditional grocery shopping in a big box store, so there has never been a better time to support your local farmers and artisans. Join me as I pledge to use the majority of my budgeted grocery cash with them, not the grocery store. They need us, and we need them.
The Saturday Market of Green Bay will be a weekly adventure for my husband and I for the entirety of the season, and I look forward to every vegetable, fruit, or carton of fresh eggs that inspires me to greatness in my own kitchen. This is the season to put our money where our mouths should be if ever we were going to shop local.
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An idea born in Normal, Illinois, Eating Normal hopes to chronicle the eating Experiences of a Red bird. Pledge monthly to our patreon!