During the summer, healthy, albeit expensive eating is guaranteed by the presence of farmers’ markets in every community. I decided to check out five markets in this area, over the course of the past few weeks, to compare produce quality, ambience and variety of products sold. An especially nice feature of retirement is that you don’t have to shop and plan meals for an entire week at a time, which means you’re less likely to lose track of food in the fridge only to discover it months later when it has become hazardous waste. And having a one-day-a-week farmers’ market somewhere nearby, as in a Tuesday market, a Wednesday market, and so on, means you can always buy fresh.
The beauty of the retired life and my experiment was that I didn’t have to wait until after a workday to execute it. What I learned was that many of the same vendors appear at every market, which also means that there are only small variations in product. And the quality of the produce is generally good, no matter which vendor you choose. The Kirkland market wins for ambience, since nothing stands between it and the shores of Lake Washington. And Columbia City wins for have more ethnic diversity among its clientele.
This year, due to a soggy June, berries came late, but when they arrived it was clear that they were worth the wait. We ate hundreds of strawberries from the Skagit Valley through July — without ever coming across one that wasn’t sweet — and drowned in raspberries well into August. Donut peaches are everywhere and I haven’t tasted a bad one yet. Yesterday I got carried away at Columbia City and lugged home peaches, nectarines, green beans, an eggplant, plums, a cantaloupe, red potatoes, and a honeydew melon. My only disastrous buy this summer was a ginormous heirloom tomato for $6.50 that had not a lick of flavor in it.
Fresh flowers are another reason to go to farmers’ markets. For some reason they are selling for very low prices this season, as in $10 for a bouquet that I must divide into two, because it is too big to fit in any of my vases.
While it’s true you can buy fruits and vegetables more cheaply at Safeway, the odds are good that you will find better flavor in produce grown close to home and driven a relatively short distance to market. And after my small experiment, even though there are at least 10 more markets in the area that I could drive to in order to confirm my early conclusions, I believe I can save gas and get all I need by going to the closest market, which is only a few blocks away.