Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Why I Love (and Volunteer at a) Farmers' Markets

Growing up in suburban New Jersey, I didn't have much exposure to Farmers' Markets. During the summer and fall my family would go out to pick berries, apples, and pumpkins, but that was sort of the extent of my knowledge. However, I used to take family vacations every year to Vermont (Smugglers' Notch near Stowe) and would go to their farmers' markets. I was very impressed at a young age at how beautiful the market was. In hindsight there was only a couple vendors and it was extremely small, but I was intrigued nonetheless. As a child, the colors, smells, and tastes of the market were enchanting and I found myself asking my parents to buy a lot more produce than we probably needed at the time. There was something special about that experience that ended up staying with me.

Fast forward to being an "adult" and moving across the country to Portland. One of the most popular sights that all the tour guides talked about was the Portland Farmers' Market at PSU. It sounded fun so my family decided to go check it out. My first time there I was amazed by how big it was! There were so many different vendors with such diverse produce, many of which I didn't even know by name. As I strolled through the market for the first time, I remember thinking that this was the epitome of Portland- a community of people passionate about their food. So I sampled my way through the produce, took a bunch of pictures, and ended up stopping by the information booth. That is when I first meet some market volunteers and decided then and there that I wanted to be apart of this community.

I began volunteering a couple of weeks afterwards and really enjoyed working with some amazing people. It was fun to learn about the different vendors and foods of the Pacific Northwest. I enjoyed interacting with people who were passionate about eating fresh produce and supporting local farmers in the process. As I began to become comfortable with the market, I would venture out and begin asking a bunch of questions. I stopped by this one stand that was selling pumpkins and decided then and there to make a pumpkin pie from scratch. When I asked the vendor what kind of pumpkin would be the best for pie, she went into a whole discussion about pumpkins and ended up giving me a recipe she loved to use when making pumpkin pie. So I bought my pumpkin, followed the directions in my own kitchen, and all the sudden I had a pumpkin pie from scratch! And let me tell you, the roasted pumpkin smelled heavenly.

I love that everyone there loves food. Whether you run a 5 star restaurant downtown or don't know how to roast a vegetable, you can enjoy coming to a market and buying a beautiful assortment of food. I love that all the vendors are more than happy to share some cooking tips when you ask them. I love the passion the vendors have for their produce. I love the community aspect. The market really is meant for people of all ages. When I eventually have kids, I will definitely bring them to the market to learn about food and where it comes from. Kids are much more willing to try new foods when they have a hand in picking out the produce and cooking the end product. Plus who doesn't love free samples?

All in all, I've had great experiences both as a consumer and as a volunteer at farmers' markets. While I obviously can only speak to volunteering at 2 different markets and being a regular customer at a handful, I really do believe in their mission of creating a sustainable, not-for-profit environment to provide the community with fresh products from local farmers and producers. I do believe farmers' markets mutually benefit both the individual vendors as well as the community as a whole. I'm proud to serve just a small part in making these markets a success. 

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