Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Local Produce Abounds at Birmingham Area Farmers Markets

Buy Fresh Buy Local image
The month of May is the beginning of one of my favorite seasons: the arrival of locally grown fruits and vegetables at the farmers markets and produce stands around town.

My absolute favorite farmers market is the Jefferson County Truck Growers Association Market—also known as the Alabama Farmers Market. This 49 acre market is located on Finley Ave (just down the street from one of the Alabama’s best meat and three restaurant: Niki’s West).

Although the Alabama Farmers Market is primarily a wholesale distribution center for commercial farming operations, many vendors in this market sell to the general public. They also have some of the best produce prices in town.

The Alabama Farmers Market is open to the public seven days a week from 5:00 a.m. until 8:00 p.m. during this time of year. The secret for finding the best selection at this market is getting up early on a Friday and Saturday and visiting the market between 5:00 a.m. till 7:00 a.m.—these are the hours that chefs and grocery produce buyers haggle with local farmers and make deals on the tailgates of pick-up trucks.

Although the best (peak season) local produce available in the coming weeks consists of strawberries, cauliflower, cabbage, as well as spinach and other greens (collards, turnip, et al), we are now only a few weeks away from the beginning of the peak season for my own personal holy trinity of fresh Alabama produce: tomatoes, corn, and peppers.

The Alabama Farmers Market has you covered on some of the best corn available (look for Silver Queen sweet corn in late June and July); however, the weekly market at Pepper Place is definitely the destination for those searching for the best varieties of tomatoes and peppers.

There are dozens of farmers markets and produce stands in the Birmingham area—one of which should be convenient to your home, work, or commute. There are currently seventeen farmers markets listed by the Farmers Market Authority—a state agency whose purpose is to "assure the consumer a better quality product at a reasonable price and a fair return to the producer by providing a convenient, dependable place through which producers and buyers may carry on the process of marketing."

And while you are out and about this summer touring the farmers markets and produce stands in the Birmingham area, you might also like stop by the Birmingham Public Library to find dozens of books that should prove interesting to anyone with a penchant for farmers markets and fresh, local produce.

For tomato lovers, Tomatoland by Barry Estabrook explores the history the fruit, explains how modern industrial scale agriculture has led to the tasteless tomatoes that can be found in grocery stores year-round, and examines the renaissance of heirloom varieties in farmers markets and backyard gardens.

Can It, Bottle It, Smoke It: and Other Kitchen Projects by Karen Solomon gives recipes and step-by-step instructions for making everything from plum ketchup to pepper jellies and chipotles. This is an excellent resource for transforming budget friendly bulk purchases from farmers markets into mouthwatering preserved foods to stock your pantry. This is Solomon's follow up to her previous book on food preservation called Jam It, Pickle It, Cure It.

Also, the recent Make the Bread, Buy the Butter by Jennifer Reese has proven very popular with readers across the country and points out the benefits (or lack thereof) in making over 120 different staple foods ranging from ketchup and butter (buy them) to bread and Canadian bacon (make them). Reese also includes several sections that focus on the benefits of raising your own goats, chickens, and bees. This is a must read for anyone that enjoys cooking and is interested in developing a spending strategy prior to their next visit to the market at Pepper Place.

Finally, the map below displays the seventeen FMA approved markets in Jefferson County and also provides information on their hours and days of operation.



View Farmers Markets in the Birmingham District in a larger map

Brandon Smith
Springville Road Library

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