July 2, 2015

Farmers Markets and Local Food in Your Area

By: Alex Charpentier, Culinary Arts Student

One of the reasons that I selected the Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts program in Austin, Texas was because of their unique Farm To Table® Experience and their involvement with local Austin farms and farmers.  While I have yet to complete the farm to table block of the Culinary Arts curriculum our Chef instructors are constantly educating us on the importance of using the freshest most locally available ingredients from the region and how to work best with the producers of these products to create good tasting, well executed cuisine.

For those of you not currently enrolled in culinary school or actively studying farming don’t despair, I have good news for you!  The growing popularity of farmer’s markets throughout the United States is making access to fresh farm to table ingredients for you to use in cooking at home more accessible than ever before.

Students from Escoffier School were at the chef's demo tent with frittata samples and sweet and savory pork samples.   Photo by: Texas Farmers' Market at Lakeline.

Students from Escoffier School were at the chef’s demo tent with frittata samples and sweet and savory pork samples. Photo by: Texas Farmers’ Market at Lakeline

The Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) is a government agency that administers programs that facilitate the efficient, fair marketing of U.S. agricultural products, including food, fiber, and specialty crops. According to their website, the AMS provides the agriculture industry with valuable services that help ensure the quality and availability of wholesome food for consumers across the country.  In fact, they reported that as of National Farmers Market Week, (the first full week in August), there were 8,144 farmers markets listed in USDA’s National Farmers Market Directory. This is a 3.6 percent increase from 2012, evidence of the growing popularity of farmer’s markets across the country.

Through the National Farmers Market Directory, AMS connects consumers to producers at over 8,000 farmers markets, providing location and operation information.   The Directory lists markets that feature two or more farm vendors selling agricultural products directly to customers at a common, recurrent physical location. It’s designed to provide consumers with convenient access to information about farmer’s market listings to include: market locations, directions, operating times, product offerings, accepted forms of payment, and more.

If you want to locate a farmer’s market in your community you can search the AMS’s directory for markets by zip code, geographic proximity, product availability, payment method and even whether the market participates in Federal nutrition programs, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). You can also search by selecting the state and typing the official name of the farmers market.

Escoffier School's culinary students served up some amazing bites to try, using only goodies found at the farmers market! Photo by: Texas Farmers' Market at Mueller.

Escoffier School’s culinary students served up some amazing bites to try, using only goodies found at the farmers market! Photo by: Texas Farmers’ Market at Mueller.

Locally here in Austin, Texas we have our fair share of farmer’s markets throughout the city.  In November 2014, Austin A-List released a list of top local area farmer’s markets nominated by readers with winners determined by popular vote.  The top markets in Austin in order were Mueller Farmers Market, Cedar Park Farmers Market, Austin Farmer’s Market. SFC Farmers Market and HOPE Farmers Market.

Mueller Farmer’s Market, which earned top votes, now offers three different locations in Austin, at Lakeline, Mueller and the Domain.  In addition to providing a list of upcoming events, their website also has many valuable resources for at eating and cooking seasonally at home including recipes, shopping tips and a market glossary.

With the summer in full swing across the country, now is a great time to get out with family and friends and discover your local farmer’s market.  Not only is it a great way to spend time together, but it will help you arm yourself with information about what types of fresh foods are available from your local farms and how you can best use them for your maximum health!