Tips to Navigate a Farmers Market
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On this episode, Chuck Gaidica is joined by Grace Derocha, a registered dietitian, certified diabetes educator and health coach at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. Together, they share tips on how to get the most out of your visit to the farmers market.
“If you want the best and freshest, go first thing in the morning. Usually, they’re a little less busy because no one wants to wake up that early… If you want to go later in the day… barter and budget with the farmers because they don’t want to take anything back. They want to be able to sell it all.” – Grace Derocha
In this episode of A Healthier Michigan Podcast, we explore:
- The number of farmers and farmland in Michigan
- The difference between farmers markets and commercial grocers
- How to get the freshest, most affordable items
- What foods are currently in season
- How foods are grown and prepared for distribution
- Simple fall-inspired recipes
Check out the crop calendar that Grace mentions in this episode.
Chuck Gaidica: This is A Healthier Michigan Podcast, episode 38. Coming up, we share tips on how to navigate your local farmers market.
Chuck Gaidica: Welcome to A Healthier Michigan Podcast, the podcast dedicated to navigating how we can improve our health and well-being through small healthy habits we can start implementing right now. I’m your host, Chuck Gaidica. Every other week, we’ll sit down with a certified health expert from Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan and do a deep dive into topics covering nutrition and fitness and a whole lot more. In this episode, we’re talking about how to navigate in, out, and use your local farmers market. With me again is a registered dietitian, certified health coach with the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan Group. Grace Derocha, it is so good to see you again.
Grace Derocha: Always good to see you. I love this topic.
Chuck Gaidica: You do, so…
Grace Derocha: I do.
Chuck Gaidica: You’re going by, you see a new farmers market, you’re not intimidated?
Grace Derocha: I am a little bit, so if it’s one that I haven’t been to ever before, I get a little bit intimidated. The ones that I go to regularly, I kind of know the farmers. I know what they usually have. I feel very comfortable there, but when I’m trying a new one, it’s a little nerve racking. You don’t really know what they have. It’s kind of a big space. There’s lots of different farmers.
Chuck Gaidica: Is there an official definition really? They don’t tend to be the pop-up stands that we may see when we’re driving from Northville to Saline or something and there they are. I love those.
Grace Derocha: For sure. Farmers markets are identified as a public place where farmers usually go to provide produce or sell different things that they grow for the public.
Chuck Gaidica: I find it interesting that communities are designing their downtown spaces to accommodate even when new construction comes in, Royal Oak or someplace wants to build condos, they always say, “Well, wait, we have to leave a space for our farmers market.” It’s that important.
Grace Derocha: Yes, absolutely. Well, and it’s interesting because in Michigan we have over 340 farmers markets, which is a lot and Michigan has 10 million acres of farmland, so almost 50,000 different farms in Michigan alone. There’s a lot out there and a lot of different yummy goodness that we can enjoy.
Chuck Gaidica: Well, it seems to me that this whole idea of design and allowing us as families with kids, grandkids, to walk to a place because you do see a lot of strollers, I mean…
Grace Derocha: Yes, absolutely.
Chuck Gaidica: You see families, they grab a coffee or a cider and they’re picking up produce. It becomes kind of a hangout and also becomes a place to get goodness.
Grace Derocha: I think it’s a great like family fun event, community building, definitely economically helping the local farmers. It’s definitely a nice cyclic cohesive good thing for where you live.
Chuck Gaidica: I think one of the things that I’ve noticed when I go is I’m not quite sure what the season is. I was asking you off-mike a few minutes ago. Is it asparagus season? You’re like…
Grace Derocha: It’s like, “No.”
Chuck Gaidica: “No, that’s the spring”, so now I know, but there is such a thing as a crop calendar.
Grace Derocha: Yes there is, and we have one on ahealthiermichigan.org, which is Blue Cross’ health and wellness website, but it’s very interesting because when you buy in season you’re getting it fresher and it’s more nutrient dense, not to mention just getting it from the farmers market anyways. Trying to stay in season I think can help with meal planning, help with budgeting, and it tastes delicious.
Chuck Gaidica: Do you have a MO when you go into a farmers market? Do you go and do a swoop around just to see what’s there? Do you buy stuff right away? How do you do it?
Grace Derocha: It depends. There’s a couple of different ways I do it. One, I usually always… This is a good side tip, is always whatever farmers market you go to, take a walk around to see what each farmer has and kind of like what they’re selling it at so you can kind of budget accordingly, and then… I do it one of two ways as far as meal planning goes. I either go to the farmers market without a meal plan and kind of get inspired by what there is, what’s available, and then buy a few things and make the meal plan from that. Or, sometimes I go in with some of our family favorites like this one acorn squash recipe I have is delicious, so I know that my family will eat that and they will like it. I might go in knowing that I want that and then get those, but trying to keep an open mind to kind of meal plan either way.
Chuck Gaidica: When do you go? Is there a time of day? Are you trying to find bargains? How does that work for you?
Grace Derocha: Another side tip, if you want like the best and freshest, go first thing in the morning. Usually they’re a little bit less busy because no one wants to wake up that early and you can get everything that you need. If you want to go later in the day to kind of barter and budget with the farmers because they don’t want to take anything back, they want to be able to sell it all, give it the community, hopefully have people enjoy it and buy it, but then you have a little bit of leeway at the end of the day where you might be able to get a little bit of a bargain, barter a little bit. Get a combination of things. Kind of play with that.
Chuck Gaidica: I think one of the biggest aha moments when I would bring our kids is you see more dirt on stuff because you get used to this very cleaned up, everything is stacked the right way. There are people who do nothing but restack the apples if you go…
Grace Derocha: It’s like literally like a food display person.
Chuck Gaidica: This is funny. My grandson who is now eight, he and his buddies are with my daughter Tiffany and she picks an apple off the tree not too far from the house. They were all like in wonder. “You mean they come with leaves on them?” It’s so cute because you do get sterilized when you go to the grocery store only, and when you go to a farmers market you’re seeing it closer to the way it’s coming out of the ground or off of a tree, right?
Grace Derocha: Yeah, absolutely. Oftentimes they pick it that morning, so it’s super fresh, and I think it’s good for kids to see. I always tell people this. Oftentimes in a grocery store, they’ve polished it, they’ve picked out the “bad ones” that don’t look a certain way. Things that what I call ugly produce still are delicious, still are nutritious, still have a lot to offer. We should enjoy those, too, and oftentimes you see those…
Chuck Gaidica: Well, I have found, and I guess this is a good time of the year to talk about apples, right?
Grace Derocha: Yes, absolutely.
Chuck Gaidica: I have found even when you go to an orchard or to a farmers market, you’ll find the ugly ones, bruised or slightly whatever off in a special basket because if I’m going to slice apples and just put cinnamon and something on it and then bake it, I don’t really care if the skin looked a little darker there. What do I care? It depends what you’re using it for.
Grace Derocha: Apple orchards this time of year is the best. In Michigan, we grow about 16 different varieties-
Chuck Gaidica: Wow.
Grace Derocha: How do I know that? I know that, that’s true.
Chuck Gaidica: Well, it’s your job. It’s your job, right?
Grace Derocha: I think it’s super interesting. We are actually the third-largest producer of apples in the nation, so apple orchards… they have pumpkins, they have baked goods, they have doughnuts.
Chuck Gaidica: Cider.
Grace Derocha: Ciders and doughnuts, in moderation.
Chuck Gaidica: In moderation. I knew you were going to say that word.
Grace Derocha: They even have winter squashes that are available. There’s a variety of things in season now. Cruciferous vegetables, cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, even some leafy greens, kale.
Chuck Gaidica: Kale. I make fun of kale. I like kale, it’s all right. I don’t eat it all the time, but it’s just one of these things that seems to have caught fire, but some of those things you’re mentioning, and that would include also potatoes or…
Grace Derocha: Yep, potatoes, tubers…
Chuck Gaidica: They may be a little dirty at a farmers market because they…
Grace Derocha: Carrots, parsnips…
Chuck Gaidica: Literally just got them.
Grace Derocha: They literally picked them out of the ground, so definitely wash your produce carefully, but what’s also nice I think about a farmers market when you’re bringing your family or grandkids is they’ll let you try anything. They’re like, “Oh, you’ve never had a parsnip? You want to try this?” They’ll let you have a bite right there.
Chuck Gaidica: The biggest thing that I have found when Susan and I go either collectively or individually is going to the farmers market almost sets the agenda for dinner and then you figure out, is there a meat that’s supposed to go with it thing. Instead of working it from reverse like, “What are we doing tonight?” Well, you find all the vegetables and you say, “You know what we can do with this? We’ll put a chicken in the pot and we’ll put in all the carrots and parsnips or whatever and then we’re done.”
Grace Derocha: It’s like it’s great inspiration for sure. I don’t think people realize this, sometimes at farmers markets you can get eggs and different meats, honey, dairy. There are other things available you might not realize are there that you can also pick up while you’re there.
Chuck Gaidica: Sometimes you’ll see art, right?
Grace Derocha: Yeah, absolutely.
Chuck Gaidica: Some crafts, you’ll see little animals for the kids, so that’s why I think they’ve turned out to be such a cool…
Grace Derocha: Sauces, jams, soap. I see people making soap, plants, herbs, and spices. We talked about that a few weeks ago.
Chuck Gaidica: The idea that you’re going to a farmers market, complete trust in the notion that this is coming from a local farm. You’re also meeting people maybe of even multiple generations who have been doing this a long time.
Grace Derocha: Yeah, and the farmers are so great. They’ll talk to you about anything. They’ll give you their favorite recipe idea. If you have questions about how they grew something, you can ask, “Is this pesticide free? Is this chemical free?” Three out of four farmers are growing organically, so that’s also nice to kind of know.
Chuck Gaidica: When you go, do you find that you’re buying… Are you tempted to overbuy? Or are you tempted to really buy just what you need? It’s like just in time delivery?
Grace Derocha: It depends. It depends, but my husband would say I always overbuy, but I get so excited and he’s like, “Don’t bring the wagon because then you’re just going to buy everything.”
Chuck Gaidica: “That’s a lot of Brussels sprouts, honey.” Like, how many can you use?
Grace Derocha: Right, yeah.
Chuck Gaidica: Strawberries or apples, I would have to say apples are probably one of the things that I would overbuy. I love apples and then, how many can you eat? I had one for breakfast this morning again.
Grace Derocha: You can make Apple Pie Overnight Oats. You can have it as a snack. You can have it in something. Even some of your savory dishes you can enjoy it, so apples are our friend. I think even if you do overbuy something, if you’re getting a really great price, sometimes you can cook it all, like all of the Brussels sprouts and then you can freeze some so then you have it for a dinner for later. There is that potential as well.
Chuck Gaidica: There’s also a strange person, I’m saying this about a friend, there’s a strange thing that somebody I know likes to eat cold Brussels sprouts after they’ve been cooked. Just eat them right out of…
Grace Derocha: Maybe a salad…
Chuck Gaidica: The container. Well, no, just eat them. If they’ve been baked and they’ve got a little Parmesan on the start. They are good cold. I’m just saying.
Grace Derocha: I love Brussels sprouts, though.
Chuck Gaidica: Why freeze them? Just eat them…
Grace Derocha: Baby cabbages…
Chuck Gaidica: Later in the week.
Grace Derocha: I’m in for any Brussels sprouts.
Chuck Gaidica: Encourage us. This time of the year, if I’m going to a farmers market, what would be the stuff that my palate should be tempted by that I may not normally buy?
Grace Derocha: Radishes, totally. I feel like radishes get a bad rap. Do you like radishes?
Chuck Gaidica: It’s funny you say that. I like them sliced. Going back in my brain, my grandfather, my Mom’s Dad, ate radishes with every meal. A little salt on the plate, he would dip and just eat it raw.
Grace Derocha: Well, because they’re naturally a little bit peppery. I feel like they’re great in a salad and it doesn’t have to be a lot, but I feel like radishes don’t get enough love. Rutabaga, parsnips, those are definitely… any winter squash, any corn, butternut, pumpkin. Enjoy those.
Chuck Gaidica: Let’s talk about pumpkins because we see them everywhere. Not just the pumpkin farms because obviously you can go cut one off the stalk with your kids. If I’m thinking of making a pumpkin pie, I don’t necessarily want the pumpkin that’s the big one that I’m going to carve for Halloween, right?
Grace Derocha: Yeah. I tell people most of the time if I’m going to use pumpkin pumpkin and not in a can, I buy a pumpkin pie pumpkin is what they’re called. They’re smaller, they’re a little bit more workable. They’re not this huge, big thing, and they’re naturally a little bit sweeter than the big pumpkins. I feel like sometimes the big pumpkins, and oftentimes we’re talking about pumpkin spice because pumpkins don’t really have that much of a flavor. A lot of the winter squashes, there’s a touch of sweetness and some heftiness to it kind of like that. It could be sweet or savory, but pumpkin pie pumpkins, the smaller ones that you can get at the grocery store or at your pumpkin patch or apple orchard, those are the ones that you want to cook with. Those are the ones you want to roast. That’s my recommendation.
Chuck Gaidica: Do you roast pumpkin?
Grace Derocha: Yeah.
Chuck Gaidica: I do it with squash, but I guess I’ve..
Grace Derocha: Absolutely.
Chuck Gaidica: Never done it with a pumpkin…
Grace Derocha: If you’ve made pumpkin seeds… We have a pumpkin seed video coming out soon, actually. Shout out to the team. We just made that a couple of weeks ago, so…
Chuck Gaidica: That’s not that hard. We’ve done that with the big pumpkins.
Grace Derocha: Absolutely, and you can go big, little, but same with the small ones. You can roast a pumpkin like you would any other squash. In the oven, you can season. I’ve totally cheated when I was younger before I had kids. I would roast a pumpkin and just like cut it and like eat it with some…
Chuck Gaidica: A little brown sugar? Come on.
Grace Derocha: Yeah. Yeah, a little brown sugar, of course.
Chuck Gaidica: Let’s talk about the notion that… You’ve already pointed out, this is closer to the farm, getting right to your table, high quality. Probably organic, but you’re not seeing the signs everywhere. It just is.
Grace Derocha: Again, you can talk to the farmer, ask them. This is actually a scary/fun fact. Are you ready?
Chuck Gaidica: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Grace Derocha: That most grocery store items travel an average of a thousand miles to get to the grocery store.
Chuck Gaidica: Wow. I’d have to say over the summer, I notice that most by looking at where my blueberries were coming from. They weren’t from up North Michigan. Apples, probably tomatoes in many cases, and a lot of South American produce and a lot… Nothing against it, but to your point, how far did it come?
Grace Derocha: Especially since we have so many farms and farmers here that economically and like for the nutrient density of that produce, we have it in our back yard per se.
Chuck Gaidica: What about the notion that we’re able to do things where we’re experiencing the taste? For a lot of kids, whether it’s they didn’t know that there are actually leaves on an apple…
Grace Derocha: Yes, exactly.
Chuck Gaidica: But the taste of the food when it’s that fresh and you’re making it at home, literally it could have been within that morning it was harvested or yesterday and you’re already serving it tonight.
Grace Derocha: It’s nice. There’s like Kutchey Family Farms, which has actually their own building, and they were telling us that they pick the corn like first thing in the morning and that’s what’s out there. Everything that they picked they picked that morning and brought to… they have a building for their farmers market, which is kind of a nice thing, but thinking about that, you’re getting it right off the stalk instead of five days later.
Chuck Gaidica: Is there anything better than Michigan sweet corn?
Grace Derocha: Nothing.
Chuck Gaidica: Just without butter. I literally just roast it or I’ve actually tried it raw. It depends on the variety. It’s awesome.
Grace Derocha: Absolutely, and I think there’s something to be said, too, about it does taste better, fresher off the vine and knowing that it’s chemical free, pesticide free, that you can actually taste it and enjoy it right there and then.
Chuck Gaidica: Sometimes it’s so easy to talk about this idea that we’re getting hooked on fresh produce, but I think in my mind getting hooked is a good way to look at this because once you taste something, when you taste something in a good recipe that’s kind of pure and simple and you think, “Oh, this is sweet corn and all I did was put a little dab of butter and I’m great?” Your taste buds adapt to these really fresh-tasting foods.
Grace Derocha: Absolutely, and it…
Chuck Gaidica: Which is a benefit.
Grace Derocha: It tastes different. I had a friend recently tell me that they had an organic carrot for the first time and they’re like, “It reminded me of carrots I had when I was young that I haven’t had…
Chuck Gaidica: Interesting.
Grace Derocha: “In a long time.” It was sweeter, it was crunchier. It was like I agree.
Chuck Gaidica: Everything doesn’t get bred out of it, right?
Grace Derocha: It’s not traveling so far, it’s not taking five days to get in. We’re not being picky about it looks.
Chuck Gaidica: What else have you found in your personal experience? Your kids are involved in going to your farmers market-
Grace Derocha: Oh…
Chuck Gaidica: When you go?
Grace Derocha: Absolutely. One, I make them help me know, but, two, again it helps them be a part of that process to try new things, to be adventurous when it comes to different foods, try new flavors, and then I can say, “Kahlea, Tommy, you picked out that kohlrabi”, which is kind of funny shaped anyways.
Chuck Gaidica: It sounded funny when you said it.
Grace Derocha: It’s definitely an experience and it helps them to try new things because at the end of the day we want them to be healthy adults, eating their fruits and vegetables. I always tell Tommy, he’s four, “Honey, no one is going to marry you if you aren’t going to have a little bit of broccoli.”
Chuck Gaidica: Wow. Wow.
Grace Derocha: He ate…
Chuck Gaidica: That’s some pretty heavy Mom guilt right there.
Grace Derocha: He has a girlfriend that he tells me he’s going to marry so-
Chuck Gaidica: Sure.
Grace Derocha: We have to make it really clear. Sophia is not going to want to marry you if you don’t have some broccoli once in a now, bud.
Chuck Gaidica: Do you… man, do you can things? Do you save?
Grace Derocha: I do a little bit. I will be honest, I usually will cook things and make things. I say, “Cook once, eat two or three times”, and then I freeze it like as a meal. I have to tell you, I made a pot roast today and it was a big one, so I know we probably won’t eat it all within this week, so I will freeze half right away so it’s already cooked. I won’t have to go through that process again, but cook once, eat many times.
Chuck Gaidica: You’re a busy Mom and you’ve got… this is a slow cooker, not an Instapot?
Grace Derocha: Yes.
Chuck Gaidica: You were throwing in I’m assuming vegetables with?
Grace Derocha: Yeah, carrots, potatoes, onions, celery.
Chuck Gaidica: All of which you…
Grace Derocha: All of those are in season right now.
Chuck Gaidica: You could have possessed to get at your farmers market, right?
Grace Derocha: Absolutely, yeah.
Chuck Gaidica: Isn’t it sad in Michigan, and I assume as you go south of the Ohio River where temperatures are different it’s a whole different story, it’s kind of sad when the farmers markets kind of go away. It signals in mind like, “Oh, we’re really…
Grace Derocha: It really is…
Chuck Gaidica: “It’s a slippery slope now, kids.”
Grace Derocha: It’s going to snow tomorrow, but the nice thing though honestly is that there are so many things still available and it does last into November. I think most farmers markets… Apple orchards are definitely open through that time, so don’t be shy about trying new things, getting out there, trying a new recipe. I have a ton of recipes on A Healthier Michigan.
Chuck Gaidica: What would be your biggest aha moment of something we could find at the farmers market? What have you done with some kind of produce that would really just blow our minds?
Grace Derocha: Oh gosh. I brought it up earlier because it sounds a little trivial. I make this stuffed acorn squash that has farro and chicken sausage and apples and some vegetables that’s really good and it’s pretty because then I serve it in like half the squash and it’s always a hit. It’s always a hit because it looks pretty, but then it also tastes good.
Chuck Gaidica: That’s pretty…
Grace Derocha: I’m using very seasonal things.
Chuck Gaidica: Do you add any sweetness to it? Or is it just seasoned?
Grace Derocha: It’s more of a savory dish because of the apples and the acorn squash are naturally a little bit sweeter. It’s good.
Chuck Gaidica: It does sound good. It sounds like a perfect thing for the season, too.
Grace Derocha: Farro is a fun wholegrain that people don’t really use often, so kind of they get nervous about that, but it’s super easy.
Chuck Gaidica: Tell me about the texture because I’m not familiar.
Grace Derocha: You know what it looks like? A big rice puff-
Chuck Gaidica: Oh, okay.
Grace Derocha: But it’s soft like a rice or like an orzo, but like a little bit puffier than that.
Chuck Gaidica: Well, that’s a really…
Grace Derocha: It’s delicious.
Chuck Gaidica: Good one. Any other recipes we should be looking for?
Grace Derocha: Well, I would say… I’m Filipino, so I enjoy bok choy often in Asia dishes, but I usually don’t buy it, which is weird. The last time I was at the farmers market because I had a conversation with someone about this, I bought some and we just grilled it and like seasoned it a little bit. It was so good. It was a nice way to have a vegetable at a meal without having… it was clean, I cut it in half and we grilled it. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen bok choy but it’s like…
Chuck Gaidica: Yeah.
Grace Derocha: Leafy, but… Have you ever bought any?
Chuck Gaidica: No.
Grace Derocha: See, most people don’t.
Chuck Gaidica: Nope.
Grace Derocha: My Mom.
Chuck Gaidica: Now, when you say grill it, you mean put a little oil on it so it.
Grace Derocha: A little oil. Yep. Salt, pepper, garlic.
Chuck Gaidica: Beautiful.
Grace Derocha: Yeah, and so easy. I like to make it easy.
Chuck Gaidica: Well, we want to encourage everybody that the ease of this… I know you’ve got to park the car and sometimes you do have to walk a little bit depending on which community this is in, but don’t just go zipping by your local farmers market. Really consider it this season.
Grace Derocha: Absolutely, and I think what’s important is maybe you get some steps in. There’s a lot of benefits here. Try new things, help you mean plan, support the community, support your farmers. Lots of good reasons to go to your farmers market.
Chuck Gaidica: For you and your family, you really are going from pick to plate. You really are getting it that close to when you’re eating it, so-
Grace Derocha: I feel like we use that often, like farm-to-table, but in this situation it is real and you will taste a difference.
Chuck Gaidica: You pay extra for it sometimes at a restaurant because you think or you know that that’s what they’re doing, and here you can do it for your own family.
Grace Derocha: Absolutely. At restaurants they’ll list that, like the different farmers that they worked with, which is great but you could also do it at home.
Chuck Gaidica: Yes you can. Well, thanks. You’ve given us some good tips and we’ll look for your recipes as well, and don’t forget when you go, last time I was… Even in Downtown Detroit. I’m in shed whatever and they’re having the farmers market and they had little pygmy goats. The kids were completely mesmerized because when other time in the year, wherever else can you go where you will find goats that look like a poodle? I mean really, it was just…
Grace Derocha: So cute.
Chuck Gaidica: It was just an upside bonus and I brought home a bunch of stuff, so it was –
Grace Derocha: Perfect.
Chuck Gaidica: A good trip all the way around. Grace, good to see you.
Grace Derocha: Good to see you. Thank you.
Chuck Gaidica: Grace Derocha with us again. Listen, if you aren’t seeing any reason to be encouraged to go to a farmers market, you’ve got to stop. You really just have to stop and if you’ve never done this, to begin something you’ve got to start a new habit, so get out of the car or go walk over from your home and check out your local farmers market. Thanks for listening to A Healthier Michigan Podcast. It’s brought to you by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan.
Chuck Gaidica: If you like the show, you want to know more, you can always check it out at ahealthiermichigan.org/podcast, or leave us a review or rating at iTunes or Stitcher. You can get new episodes, even previous episodes. We’ve talked about all kinds of things that lead up to this notion of pick to plate, but you can pick up episodes about processed foods, about how to cook different goods, why they’re so healthy. Be sure to subscribe to us on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or your favorite podcast app. I’m Chuck Gaidica, have a great day.