All farmers’ markets are not created equally.
There are lots of factors that go into building a good market, like a good central location, near the urban center of a town. The day or days of the week that they are open is also a factor, with most, but not all, choosing Saturday morning, the busiest shopping time of the week for many.
There are even some factors that can’t be controlled, like the weather and the season of the year. A rainy, stormy day is just not a good day to walk the market and there just isn’t much produce being harvested in the middle of a hot summer or in the dead of winter. In fact, the growing season really only lasts five or six months.
But being off-season doesn’t mean it’s not worth your time to visit. You will almost always find vendors that are selling jams and jellies, plants and flowers, handmade pastas, and other handmade products.
A good way to make sure you get the best at the market that you can, is to visit a Mississippi-certified farmers market. The state certifies each vendor to make sure they are growing or making what they are selling. This program is administered by the Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce and allows the consumer to interact with the farmer and know the origin of the food and products they buy,
The whole idea behind a farmer’s market is the freshness of what you buy. Many farmers harvest the night before or even the morning of the market. It just doesn’t get better than that. Grocery stores require a two-week shelf life for produce, for obvious reasons, which requires the farmers to harvest two weeks before the produce is at its height of ripeness. There is nothing wrong with grocery store vegetables, they just have missed out on those last few sunny days that can make a big difference in reaching the peak of flavor.
It’s always a good idea to ask the vendor where his produce came from. Maybe he didn’t grow it himself but got it from other local farmers who are growing veggies he is not. I bought from a vendor in Biloxi for years who would tell you exactly where his produce came from. It is reassuring to know the origins of what you are buying.
Another good practice is to make sure what you are buying is in season and if you see something that you want, that is out of season, ask about it. There is one well-known vendor at the Ocean Springs Saturday morning Fresh Market who grows hydroponically, which means what he plants does not have to follow the season. You might also like to check out the small Wednesday afternoon market (3 p.m. to 6 p.m.) on Porter Avenue in Ocean Springs. My favorite vendor is Fit Food Farm to Go. I’ll tell you more about this farmer soon.