Guest Author - Jason Hodge
As a personal chef, farmer's markets are great resources to have in your repertoire. They provide a never-ending list of possibilities for you and your clientele. When I'm going on a food foraging mission and sourcing items to prepare, here's what I do.
I google the farmer's markets in my area and surrounding areas and get my list and times of operation together. Then I map out which ones I want to check out and go to them. The reason behind this is that when you're dealing with clients you want to establish a good set of resources to be able to draw from when it comes to the materials you're going to use for the meals you prepare.
There's nothing like dealing with vendors you know for what you need. When you approach it from this angle you'll not only get the quality product you need, but you'll also get a heads up for when new things are coming in, tips on how to store and prepare them and where to get the other things on your list that they may not necessarily carry, you in essence create a network that looks out for your best interest.
I Make sure to ask questions like:
What should I look for when I'm picking my produce?
You may learn things like: Never purchase tomatoes that have been in cold storage. It makes them mealy; Stay away from melons that are bruised and / or have breaks in the skin. they may have bacteria that has infiltrated the rest of the meat and be dangerous for you to consume; etc.
Basically look at the things you concern about most that will help you obtain and deliver the best product to your client and then ask those questions to satisfy those end goals.
Have a plan of action when you go to the markets. My first visits tend to be more of a preview to see what's in store and determine if it's where I want to spend my or my client's money. If the produce looks good, has great aroma and fits into my criteria (organic, non-sprayed, etc.) then I go to the next step. I go through and start making my selections and having the farmers hold them aside until I complete my shopping. I go from one end of the market to the next and once I reach the end I turn around and start making my purchases and picking up all that has been held for me. When I hit my last vendor, I'm done and ready to get that produce into storage.
A few things you'll want to keep in mind and on hand:
A shopping bag or cart
Cash or tokens (some markets will give you tokens if you need to use credit or debit, to make your purchases with. If you use those, make sure you exchange what you don't use for cash before you leave.)
Your lists or menus (If you're shopping for several clients, make sure that you have a way of keeping each client's items separate, i.e. separate bags with their names on them or another method of identifying them.)
A large cooler with ice to keep things cold
Your method of operation/system (I usually like to hit the perimeters first and then delve into the middle isles. This way I can make an efficient sweep, see what I want, then move through and collect the merchandise on the way out. I'm able to take it all in one constant movement.)
Once you get the hang of your local farmer's market you'll be able to take the time to get to know your vendors and make them your advocate as you become their advocate. Find out the inner-workings of their processes. Ask intelligent questions and get into finding out about them and their passions to create the great product. You'll find that you'll have farmers that will learn what you want, get to know what you like and bend over backwards to get it to you at the highest quality. Plus, they'll even start throwing in some things for free that they'll want you to try out and give feedback on.
If you like their product and their service, make absolute sure you send them business. As their business grows, your resources grow, you strike up a friendship and get invited to the farm every now and then. It's a perfect win-win scenario.
If you do this your business will grow, you'll get referrals and create the type of business that will give you an exponential return on your investment of time, energy, money and even more important... You'll be getting paid for what you love to do without it feeling too much like work.
As always, it's been my pleasure to share with you. Until next time...