Dogs greet each other as babies sleep in strollers while their parents buy fresh lettuce, green beans, and cucumbers, along with local meat at the Concord Farmers Market, one of the oldest in the state. It's on shaded Capitol Street which is closed to vehicular traffic from 8:30 a.m. to noon on Saturdays. More than just a market, it's a gathering place for friends, both canine and human.
We sell Miles Smith Farm grass-fed beef, pastured pork and local lamb at two markets – in Concord (in summer and winter on Saturdays) and in Nashua (Main St. on Sundays.) But I'm a customer, too. This is where I buy my vegetables, fish, bread, honey, or maple syrup – from the people who produce it.
As much as I love to eat veggies, that kind of farming doesn't appeal to me. I prefer the company of cows to cabbages. Besides, growing vegetables is challenging.
One year I tried to grow my favorite – tomatoes (technically a fruit). The plants did well but then sank out of sight in a sea of weeds. Another year I won the war on weeds, but hornworms stripped the leaves off my plants and ate up the tomatoes while they were still green.
My friend Julie was about to pick her green beans, but deer got there first. "That was the year I fed Bambi," she recalls.
I'm happy to fork over the cash for local tomatoes (yum), and fresh-picked corn and lettuce, knowing the farmer who raised those vegetables worked hard to beat back the weeds, fight off insects, and deter vegetable predators like deer and groundhogs. Gardening battles are best fought by other soldiers, not me. My energies are focused on cattle.
Here are five reasons to shop at your local farmers market:
1. Eating local food is eating seasonally. You can buy strawberries in the winter, but the poor things were picked before they ripened and then traveled thousands of miles only to disappoint. Wait for their growing season, and your patience is rewarded by delicious flavor.
2. Buying local food keeps New Hampshire green. Your dollars keep farmers in business, thus keeping farmland viable and enabling your farmers to say no to development. When you drive down the road, you'll see fertile fields of green instead of condos, self-storage units and the same chain eateries you'd see outside Trenton, N.J.
3. Locally grown food tastes better. Crops are picked at their peak of ripeness, not harvested early so they can survive shipping and distribution. Those crops are engineered for durability, not taste. Produce at local markets has usually been picked that morning. And local grass-fed beef tastes better than meat that comes from the corporate factory farms of the Midwest.
4. Local growers can answer your questions. You can ask what practices they use to raise and harvest the crops. When you know where your food comes from and who grew it, you know a lot more about that food.
5. The dollars stay in your community. Money spent with local farmers and growers is then spent again with businesses and services close to home. (Trust me, my revenue does not go to buy silk suits for corporate big shots. It gets plowed back into local businesses like Agway, Hilltop Feeds in Loudon, Pearl & Sons, Robert L. Potter & Sons, Walpole Ice Cream and others - sometimes faster than I'd like.)
Convinced? The Concord Summer Market (Saturday) on Capitol Street, next to the State House, provides space for 40 vendors who offer a selection of meat, eggs, dairy, fruit, vegetables, fish, honey and maple products, plus baked goods. Try it! (You're sure to love it.)