Over the last decade or so, there's been a wave of public interest in understanding where your food comes from. Accidents in the food chain with e. coli and tainted hamburger meat has gotten the public to realize that they have little to NO idea where their meals come from. Gigantic companies like Cargill, Tyson and ADM bring you food at the lowest prices available but sometimes at a risk. And who really wants to eat genetically modified produce?! So there's no better way to know where you food comes from than by going straight to the source, farmers! And not only can you get great, fresh produce, you're supporting the local economy which makes for a delicious deal where everybody wins...
Out here in the Triangle we've got some fantastically fresh options for farmers markets and the big difference in NC as compared to San Francisco is that they're also inexpensive! Farmers markets can be an every day option for your produce needs if you don't mind driving a bit. While I've been to both the Carrboro and Durham farmers markets over the years, the State Farmers Market is my tried and trued option. Open seven days a week with plenty of parking, the State Farmers Market (SFM for short) is conveniently located right off of Centennial Parkway and Lake Wheeler Road in Raleigh. The fully covered space makes for wonderful family outings regardless of weather conditions. And check their calendar for special events and give-aways like Watermelon Day 2010!
I'd recommend starting off with breakfast at the State Farmers Market restaurant across the street! Don't be intimidated by the full parking lot, people will often start here and then move across to the market. The line can get long here but the restaurant is big so it typically moves pretty quickly. Choose from Southern breakfast classics like fluffy biscuits, country ham, hotcakes, waffles and omelets! The omelets here are large and filling, go with a Western or my favorite, the corned beef hash with grilled onions and cheddar cheese. The pancakes are pretty monstrous, maybe not as huge as Big Ed's but large.
For lunch they'll have country basics like chicken-fried steak and chicken smothered in gravy. You'll get your choice of two sides (grits, cucumbers, etc) and a little taste of fruit cobbler at one low price. Pay up front at the register on your way out. The State Farmer's Market Restaurant has even added a small patio outside for some fresh air eating, don't miss it! The waitstaff is dressed up in country coveralls with the attitude to boot. They're attentive, sweet and sometimes mother over you during your meal. Just make sure you eat all your veggies or you may be teased for not doing so! The breakfast and lunches here are basic but hearty and filling, a great start to your Farmers Market day.
Now head on across the street to the main SFM building where they've got all the fresh produce and plants. On the west side you'll find a bunch of vendors under a covered tent selling baked goods, breads and more. One of my favorites is Annelore's German pastries. Try their wonderful strudel or beautiful fruit kuchen if your sweet tooth needs to be taken care of! Very authentic German baked goodies right here in North Carolina. Bee Blessed Honey is also typically at this end of the market. If you've got allergies, local raw honey is often recommended to help alleviate your symptoms. And of course, honey is a super-sweet natural sweetener for all your tea and baking needs. And La Farm Bakery sometimes has a stand under the tent! Some say they have the best bread and baked goods in the area, I'd say that's pretty close to the truth.
Under the tent you'll also typically find Yah's Best which makes some fantastic salsas! They've got five varieties ranging from So Good to Smouldering. Grab a chip and find which flavor suits you. I typically go with the After Burn which tingles my taste buds! Great, fresh ingredients means you'll get some of the best salsa around at Yah's Best, just make sure you get it home and refrigerated as soon as possible.
Now mosey on over into the main building where you'll find all the produce vendors. You'll find some amazingly good and cheap choices on the best veggies and fruits depending on the season. Check out the NC availability chart below to figure what's available, when. As you stroll down the aisleway, you'll be tempted with delicious samples of fresh fruit and prod uce by the folks working the tables. I've seen fantastic sugar snap peas, huge round muscadine grapes and wonderfully colorful hot peppers. NC has great growing weather for all sorts of different types of fruits and veggies but don't expect to find much organic produce at the SFM. My favorite season is probably July through August when you've got great corn, peaches and watermelon available. Nothing says summer like these delicious treats to me!
Most all the produce is excellent but you certainly might have a favorite farm for your fresh-picked goodies; take note for a return visit. I love fresh corn from the back of a pick-up truck! Put it on the grill with some butter and cayenne pepper, roast it until the husks are charred and then dig in, dee-licious! Or cracking open a ripe watermelon that's been chilling in the refrigerator all day is a great finish to your barbecue. And plump juicy peaches eaten out of hand or maybe in a crisp is always wonderful. I'm hoping one day to do a dinner focused on all the fresh produce available at the State Farmers market, I think it would be a great meal!
Moving on from the produce section, the second half of the primary building has a wonderful nursery selection. You can grab potted herbs, flats of flowers, ferns, small trees and more. Next door in the State Farmers Market Shoppes is where you'll find all sorts of sweets, meats, cheeses and artisan goods. I'm sure your kids will enjoy all the candy sticks, gummy candies and more in this building to balance out those healthy vegetables. Or grab some jellies, jams and sauces for the pantry. There's nothing like the local touch when you want the best ingredients! Out behind the Shoppes you'll also find the NC Seafood Restaurant which is focused on fried and broiled Calabash style seafood. I've heard the portions are huge here so bring your appetite! And if you need any knives sharpened, check out the Beck's Cutlery trailer next to the NC Seafood Restaurant! They can recondition and sharpen your knives while you're at the market, but they're only here on Wednesdays and Thursdays.
I can't really think of a better way to celebrate summer than by enjoying all the wonderful fruits and vegetables that it brings. The State Farmer's Market is a fantastic option for people of any age to appreciate the wonderful in-state produce available. Whether you're here to shop or people-watch, you'll get a real feel for what the Triangle area and state are about. Strolling around on a humid summer day is the perfect way to get your weekend going and stock up on the freshest produce around. And I'm sure once you get home with all your wonderful fruits and veggies, you'll be putting together a meal that will have your family saying, bon appetit!
Vendors at NC State Farmers Market ------------------------------------------- State Farmers Market Restaurant NC Seafood Restaurant Yah's Best Salsa Annelore's Pastries Bee Blessed Honey Beck's Cutlery