Pascale La Draoulec breaks down 10-plus ways to ensure a first-rate seasonal-shopping experience.
BY LIZ GIEGERICH
Pascale La Draoulec is one of Westchester’s most sought-after farmers' market experts. Over the last nine years, she has assumed management of the Irvington, Hastings, and Chappaqua outposts, and this year she started running Bronxville’s popular Saturday-morning market. Before entering the county's outdoor-bazaar scene, La Draoulec, who grew up in Los Angeles, worked as a journalist in California, and then spent 18 years as a restaurant critic for the New York Daily News. She also published a memoir, American Pie: Slices of Life (and Pie) from America’s Back Roads, which chronicles her road trip across the country and the role of homemade American pie from coast to coast.
La Draoulec sees farmers’ markets as a romantic connection to a time when food was always local and fresh, and when people had more personal, face-to-face interactions. "The market is not just about food, but about becoming the piazza, the agora," she says. "In summer especially, people are jonesing for that sort of thing."
La Draoulec strives to work with vendors who use a range of growing practices (conventional, certified organic, and non-certified organic), which also provides a range of prices at her markets. Vendors come from as far as three hours away every week with their freshest seasonal items. “Sometimes the non-certified organic is more expensive because those farmers refuse to use any pesticides at all," she explains. "And the certified organic actually has some wiggle room that allows farmers to use some pesticides in certain situations."
For regulars who may not need the following advice, it's still worth taking La Draoulec's fundamental concept to heart, i.e. using the market as a place to gather, meet people, and try something new. For the rest of us, her tips below are useful reminders on how to make the most of your trip to market.
1. Research Ahead of Time
Know what is in season so there is no disappointment when you get there and so you are prepared with recipes and know what ingredients you need. Understand that markets sell things that are local and fresh and you might not be able to get all your ingredients there.
2. Stop By the Market Tent
Find the information tent and ask if there are any special vendors who are not there every week. Some vendors are only at the markets once a month and have goods you want to take advantage of while they are there.
3. Do a Recon Tour
Farmers’ markets can be overwhelming, so it is a smart idea to “do a reconnaissance tour,” as La Draoulec puts it. “Don’t just jump at the first rhubarb you see. There might be another vendor that has a better price or whose rhubarb looks fresher and more vibrant.”
4 Bring Cash
There are usually no ATMs at the market, and people often run out of money before they are done shopping. Come prepared with cash and small bills. The farmers are typically not going to have change for a one hundred dollar bill, especially not at the beginning of the day.
5. Bring Bags
Some markets have bags for shoppers, but not all, so don’t forget to bring a reusable one or two. You can also bring a cooler bag with you if you plan to buy meat or dairy, or just ask vendors to keep things in the cooler for you if you are going to hang out for a while.
6. Get to Know Your Farmer
“One of the best things about markets is that you can form relationships with your vendors," La Draoulec explains. "They love to see regular shoppers and often offer them special prices or special items. Take advantage of having a conversation with the person with whom you are exchanging money. Farmers have hard lives working in fields every day. They love conversation and hearing what people do with their produce. If you made a really great eggplant Parmesan with a vendor’s eggplant and took a photo, show it to them." It's also a good idea to tell the farmer what you plan to make with their items and ask them for some tips and recipes.
7. Don’t Bargain
A farmers’ market is not a flea market. However, some people come at the end of the market and try to bargain with the farmer, assuming that anything left over will be thrown out, according to La Draoulec. But many markets do collections and make deliveries to food pantries at the end of the day, and sustainable farms use their leftovers to feed the animals.
8. Try Something New
The market is an opportunity to be adventurous in your shopping. Try something new each time you go. If you don’t know how to prepare a certain item, ask the vendor.
9. Turn Off Your Phone
In order to make the most of your trip, you need to be present. Pay attention to all the offerings, compare prices, look for the prettiest produce, and ask questions. Markets offer an opportunity to taste and smell things, senses you can't employ while hunched over your smart phone tapping at a screen.
10. Talk to Other Shoppers
If you see someone buying up a lot of one or two items, ask them what they cook and how. Vendors and farmers are not the only people at the market with good ideas on how to use the fresh offerings. Professional and amateur cooks take the best advantage of their markets and they have good advice too.
11. Follow Your Market on Social Media
Most markets these days use social media to get the word out about who will be selling, what is in season and special events. Take advantage of this easy way to stay connected and like your market online. And when you do post a photo of your amazing rhubarb pie, tag your vendor and your market.