I love public markets. Who doesn't. I've been gawking over farm stalls around the world for years. I think many of us are drawn to Farmers or Public markets because of a pastoral sense that we are doing something a little more natural, a little more homegrown, maybe a little more like they used to do it in the old days. Is the price better? Usually, but depends on your location. Are the goods better? That's a good question. Sao Paulo is a big street market city. Every day of the week there are at least two street markets known as feiras around the city. Each feira has a specific day and you can find it there every week without fail. Feiras are very drawing. Row upon row of tented vending tables; piles of the brightest fruits you've ever seen. You thought you knew what the word banana meant, but oh you were so very wrong. Banana mile i used to call it, the last row of around eight or nine tables selling different varieties of bananas. You can also find leaves, beans, bags full of garlic -- caulifower the size of your head. A feira is a beautiful place and is usually more or less around the exact same price as the going rate for produce in the super market. What's the catch? You're in heaven until you look down-not down at the ground, down under the table, down behind the stalls. Where did this food come from? Is it from a farmer? It's a farmers market isn't it? Unfortunately the heaping piles of boxes, bags, labels and marked trucks say otherwise. In Sao Paulo, as in most enormous urban centers, the majority of the city's incoming food (produce, meat, dairy products etc) passes through a central hub. This central hub, known in Sao Paulo as CEAGESP, is a shopping mall sized warehouse that operates nearly around the clock managing the logistics of bringing in enough food to the city to feed its twelve million habitants. The food comes from all over the country as well as from abroad. Local? No. Necessary? Of course. I said twelve million people didn't I. The truth is that the organges, apples and cucumbers that are sent on through to the supermarkets are the same ones that get picked up and sold at the street markets. So what do you get from buying them in the market? Convenience, a more pastoral shopping experience and you help pay the bills of the vendor who is selling the items. So not great, but not bad either.
What about in the US? Almost every major city in the US has at least one Farmers market and each market has its own history and makeup. Does yours offer local or independent "farmers" products? The only way to know is to get down there and start snooping. Last weekend I visited the Rochester Public Market for the fist time. I was thrilled, it's known as one of Rochester's top attractions. It's a typical market; crowded, laughing kids, the smell of freshly fried doughnuts (yum) and row apon row of tables full of baskets of apples, oranges and potatoes. As we slowly walked through my smile started to droop. Ok, everything is from California. That's fine. It's still winter, I get it. But by the time I reached the end of the line I realized I hadn't seen a single organic stand. I started to feel like I was back in Sao Paulo! Sure the apples were charming nestled snuggly in their little wicker baskets, but these are the same non organic apples you can get at the grocery store. Bummer. On the way out I ran into a booth that I had missed, the one organic booth at the market. They weren't selling apples or oranges. They were selling canned, pickled and preserved items as well as bundles of garlic greens and "ugly" potatoes as my husband says. Small World Market, a downtown Rochester based company specializing in all things local. Honestly their sauerkraut tastes like a crisp pickle. Did I mention it's unpasteurized? We seriously need more fermented bacteria in our diet. We evolved with it. Go find it! The lovely attendant at the stand assured me that there are quite a few small street markets in the city that do sell local and organic products... you just have to find them.
So the moral of the story is that the term farmers market doesn't necessarily mean its from the farm. That is, a small, local and organic farm. Always question your food. There's no shame in asking the vendor where his apples are coming from.
If you do happen to get ahold of this bacteria friendly sauerkraut, i recommend using it in the best sandwich in the world. That is, pesto, fried eggs, pea shoots and of course, sauerkraut.