441 Farmers Market
There will be some shameless advertising and some shameless attempts to induce jealousy among my more northern readers today. None of the advertising is paid, because I really don’t have the readership for that, I just love some of the farmers and growers at my local farmers market. This one is the one closest to my house, the 441 Farmers Market in Northwest Gainesville, up by the Highway Patrol Station. It takes place on Saturdays, starting at 8:30. I’m not sure when the official end time is, but the earlier you get there, the better the selection. There are several others, including a fairly large one downtown that is almost like a carnival at times. Everything here is locally grown and produced, and most of it is organic. For those of you who are local, you really should check out one of the farmers markets in the area, because they offer some of the most beautiful and freshest produce available, sometimes quite a bit cheaper than the supermarkets. You might be surprised at how much you can find. There may be bigger farmers markets in cities like New York, but the freshness and variety of our little markets in the Gainesville area are unbeatable.
My first stop is usually the Cross Creek Honey Company (Cross Creek, as in where Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings lived) booth, even when I don’t need any honey. This is the best honey I have ever had anywhere. It’s barely filtered and has a viscosity that you won’t find in supermarket honey (or even in most farmers market honey). Nancy Gentry is a Master Beekeeper and really knows what she’s doing. They take the hives around to different areas, depending on what’s blooming (thanks to Nick Gentry for telling me about that!), and let the bees feast on different pollens throughout the year. Then they harvest the honey, taking care to disturb the bees as little as possible, and jar it. Because they try to protect the hives, they don’t sell many jars with the honeycomb, but every once in a while they’ll have one like the one pictured below. Honeycomb can be chewed like gum, which some people really love. The honeys range from light to dark, and each variety has a unique flavor profile and crystalline structure. Some honeys crystallize easily, while others almost never do, but honey never goes bad. Edible honey has been recovered from the Egyptian pyramids!
Like most of the businesses at the farmers market, Cross Creek Honey is family owned and the product is sold by the family. They do some other farmers markets as far away as Jacksonville. Occasionally they may have a friend man a booth, but usually either Nancy or her son, Nick (who isn’t pictured here) will be there to answer any questions you have and to hand out samples. They really know their bees and their business. For those of you who don’t live locally, you’re in luck on this one, because they do sell their honey online at CrossCreekHoneyCo.com.
Another favorite of mine is Henderson & Daughter’s Plants & Produce booth. They always have many, many varieties of citrus, for much less than you’ll find them in the store. Their fruit is not polished up and waxed in preparation for a long journey from site to store, but picked fresh off the trees and sold personally. It may have some bumps and bruises that you don’t see on store-bought fruit, but it is so much fresher and juicier than you will ever see at a store. And the variety is fantastic! Honeybells, tangelos, tangerines, oranges, grapefruit, each in several varieties. If you aren’t sure which ones you will like, there are always samples. If something intrigues you that isn’t already cut for sampling, Erika will gladly cut one for you to taste. Since I have a neighbor with a grapefruit tree, I usually stick with the oranges. There are two varieties I have never seen anywhere else, but that my oldest son loves. One is a sour orange, also called a lemon orange, that is bright orange and big like an orange, but that is as tart as a lemon. The other is also sour, but these are very small, about the size of a key lime, and thin-skinned. I can never remember the name of them, but they have an essential orange flavor that is beautiful for cooking with. I love to use the zest for baking and will use the juice as a flavoring, similar to the way you might use vanilla. The flavor is very concentrated, so it doesn’t add much moisture to a recipe. The little ones are hardly ever set out, but when they have them, Erika will bring them out for me. That kind of personal attention is something you just don’t see very often anymore!
Last year I had a CSA (Community SupportedAgriculture) share from Kumarie’s Gardens, so I have a soft spot for them. This year I didn’t buy a share because I expected to graduate and move away. I graduated, but still haven’t moved away, so I kick myself weekly over all the wonderful things I am not going to pick up on Saturday. It was so much fun to go and pick up my share last year, then figure out what to do with it all. There was an adventure to it, because I was not always familiar with the produce and had to figure out how to use it. I have to admit, I was a little lazy at times, thinking no farther than Italian soups when I would get a bundle of kale or other bitter greens, but other times, like when they had black radishes, I really had to think about what to do. They have beautiful, fresh produce, like these bok choy and kale and these squash. Everything they sell is organic, which makes it even more wonderful. And they are wonderful people, always friendly and helpful.
And now, be prepared to be jealous. See these? These are
organic strawberries, straight from Crawford Farms, plump and juicy. They were picked yesterday, not a week ago. They were grown on a small farm, about 30 miles from where they are sold, so they do not have to be picked green and shipped across the country. These are not half-green strawberries that will mold before they fully ripen. No plastic wrap covers them and encourages decay. These sweet bright red berries are ready to eat, or to cook with (although why would anyone want to?) These will be eaten long before they have a chance to mold.
The growers at the market are proud of what they do, and are almost always happy to answer questions. As I mentioned before, the businesses here are almost all family run farms, with a vested interest in not only growing food now, but in protecting the land so that it will be productive in the future. The owners of the farms are the same people who bring the food to market. Mr. Crawford and his granddaughter were kind enough to pose for me.
One of my son’s favorite stops is the Cyprus Point Creamery booth where they sell raw milk cheeses. Incredibly flavorful, hand made cheeses that are made right here in Florida. Another bet you didn’t know; after all, those cold places like Wisconson usually get all the cheese press, but fresh cheese is made right here in Florida as well. Maybe some day they will be large enough to ship cheese to other places, but for now, it’s all local.
The bounty today at some of the other booths included red, fresh tomatoes, multicolored peppers, turnips (despite their name, they really are delicious), bright carrots and gorgeous cabbages. Look at the cabbages! Even if you don’t like to eat the stuff, you have got to admire the beauty of these cabbages!
Update: The tiny sour oranges are actually calamondin tangerines. Thanks, Erika!