Today we have a guest post from Nadia Cempré! Thanks, Nadia!
I have been dying to find an opening in my insane life to visit my sister Lamya in Raleigh–and this weekend when I finally made it happen, I could hardly sleep thinking about it for three very clear reasons:
- I couldn’t wait to see my sister’s new condo.
- I couldn’t wait to try out a Middle Eastern restaurant she’d been promising to take us to for good ol’ home-cooking.
- The promise of the Raleigh Farmers Market in Summer time!
This last one is something I have been excited about for no less than 7 or 8 years, dating back to when my interest in the local food movement was first sparked. I distinctly remember watching the Travel Channel as they counted down the top 20 places for singles in their late 20s to meet others – and lo and behold in the top spot they name… the Raleigh Farmers Market.
I go to the Charlottesville City Farmers Market just about every Saturday morning during the season–it is my absolute favorite thing to do after my long marathon training runs, and the open and close of the Farmers Market season demarcate the start and end of a significant chapter in my life annually. I come alive when it’s announced in April, and retreat into a period of melancholy and reflection when it converts to a Holiday Market in November.
So you can imagine my surprise, as we took our time getting ready yesterday morning that the Raleigh Farmers Market is open year round, all day long, seven days a week!
The local food movement took its time inching its way out East from the West coast of the United States– but as it did, North Carolina and its Research Triangle area became leaders in the endeavor. Proximity to the heart of Southern farmland, combined with research, education, and support from the three surrounding universities conspired to produce a community hungry to support their families with local and responsible meats and produce.
The market is sponsored and supported by the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, so it is very much a state-funded endeavor, and the state also sponsors a North Carolina Sustainable Local Food Advisory Council:
It is the purpose of the North Carolina Sustainable Local Food Advisory Council to contribute to building a local food economy, thereby benefiting North Carolina by creating jobs, stimulating statewide economic development, circulating money from local food sales within local communities, preserving open space, decreasing the use of fossil fuel and thus reducing carbon emissions, preserving and protecting the natural environment, increasing consumer access to fresh and nutritious foods, and providing greater food security for all North Carolinians.
For the past few years, the Charlottesville City Government has struggled with decisions regarding finding a permanent space for our quaint group of vendors and farmers. The Raleigh Farmers Market venue is the dream of every vendor–and every mom with a stroller in the middle of August. When we arrived we walked into one of the two massive permanent shelters that had constant fans blowing in every direction, and a permanent roof protecting from what can be a sweltering North Carolina sun.
As a matter of fact, they had Big Ass Fans.
Right away, it was clear that this, just like in Virginia, was the month of the peach! They were everywhere! Plump, and beckoning, and promising of sweetness. The vendors were practically begging us to try samples, and even though we could hardly breathe from the local brunch offerings we’d just had, we couldn’t resist the peach slices.
Speaking of my brunch, I have been pleasantly surprised by all the local, responsibly-raised offerings in restaurants and have had no trouble finding poultry and meat options in Raleigh I can feel happy about. Here was the brunch I speak of, consisting of local eggs on Carolina crab cakes with seasonal fruit salad:
My youngest sister Mona had grand plans to make her famous Eggplant Lasagna for Lamya so the main purpose of the visit was to purchase the freshest ingredients for that. Eggplants were everywhere, and debates regarding the right size, color, and variety were intense.
In the end however, fresh and local garlic, eggplant, tomatoes, and basil were all successfully agreed upon and taken home for the lasagna. The tomatoes were glorious and it was all I could do to stop myself from grabbing a pint of the cherry ones and munching right there and then!
The market was set up in an impressively organized fashion, and I quickly learned that produce was designated to either the right or the left of the shelter. One side was for vendors exclusively selling self-grown and farmed produce and plants. The other side was designated for items that might be re-sale. Everything under that first roof had to be North Carolina-produced. Interestingly, they didn’t define ‘local’ by radius, but rather by state. The rules meant that if it came from 4 hours away in North Carolina, you could sell it. However, if it came from 3 hours away in Virginia you could not. That was a designation of ‘local’ I hadn’t heard before but it made complete sense since the entire thing was an endeavor of the state.
The variety was staggering! Having done a fair amount of travelling I thought I had pretty much come across anything we can grow in America, but I found a delectable item called a canary melon that I had never seen before! It was delicious!
The shelter was divided into three sections: produce, prepared and baked foods, and garden. Next on our agenda was to purchase three new indoor potted plants for my sister’s condo. I have never had a green thumb, and never been one to care about flowers, but it was hard not to get mushy at all the beautiful and unique floral and plant arrangements.
These plants in particular caught my eye; their bright purple veins appealed to the biologist in me, and my sister took home a darker variety.
Three plants later, we made our way to the most dangerous area, the prepared and baked goods section. Good thing we were so full already! I was able to control myself when it came to my weakness: fresh baked salt pretzels! But Lamya didn’t win her battle and walked away with a gorgeous loaf of ciabatta (for garlic bread with the lasagna!)
I learned that the huge sheltered building next door was a further expansion of this market. That building was where farmers from all over the country could share their goods. It was not limited to North Carolina produce, and there you could find Florida oranges, and Virginia eggs! Truly a one-stop-shop experience!
My favorite part of the Raleigh Farmers Market were all the little helpful signs that seemed to be a trend amongst vendors. Everywhere you looked, there were notes telling you how to cook, tend, water, and care for the various offerings.
The vendors were cheerful, friendly, and happy to be there, and the sense of safety and community abounded. I can’t wait to come visit again, and this time I’m bringing massive coolers so I can take things home to Virginia!