Clean Eating: Florida's Farmers' Markets Make It Easy
If losing weight is one of your New Year’s resolutions, consider focusing on clean, nutritious food. While FBP Content Chief Dana has been writing extensively about clean beauty, I decided to tackle clean eating, a decade-plus obsession of mine.
True confession: the only standing date I have from mid-November through May is an early morning trip to Marco Island every Wednesday for its divine farmers’ market. As an early advocate of eating clean (possibly to make up for other loathsome habits), even before I had colon cancer, I regularly haunted NYC’s smaller farmers' markets for organic produce. Once you’ve had freshly picked salad, it’s really tricky to settle on packaged lettuces from the supermarket. Though convenient, they last only a day or two, frequently losing their integrity once the seal is opened.
A few weeks back, I met with Sails Restaurant’s Executive Chef Jacob Jasinski to tour him around my favorite haunt and to meet potential organic purveyors. (Full disclosure: Yours Truly is a PR consultant for this soon-to-open dining destination.) During our outing, Jacob's expertise as one of the leading and most innovative seafood chefs - Forbes named him a Five-Star award winner and he merited a mention on Condé Nast Traveler's 2017 Gold List - yielded several smart shopping tips that even the savviest foodies might not know.
Our first "stall" stop was Natalie Batty, co-proprietor of Inyoni Organic Farm for my favorite salad greens. Always fresh, triple-washed and spun - Jacob agreed the flavors and variety were beyond terrific. Best bet: the $5 mixed greens bag for a family of four, the $3 for smaller homes. Storage is key for making it last: simply place the pre-rinsed salad into a large opaque bowl, then place a clean cloth (paper towels are laced with chemicals, so skip those) over the greens and somewhat loosely cover with an opaque lid. I also grabbed a bunch of "breakfast" baby radishes plus a pint of multi-hued string beans. Fun fact: the purple color dissipates upon cooking, rendering it green.
Then it was on to bread, a frequent topic of convo between Chef Jacob and me. He’s used to great bread in his native New England and in NYC, where there was an abundance of choice. Down here in FL, we have to work a little harder to find it. During Marco's farmers' market season, my go-to is always BAM Bakery. And again, Jacob agreed that BAM's wares are stellar. Each bite of our baguette’s crispy crust was a toothsome intro to the freshest bread I’ve enjoyed in Florida.
I’ve been told by others that the not-so-great water quality in Collier County directly affects the dearth of good bread. BAM’s preservative-free baked goods are priced the same as supermarket bread, but are so much more enjoyable. Tip: buy a few loaves, cut desired slices then freeze immediately for future use. BAM is located in Cape Coral, which is too far for me to drive off-season, so I always stock up. The closest comparable baguettes are found at 360Market in Naples: par-baked then frozen and fresh-flown in from Paris. Delish but at $6.50 per, I have a hard time rationalizing this.
Next we hit Mr. Fun Guy. A clever name, non? Beautiful locally harvested organic mushrooms only slightly pricier than the supermarket, and worth every luscious bite. They’ll last at least a week when stored in a paper bag rolled on top and kept in the humidity-balanced produce section of your refrigerator. Make sure to thoroughly rinse ALL mushrooms just before using. As a time-saver, consider cutting shiitake stems with a scissor before cleaning and cooking.
There are nearly a dozen “farm-stands” at the market, but Chef Jacob shared that not all are purveying truly local produce. We ambled over to one where he pointed toward those little scanning stickers attached to every piece of produce in the supermarket. He said to steer clear: there was no way of knowing the original source or how old things might be. And on that note, did you know every sticker with a number indicates farming methods? I did not. Jacob shared that anything starting with a 4 indicates pesticides were used, 8 means its a GMO fruit or veggie. Look for divine 9s - meaning the produce was farmed organically and is non-GMO.
(NOTE FROM DANA: The "little scanning stickers" Di is talking about are PLU codes, short for Price Look Up. Used to categorize nuts and herbs as well as other bulk produce, they were introduced in 1990 to make inventory control easier. Today, they provide a handy "cheat sheet" for anyone concerned about freshness, provenance and added chemicals. This brief overview from Consumer Reports is super-helpful.)
Given there were quite a few legit organic purveyors nearby, we then headed to Southwest Florida Produce for my bounty of Brussels sprouts, ginormous eggplant ($1.50 per), Plant City strawberries and blueberries. I crossed the way to another for more mushrooms, peppers ($1), red potatoes, and colorful carrots, which I eat at least once weekly for more radiant skin.
Our last stop was citrus: according to NPR, Florida’s growers were already facing a very rough year, even before Irma. Offerings at several of the stands showed it. Each week, I usually buy three lemons, two limes and one orange (garnish for my occasional Bourbon indulgence.) Tip: it’s important to shop these stands when first arriving at the market; what little fruit is there sells instantly, and it's mostly from California.
At this point, you might be asking, "What about tomatoes?" Dear Reader, good ones are really hard to find in my neck of the woods. Another chef tip: if possible, ask to sample before buying. This can help you avoid "dinner disappointment," especially if it's a key ingredient.