Cheese charmers and bossy beans: Farmers markets open for the season

by Tara Kimura, CBCnews.ca

I was warned before my February arrival in Paris of the charming cheese man, who winks and smiles at his customers while rolling up long logs of ash-coated goat cheese in brown paper. As I stood before him, with my friend who is living in Paris for a year, she elbowed me and whispered, 'this is my cheese guy, the one I told you about.' And then we both swooned and blushed a bit as hurried shoppers rushed past us at the busy farmers' market packed with vendors selling fancy pastries, tins of foie gras and impossibly beautiful flowers.

I was not, however, given any counsel about the bossy bean man who, when I approached, said I would need at least two kilos of green beans for dinner.

I protested, saying it was too much, I couldn't possibly eat two kilos of green beans. He looked at me very seriously and informed me that I most certainly did need two kilos — anything under two kilos would not be enough and I would regret my decision. He then softened and as a compromise removed four beans from the overstuffed brown paper bag.

I have never before felt more challenged, thrilled and engaged while buying green beans.

This connection, between seller and consumer, is what I find is one of the most compelling reasons to visit a farmers' market. And for many consumers, the buy-local movement continues to be a priority for environmental reasons as well. According to a National Geographic survey of 1,000 consumers released in May, 77 per cent of respondents said they make buying locally grown food a priority when they shop.

On Saturday, my local farmers' market will open for the season — a welcome event after what has been a long and snowy season. Admittedly, the harvest of ruby red strawberries, long fingerling potatoes and crisp cobs of corn won't be available for a while. And I will also admit that the green bean debate will probably be never be matched by a market merchant in Canada. But for now, I revel in the anticipation of the vendors sweeping out the long and quiet side street, readying their booths and setting up shop for the season.

Tell us about your farmers' market. Do you have a favourite vendor? Or do you prefer the supermarket over the farmers' market?