Baskets of red berries, wild-harvested garlic scapes and jars of honey are among the many local edible treasures you can procure at your local farmer’s market. At least, if you live in the northern part of our hemisphere. As spring opens up the opportunities for eating fresh and local, I am dreamily reminded of everyday food shopping in Oaxaca, Mexico.
Oaxaca boasts the best markets in Mexico, and perhaps all of central america, due to the variety of produce, unique cuisine and its double duty serving as a cultural and community hub. The city’s location in a valley of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, surrounded by verdant mountains, high desert, a tropical coastal plain and the lush lowlands, offer a dizzying variation of produce that arrives to the capitol city every day.
There is mesmerizing and massive centralized market called Abastos, which is the point of receiving and shipping off all produce to and from the region. Huge trucks unburden themselves of tons of pineapples that are scooped up into wheel barrows and carted off. Stacks of every kind of banana imaginable, from large purple plantains to finger-sized honey bananas, stacked up taller than me.
From there, the markets get smaller, located in each individual neighborhood, as well as in surrounding towns on different days of the week. There is always a market within walkable distance, and it serves as a place to do business, exchange some chismes (gossip), and set the pace for your day through food that you will eat.
I love the daily ritual of walking to the market and stopping for a strawberry-banana licuado or chocolate before I shop. I love buying nopales or squash blossoms from the beautiful wrinkled hands and faces of the señoras that sell their wares on blankets outside the markets because they can’t afford a stall. I have built relationships with the shopkeepers, and they will give me the local cheese quesillo on credit if forget my wallet at home, or excitedly show me that they have farm fresh eggs, which they know I love.
That I can witness and be a part of this amazing swirl of fruit, meat, bread and vegetables, of people touting their wares and others chatting around steaming pots of beverages and soups, neighbors shouting out greetings to one another, and introducing you to their kids, feels wholesome and special.
I love that the whole process of production and distribution is so transparent. It feels so important to be connected to the food I consume, through knowing where it comes from, and the people whose hands helped bring it from the earth to my shopping bag.
Through farmers markets, this connection and community around food is also alive and thriving in the states. Take advantage, and join your community around the fresh bounty of the season.