5 Rules for Shopping for Local Produce

Chef Paul C. Reilly
Photo courtesy of Paul C. Reilly.

Chef Paul C. Reilly sources farm-fresh ingredients from local farmers markets to make the dishes that grace the menus at his restaurants, Apple Blossom and Coperta. Here, he shares some tips to help you find the finest bounty of the season at your local markets.

1Choose your market wisely.

“There are some obvious ‘markets’ out there that don’t put the farmer or rancher first,” says Reilly. “When there are more trinkets for sale than vegetables, it’s probably time to patronize a different one.” He primarily shops at the City Park and South Pearl Street markets.

2Focus on the food.

“All food has a story,” Reilly says. “The best food has the best stories. When you know the place where your food comes from and even the farmer’s name and their kids’ names—that’s the best story.” Ask the farmers to tell you the story behind the produce they’re excited about.

Come prepared. “Bring your own bags and always grab extra onions,” Reilly says. And if you are planning to pick up any of the short-season “sexy vegetables,” like asparagus, cherries, and peaches, the chef suggests you get an early start. He also makes a case for hitting the market at closing time. There are great deals because farmers don’t want to lug anything back with them.

3Enjoy longer-lasting produce.

With harvests likely picked that very morning, the offerings at farmers markets are exceptionally fresh compared to chain stores’ selections. The just-picked produce will often outlast its grocery store counterparts.

4Join a CSA.

“These will literally change the way you cook. It will challenge you and lend a story to every meal you put on the table. There will be more produce than you can eat, and you will have to find new ways to cook and preserve it. Not only that, but you’ll forge a relationship with a farmer like you didn’t know possible, all while supporting local agriculture in the easiest way out there.”