Fresh is best from farmers market

Last week, I went to the Downtown Marquette Farmers Market for the first time this year. The white tents and music drifting over the crowd make the Marquette Commons look lively and inviting even from a few blocks away.

As I walked around, the array of produce was surprising, considering how cool and slow the spring has been for farming. Bags of baby lettuce, speckled and burgundy, bunches of dark green spinach, carrots, bright red radishes, and asparagus, rhubarb, and snap peas were beautiful-and got me thinking about what to make for dinner.

Then, I met market Manager Myra Zyburt for a tour of the market. She pointed out the wide assortment of vendors: craftspeople making soap and natural body care products (including non-toxic bug repellent), jewelry, clothing, wood art, and food producers of different stripes, including beekeepers, farmers, bakers, chocolatiers and an ice cream maker, and maple syrup makers.

“Maple syrup is a fabulous food souvenir from the north woods,” said Zyburt. “It’s an item that’s available now, but will keep well for wintertime giving. You can talk to the producer and know that the product is authentic, and that you’re supporting an independent business, as well. We’ve got a collection of almost 50 people who bring their wares each week.”

I also learned that the Downtown Marquette Farmers Market accepts five different forms of payment that promote access to fresh, locally grown produce for everyone: WIC Market Fresh, Senior Project Fresh, Michigan Bridge Cards, Double Up Food Bucks and Hoop Houses for Health. Some of these programs are relatively new, and warrant more explanation.

The Marquette Market received a $9,000 grant from the Fair Food Network for Double Up Food Bucks, which means that anyone who uses the Michigan Bridge card is eligible to receive up to $20 each week in Double Up tokens. This is money to be spent on Michigan produce that is offered in addition to the recipient’s Michigan Bridge card balance, which frees up money that can then be spent on other grocery items at the market like eggs, meat, and bread.

The Hoop Houses for Health program is managed by the Michigan Farmers Market Association, which made zero-interest loans to farmers so they can purchase passive solar greenhouses (hoop houses) that extend the growing season, allowing four participating farms in Marquette and Alger counties to produce more food for more of the year.

Vouchers to be spent on fresh fruits and vegetables at these farmers’ stands are distributed to families that participate in Head Start, Early On, and other qualifying children’s programs. These families use their vouchers at the market to assist farmers in paying back the hoop house loans and get an introduction to the fresh, local food available at the farmers market. Community partners from Michigan State University Extension and MARESA will team up with a local chef on Saturday, July 12 for a food demo and activities for families taking part in Hoop Houses for Health.

After talking with Myra, I got a basket and started shopping for dinner. I have heard people say that there is not much variety at the market in the beginning of the season-just a lot of greens. But what greens! The baby lettuce mix that I took home was so fresh that it looked like it was still alive, and it tasted vibrantly green and sweet. I set it on the counter near the cutting board as I started preparing dinner, and whipped up one of my favorite two-minute salad dressings: the Classic French Vinaigrette. Fresh lettuce picked that morning, homemade dressing, and a little shaved asiago tossed together were enough for a simple salad that reminded me with each bite that summer has arrived.

The Downtown Marquette Farmers Market is open every Saturday through Oct. 25 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Marquette Commons, 112 S. Third St. Don’t be dissuaded by ongoing renovations; the market is open! For more information about the market or these programs, contact Market Manager Myra Zyburt at www.mqtfarmersmarket.com or 906-362-3276.

CLASSIC FRENCH VINAIGRETTE

This ridiculously simple standby, which you can make in a minute at the table right before serving, is so light and unobtrusive that it brightens and brings out-rather than hides, like thick ranch-the flavor of fresh salad greens. It really lets the lettuce do the talking. This makes it a good one for tender, crisp leaves like bibb or buttercrunch and a pear. And it’s versatile! You can easily modify this recipe to accommodate whatever unusual mustard or vinegar you got in a gift basket and don’t know how else to use. Makes a little over cup.

1/2 shallot, minced

Chopped fresh herbs, if available

A forkful of Dijon mustard

Generous pinch of salt

2 T lemon juice (fresh is best)

1-2 T red-wine vinegar

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

– Combine shallot, herbs (if available), a forkful of Dijon, salt, lemon juice, and vinegar in your favorite whisking bowl.

– Drizzle olive oil into the mixture delicately. Strive for a fine stream about the thickness of a pencil lead, whisking constantly. I use the same fork I used for the mustard. The idea here is emulsification. It’s good exercise. It’s also a fun job to share with a child or a friend who’s helping with dinner-one person pours oil, the other whisks. Watching the chemistry of a great vinaigrette happen is always better with another person.

– Dress your washed, drained salad leaves immediately before serving. Shave a little hard cheese like asiago or manchego over the top.

– This dressing keeps well in a mason jar in the fridge if you don’t mind separation. You can just shake it up before you use it again

Editor’s note: Abbey Palmer is an employee of the Marquette Food Co-op.