“Now the leaves are falling fast, /  Nurses flowers will not last;”:  So begins W. H. Auden’s “Autumn Song,” reminding us of the passing of time, the year drawing to its close. With each strong gust of wind, trees reveal more of their bones. Take a walk through your local farmers market and observe the changing nature of the produce. Goodbye to summer’s lush stone fruits and delicate greens. These are being replaced, week-by-week, by “storage” produce: tough-skinned winter squash, onions, potatoes, and fall’s apples and pears. In recent years, a few industrious farmers have learned to extend summer by selling bags of frozen fruits and vegetables. Still, as winter approaches, it might become increasing difficult to imagine another meal of stuffed acorn squash.

Tempting as it may be to skip the farmers markets in favor of the imported melons and tomatoes you may find in your local grocery store, resist. Find a pair of fingerless gloves (to make it easier to count your change) and get going. Farmers at the market need your patronage year round.

A recent report by the New York City Department of Economic Development states that New York City has “the largest and most diverse outdoor urban farmers’ market network in the country,” with 82 markets throughout the five boroughs that support more than 200 local farmers.”  These markets not only improve access to healthy foods, they also provide jobs, catalyze nearby business growth, and support farmers across the region. According to the director of NYC’s Greenmarkets, “85% of vendors say that they would be out of business without the markets.

Take an early morning walk through your local farmers market and you’re likely to spot chefs from nearby restaurants picking up crates of whatever looks good to them that day. You can spot them in their restaurant whites and if you overcome your shyness, they might tell you how they’re going to prepare this exotic vegetable or that fruit. By doing just that, I learned about “papalo,” an herb commonly grown in the Puebla region of Mexico. It tastes like a cross between arugula and cilantro and is layered in the popular “cemita,” a sandwich with its own special roll and ingredients that might include anything from a fried chicken cutlet and avocado to jellied pigs feet. Delicious.

You can find out more about NYC’s farmers markets, how they’ve changed themselves and changed the way we eat, by reading the NYCEDC report here.

feature image via Most Lovely Things

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