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Karin Fields pauses while weaving among the aisles of the Yellow Green Farmers Market, where she's been a vendor for two years. She gestures to two clear, cylindrical dispensers filled with deep-orange and pink liquids on a high countertop.
"That's the juice place," she says, holding up and shaking a milky concoction of hand-pressed coconut and ginger. She adds with a conspiratorial nod, "They don't have the ginger up top; you have to ask for it."
As Thanksgiving approaches, you want to know: Where can I get fresh herbs? What's in season? How can I support my local farmer instead of the megasuperchainmarket? Where can I pick up a free-range turkey, organic celery, and Florida-made pumpkin beer?
Offerings at most farmers' markets and green markets in Broward and Palm Beach counties are mixed. For every farmer/vendor selling fresh greens with local soil still clinging to the roots, you'll find half a dozen entrepreneurs hawking genetically modified produce from huge industrial farms in California or Brazil.
Fields, founder of a company called Edible Gardening, knows the ins and outs of the local food scene and says there's one secret to getting the best goods: Talk to people.
Mark Menagh, general manager for Yellow Green Farmers Market, which opened in October 2010 and is owned by the Lalo family (which also runs Invicta Watch Group), agrees. "Absolutely, get to know the market and your vendor," he says.
Vendors are usually eager to show off locally grown goods, front and center, Menagh says, but also, "look at the label. If it's imported, it's required to have a label."
It also helps to know your seasons. Florida's growing season is opposite that of up north. As farms in cold climates shut down for the winter, ours are just starting to reap their harvests. As we enter the high growing season, you'll see more and more delicious local food for sale.
Greens burn up in the South Florida summer sun and are just now starting to come in, as are, to a lesser extent, beets. Fields said now is the time to keep an eye out for early fall favorites like sweet potatoes and Seminole pumpkins. Strawberries hit in December. Vendors will tell you what's in season throughout the year.
There are seven Palm Beach County farmers' markets registered with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. There are five in Broward. In addition, there's a smattering of farm specialty shops, like the legendary Boys Farmers Market in Delray Beach and Bedner's Farm Fresh Market in Boynton Beach. Here's our take on a few of them:
Yellow Green Farmers Market, 1940 N. 30th Road, Hollywood. Open year-round, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Call 954-513-3990, or visit ygfarmersmarket.com.
The massive, 100,000-square-foot structure can house more than 300 booths, though on a recent weekend morning, roughly one-fifth of those spots remained empty.
Vendor Karin Fields, who also books two music acts each week for the market, said the social aspect is a big part of the Yellow Green experience. "What makes it so special is the happy, positive atmosphere that prevails amongst the vendors — that carries over to our customers," Fields said.
Foodies will have to bypass crafters and vendors selling T-shirts and soy candles but will be rewarded by finding niche products like seasoned olives and dried fruits (pink grapefruit is especially tasty), plus live crabs, Florida honey, fruit pies, seasoned and grilled corn on the cob, and French baguettes. A few vendors sell fresh produce and potted herbs.
The Chill Bar was recently added to the west end of the building and is worth a stop for sustainable sushi and to drink a local brew. Chill Bar chef Elizabeth Becker says, "We only serve Florida beer here."
Marando Farms, 1401 SW First Ave., Fort Lauderdale. Open year-round, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday. Call 954-294-2331, or visit marandofarms.com.
"Are you sure there's a farmers' market back here?" a companion asked during a recent Saturday afternoon as we snaked past warehouses in an industrial stretch of Fort Lauderdale.
Sure enough, we found an oasis of fresh — as in, still in the earth — crops at this nursery/farm/market. There are live pigs, ducks, goats, chickens, and rabbits on-site, so bring Junior when you want to teach him about where his food comes from. He can meet rescued chickens and eat their freshly laid eggs (so fresh, the yolks are orange). Free-range turkeys for Thanksgiving are also for sale here; at presstime, there were a few left.
A lush hydroponics section allows you to clip and bag your own herbs and lettuces, while microgreens and sprouted veggies pack a nutritional wallop. Chelsea and Fred Marando opened this place in 2009 to foster the city's local food movement, so you'll find a good selection of regional produce, some of it grown on premises or at nearby farms.
Inside the market, look for porn-worthy Amish-style apple pie, Florida-produced meats, and other specialty foods. One to seek out: Miami-based Laurie's Pantry gourmet granola. At $9.99 for a 16-ounce Ball jar full of pumpkin spice granola, it's a splurge but well worth it.
Bedner's Farm Fresh Market, 10066 Lee Road, Boynton Beach. Open year-round, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday. Call 561-733-5490, or visit bedners.com.
Located on the edge of the Everglades, this spot — around since 1960, when the Arthur Bedner family laid down its Pennsylvania roots in South Florida — is crawling with kids on the weekend. Family-friendly activities like hayrides, food trucks, pony rides, and an outdoor barbecue by Porky & Beth's BBQ give it a carnival atmosphere.
One of the most popular draws is the "you pick" area, where city dwellers get a miniature taste of farm life by hanging out in fields plucking strawberries off the vine and picking pumpkins from the patch. The you-pick area is closed until December.
Produce here, including mountains of winter squash, are in particularly good shape — and at reasonable prices: $2.49 for a pound of fingerling potatoes — but with much of the crop imported this time of year, the real standout might be the assortment of other regionally sourced goodies.
During our visit, customers were placing orders for free-range, antibiotic- and hormone-free Thanksgiving turkeys and holiday pies from Lake Worth-based Upper Crust. The market is one of the few South Palm Beach County outlets that carry Upper Crust's popular pies on a year-round basis.
Make it a point to swing by the cooler to pick up a Florida-made snack for the ride home. Our personal favorite was the Nature's Healthy Gourmet dill hummus, made in Port St. Lucie.
Boca Raton Green Market, Monument Piazza on the northeast corner of South Federal Highway and SE Mizner Boulevard, Boca Raton. Open October through May, 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday.
Boca's weekly market — organized by the Children's Museum of Boca Raton and sponsored by a collection of local businesses and nonprofits — is a popular Saturday-morning hangout. Several dozen tents line up in the parking lot of Royal Palm Place, where parking is free and ample.
Roughly a third of the vendors are selling nonfood items like hanging plants for the patio, hand-stitched doggy clothes, or handmade soaps. This market is best for organic produce and freshly made baked goods.
Market fixture Le Vinois Bakery is located next to a popular stone crab monger. Manned by perpetually sunny French ex-pat Francis Modina, Le Vinois sells sheets of sticky sweet rugulah in three flavors; orange and chocolate, apricot, and raspberry. The farmer's cheese bread is good enough to tear into on the spot, as are the chocolate croissants and flatbreads.
Healthy World Organics parks its colorful van in the northwest corner of the market, setting out small wicker baskets of rainbow carrots, delicate squash, and fist-sized beets. Florida-grown produce is always highlighted, and the prices are comparable to — and often lower than — the organics section at Whole Foods Market.