Life and Religion
|Down for the farm: Mecklenburg County's best, freshest local markets|
|Chef Michael Bowling rates top produce sites|
|Published Thursday, July 12, 2018 9:13 am|
|PHOTO | JONATHAN COOPER|
|Charlotte chef Michael Bowling, right, prefers the freshness of produce at local farmers’ markets.|
Summer means farmers’ market season in the Queen City.
Michael Bowling, Charlotte chef, Soul Food Sessions co-founder, Piedmont Culinary Guild member and featured chef in the upcoming Farm to Fork in the Garden, walked us through his favorite spots to shop, and why it’s better to purchase goods from a farmers market instead of a grocery store.
“It’s about fresh, and knowing where your food comes from,” Bowling said. “All of that is a definite positive when going to the farmers’ market.”
Shoppers often shy away from farmers’ markets because of a perception it would break the bank. Bowling points out the flaws in that train of thought.
“It’s a misconception that buying direct can be more expensive,” Bowling said. “It’s also a misconception of sometimes the people that you see at farmers’ markets. It’s really nichey sometimes. It makes some people feel uncomfortable. Some farmers’ markets have turned into boutique little malls and not real farmers’ markets. To me, a farmers’ market is famers and artisans—people selling jellies and jams and fruits and vegetables and so on. Sometimes it’ll end up more like what used to be considered a bazaar where people would be selling jewelry and everything else.”
Farmers’ markets provide a vital portion of the culinary landscape for chefs like Bowling.
“Shopping at the farmers’ market isn’t more expensive than going to the grocery store,” he said. “People have this idea in their head that buying fresh local food is really, really expensive, and in the grand scheme of things, it’s not. As a chef, we go to farmers’ markets on Saturday mornings and select things, but we also have relationships with farmers. For example, a farmer on a PCG page may ask before the growing season, ‘what do you guys want me to grow this year?’ It’s a give and take type of partnership. Everyone wants heirloom tomatoes, so the farmers grow heirloom tomatoes, and they sell directly to the chefs and the restaurants. The farmers who have really good relationships with the chefs, they custom grow for us, and that’s part of the relationship that we’ve built.”
Bowling, who suffers from diabetes, underwent a kidney transplant in 2007. While the transplant failed, and he is back on the donor list, it required reassessing his diet. Another benefit to shopping at farmers’ markets comes from the quality of the goods available.
“As opposed to going to the grocery store, your food isn’t covered in wax at the farmers’ market,” Bowling said. “Grocery stores and large box stores put preservatives on their food, and that doesn’t necessarily preserve the food. It just makes it look better. When you go to the grocery store, all the tomatoes are the same size, but when you go to the farmers’ market, you have big tomatoes, little tomatoes. Some of them may even be a little deformed, but they’re just as good. Not only if you go to the farmers’ market it is the food fresher, but it lasts longer, because the farmer picks and brings it to the farmers’ market, as opposed to it being on a truck for a week and a half to get here.”
His top three farmers’ markets in the Charlotte area:
1) Davidson, 120 South Main Street
“I know it’s up there a little bit, but it’s one of those farmers’ markets in the middle of downtown.” Bowling said.
2) Matthews, 188 North Trade Street
“Matthews is awesome. It’s smaller, but they do chef demos out there on Saturday mornings.”
3) Charlotte Regional Farmers’ Market, 1801 Yorkmont Road
“Of course, the Charlotte regional farmers’ market. That thing is massive. You can find all kinds of wonderful things. When we did the last Soul Food Sessions, I spent my last Saturday morning before the dinner walking around the farmers’ market grabbing stuff. It’s part of the community.”
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