To all those who say there’s no such thing as a free lunch, I say f*ck you, have you not been to Costco? Ahh, free food samples. They are one of the last simple joys as a citizen in Trump America. An adventure through this Epcot of food samples as an amuse-bouche prior to a couple of slices of pizza and some soft serve can be a casual yet charming way to get to know someone. But it SHOULD NOT become your standard approach. If used too frequently, Costco outings will begin to make your date question whether (1) you’re just cheap and thoughtless and (2) whose Costco card you borrowed/stole just for the occasion.
Valentine’s day reminds us how important it is to show our loved ones how much we appreciate them. Society has created this extravagant all-or-nothing idea that “appreciating” her means getting a dozen roses and dinner reservations at a fancy restaurant that requires you to sell a kidney and reserve your place in line to do so about two months before Feb 14th. But I’m here to tell you that does NOT need to be the norm. If your ideal price tag is free.99, but you still want to keep the romance alive, I’d suggest taking your boo thang on a carefree jaunt through the local farmers market some time this month (get some bonus points by supporting local businesses too).
A collection of booths with (usually) friendly vendors showcasing local produce, prepared food, cheese, baked goods, and pickled things in jars? All you can eat samples? No entry fee or Costco card required? Sign me (and my date) up. Though farmers markets usually occur on weekend mornings and end in the early afternoon, you’d be surprised to discover how many markets take place on weekdays (and even weeknights like the Thursday market in San Luis Obispo, California). Some are seasonal, while others are year-round and rain or shine, so definitely research your area.
Stop 1: Get a quick bite from a local business
We all know that shopping for groceries on an empty stomach can impair your judgement. Although you won’t be tempted by any flaming hot cheetos at the farmers market, I still think it’s important to have something in your stomach while walking around heaps of beautiful food. At the DuPont farmers market in D.C., my first stop is always Patisserie Poupon for a pastry to snack on (just to be on the safe side…because I’d hate to be craving a croissant once we hit the fresh produce section…which would likely happen.)
Stop 2: Taste the rainbow
Time to get your daily dose of fruits and veggies kids. It goes without saying that the produce is the core of the farmers market, and is where you will find most of the free samples. Depending on the season, the produce is different. (So if it’s January in D.C. and you need some avocados for that Super Bowl guac, better luck next time. Try Whole Foods.) Tasting a bunch of different varietals of the same fruit is like the non-alcoholic food version of wine tasting. Riveting! And if you’re trying to get a little brunch buzz in for real, some farmers markets actually do have craft beer and spirits tastings. Yeah. And it’s free. Drop the mic.
This barrel aged District Distillers gin was phenomenal on it’s own. I’d recommend picking up a bottle of their Ivy City gin, grabbing some fresh fruit and other mixers and making cocktails before you go out that night. OR you could have your own bottomless brunch at home right after the farmers market. Mix their vodka with some of Gordy’s bloody mary mix (who also has a booth here).
Stop 4: If you can’t pickle it, they can
It seems like everything nowadays is pickled or fermented or aged for 90 days in oak barrels with the healing tears of pixies – great for gut health. For real though, I dig me some fancy kale kimchi and habanero rutabega strictly for the taste. Number One Sons is a local legend here in D.C. They also sell miniature hot sauce bottles, perfect to add to my collection for tour.
Stop 5: Bring on the fromage
If all of that spice and pickled flavors are overstaying their welcome, seek some creamy relief at a cheese stand.
Whether you’re going with a date or with a friend, the best part about going to farmers markets is the adventure of trying new things. Even more, you’re participating in a greater concept of community. So, if you can gather up some loose change from the depths of your couch, contribute to that community and use your purchasing power to make a statement. Heck, get some cucumbers and make your own pickles, you damn hippy!