Farmer's market in Italy

Visiting the XXI Century Farmer’s market

Farmer’s market?

Let me take a deep breath and start immediately with numbers. Since they have never been my forte, they always make me a little nervous. Well, the latest researches show that almost 70% of Italians accept to pay more to get NATURAL food (I use this word to simplify, even if know that there are many aspects contributing to this definition).

42% of the population is looking for healthy, fresh, preservative-free and locally sourced food even in supermarkets. In addition, 4 out of 10 Italians say that they preferably or exclusively buy fresh products at FARMER’S MARKETS, with a constant increase in this trend in the last five years. 65% of the interviewed prefers to do shopping in stores that ensure organic and GM-free products.

Looking at these data, Italy seems to be a country where physical and mental well-being, health and environmental sustainability are everyone’s first thought.The reality is a little different, but we can say that this is a “work in progress” and that things are going pretty well, since from the north to the south of the peninsula there are approximately ten thousand official dealers (weekly markets, fixed stands and shops) directly managed from farms and farmers, operating under the wing of Coldiretti and Slow Food.Coldiretti and Slow Food.

Farmer’s markets opened in Italy less than ten years ago, being regulated by laws only in 2007. In addition to fresh and locally produced goods, these places offer a beautiful and unique thing called small talk. No one would ask anything to an exhausted supermarket employe, that is rationally and quickly organizing potato sacks and peaches trays on the counters before running back to the warehouse cave, well protected by a plastic door. Instead, you can (and should) ask many details about each product at the market!

What’s that apple variety, which growing or breeding techniques have been used, how to cook that particular vegetable or match that cheese; in short, all those questions that allow you to be informed and establish a direct relationship with the greengrocer, the beekeeper, the butcher, the cheese seller, etc. It definitely makes a difference.

"We have a chance to get closer to the ground in a conscious way"

Farmer's market

Farmer's market

Are we trendy?

So let’s step back! We are children in the early 70s in Milan: mommy asks us to go to the shop down in the street and get some milk and bread. The bread is the michetta, the milk comes from the Centrale del latte di Milano and their cows graze close to Lodi Square. On Wednesday there’s no school, so we go with our granny to the greengrocer, who works in the fields between Bergamo and Brescia, and to the furmagiatt, who leads a cheese factory in Monate (Varese). We wonder to see the first turnips or very exotic prickly pears on the stalls, coming from “far away”,

Now let’s fast forward to twenty-five years later: here we are in line at the supermarket, tired, on a rainy evening in November – we are always in Milan – with a cart full of plastic instead of real food. We eat food coming from anywhere in the world, we are globalizing and de-localizing.

And here we are: TODAY we grab straw and cotton bags and head off – maybe by bike – to the nearest farmer’s market. We lose a bit ‘of time, meet some friends, discover a new variety of onions. Then we go home and try to cook something tasty, maybe catching up on some family recipes.

Are we trendy? If so, for once, I find it a good fashion, which brings us back to earth and, most of all, close to it. That’s definitely the “farmer’s market” added value: we have a chance to get closer to the ground in a conscious way, by supporting local productions and especially the local economy in a virtuous circle of positive benefits. And we can do it without extreme sacrifices, except depriving ourselves of eggplants in December and artichokes in August or risking to break a few eggs, since we take them home without a plastic box.

Cristiana Grassi aka Orata Spensierata