Leaving my cave to explore these places, and enjoying - literally - the fruits of my labor.
Although physicians are increasingly pushing for us to be active, it seems there's ever more that we can do with nothing more than a couch and a laptop: work. Holiday shopping. Interacting with friends. Grocery shopping. Ordering dinner. Attending college. And the list goes on and on. But New England's farmers markets, a rite of late spring through much of the fall, are worth venturing out of the house to visit.
These are almost like pop-up stores, open for only a few hours. And every one is a little different from the next. “Farmers” is also not fully accurate, as these often have a mix of fresh food and meat, as well as locally made processed foods, and even crafts and artwork, which no one plans to put on the table and serve for dinner. They may also have live music, food trucks, or other vendors to entertain you while you’re there. Each farmers market therefore is its own, unique experience.
One common part of these events is the enthusiasm of those who are selling something. Whether it’s the produce they’ve harvested from their farms or the crafts they’ve created, their work is a source of passion and pride. It shows when talking to them, their service is top-notch and personal, and everyone seems much friendlier than normal malls or grocery stores.
A common perception is that the food at these places is more expensive. It’s true that it may sometimes be a little pricier. But such cases also mean that anything you buy will be supporting a local business and the food is fresher and didn’t require cargo ships and trains to get it to you. However, other times, you may find that you can get certain meats or vegetables at or below grocery store prices – while also getting high quality food. We’ve found “ugly produce”, zucchinis, steak, and other food we regularly eat while saving money. Regardless of what you buy, such purchases should feel especially good since any dollar spent with small businesses doesn’t go into a multinational corporation’s bank account, but rather gets reinvested multiple times in the local economy.
Aside of treating this as an alternative to the grocery store, it may also be an opportunity to get creative. For example, we might seek a new fruit or vegetable that we haven’t had before (I’d never heard of husk tomatoes, but, man, are those things tasty!). Or, if we visit one with a bigger lineup of booths, we might see if we can construct an entire meal. Last fall was a good example, when we found we were able to enjoy sliced apples, husk tomatoes, and kale chips to start, followed by a steak, with baked potatoes and sautéed Shishito peppers, all washed down with a slightly heated pumpkin wine that filled the room with the scent of autumn. And as a post script, some locally roasted coffee can be a pleasant way to start off your next morning.
It can be a good opportunity to shop for presents. The jewelry, autographed books, or extremely high-quality knives are unique finds that can be great to set back until a holiday or birthday rolls around. Since these often have a story, these presents can really reinforce that it is the thought that counts.
Given the prevalence of these markets and the people hustling hard, there is still plenty of season left to venture further afield and see what you, too, can discover and enjoy.
Rather than listing individual places, these links will list a number of farmers markets, from which you can choose the best one for your plans.
Witnessing how one man’s passion fuels others’ pleasures.
When The Flats opened in the quiet Cape Cod town of Brewster, we were excited. At first glance, it seemed to offer high quality food, and had some interesting meal and drink options. It also seemed right for us, given that Brewster is nearby and doesn’t have the same summer crowds as, say, Hyannis; we’re also willing to pay a little extra for a dining experience that has quality built into every aspect of it, yet does so with a casual feel. But in all candor, we’d forgotten about them for a little while.
As The Flats started to build a fuller social media presence, we began running across them more. And they caught my eye when they had a creative donation as part of a the annual Figawi Ball charity event we’d attended, and that I unsuccessfully bid on. (In fairness, it was a rookie mistake. I should’ve waited until five minutes before the end of the silent auction and then outspent the prior bidder.) But our interactions after that event led me to take a closer look, and I learned a lot from what Mason Pryme, executive chef and owner, shared about his experience of opening this restaurant.
One of the things I really enjoy about Cape Cod is how many small businesses exist, and the closeness of the locals, who routinely give me ideas for places to check out. What I didn’t fully appreciate is what it’s like being someone on the receiving end who’s also just starting a new business. There are always going to be the random hiccups, events out of your control, and lessons learned. But that learning curve has to be quick, given that word-of-mouth will spread quickly among locals, and tourists are counting on you to help deliver a great vacation.
So, imagine running across a thread in a local Facebook group about your restaurant. I’d be instantly nervous as I pored over the feedback. Then, imagine finding so many positive comments. And with widely public forums like Open Table, Yelp, and TripAdvisor, your performance is under a microscope for all the world to see. When a new restaurant such as The Flats launches, there are people to hire and train, systems to implement and refine, menus to test and tweak, so it’s almost impossible to go off without a hitch. It seems intimidating. But as Chef Pryme noted, “cooking is a very rewarding career because food brings people together.” That perspective coupled with about three decades of experience, created a willingness to brave such challenges required to open The Flats.
With Chef Pryme’s emphasis on the excellent quality of both the ingredients and how those are put together and then delivered by staff, it’s easy to understand the excitement when customers respond. I hadn’t considered the added scrutiny that would come when another chef eats at your restaurant, but can appreciate how great to leave that person equally happy.
More poignantly, Mason discussed his and his wife’s parents coming in. It’s another example of the difference between small businesses and Corporate America: my parents never sat in one of my meetings, appreciating the flawless PowerPoint deck I’m walking a team through (which is fortunate for all of us). But to have your parents sitting in a full room buzzing with the excitement of happy customers, and seeing the very tangible culmination of your vision and dedicated execution of it, would be an emotional moment you’d carry with you, as would your parents.
As the second summer has now wound down, The Flats appears to be settling in well. Regardless of how good the food and drink is it’s still a business, with permits to obtain and maintain, HR functions that need to be smooth, and numbers to routinely crunch. But the staff has seemed genuinely happy and clearly well prepared, which is a subtle window into the business. The Flats will now stay open year round, aside of a brief timeout in January. Locals should file that nugget away! And with the shoulder season starting, they’ll rotate in some seasonal comfort food and a prix fixe weekday menu for the last three months of the year. In addition to availability for holiday parties, they’ll also build on last year’s New Year’s Eve event, with a four-course dinner, live music, and champagne toast. There aren’t many New Year’s Eve options on the Cape’s Route 6A, as we well know, so this could be a good option for anyone in the area.
I really appreciated the firsthand sharing that allowed me to see how someone can take a passion and turn it into a success. It gave me added perspective on how much goes into a flawless dining experience. Many small businesses on Cape Cod and in a lot of tourist towns hustle hard during the busy season, and then hustle in a different way when it quiets down. To get a fuller understanding of everything Chef Pryme, Co-Chef Tim Ames, and the team put into the restaurant leaves me with a fuller appreciation of the next meal I'll get there.
New England dishes up more than just amazing food.
New England's restaurants include chefs and people pursuing dreams; and the farm-to-table movement drives home the value of our local farmers.